The history of coffee


Legends abound about the discovery of coffee. The most widely recognised is that around 600 AD, a goatherd in the mountains of Ethiopia noticed his goats dancing around after eating some berries. He tried them himself and felt invigorated.

Monks from a nearby monastery thought the beans would help them stay awake during all-night prayer vigils, and coffee's fame began to spread. Arab traders brought coffee to the Arabian Peninsular where the beans were boiled in water for a drink known as qahwa – the origin of the word "coffee" in many languages.

The more recent history of coffee is more fact than fiction. Since coffee was originally a Muslim drink, it faced an uphill struggle for acceptance in Europe until Pope Clement VIII "baptised" it in 1600. Europe's first coffee house opened in Venice, not Vienna, in 1645. Vienna didn't appear on the coffee house scene in 1683 – using bags of beans left behind by Turks defeated at the Battle of Vienna.

90% of the world's coffee now comes from a seedling a French naval officer stole in 1723 from the Dutch, who were the first to cultivate coffee commercially in Ceylon and Java. Ironically, the Dutch had smuggled their first coffee plant out of the port of Mocha in Yemen in 1690.

The United States have been a nation of coffee drinkers ever since the Boston Tea Party in 1773 when tea was thrown overboard in protest against the heavy tax imposed on the North American colony by the British. It became the patriotic thing to drink coffee, not tea.

In the coffee-starved days of post-World War II Europe, "dying for a coffee" took on a literal meaning when several people were killed in shoot-outs between coffee smugglers and customs officers along the German-Belgian border.

These days, coffee is not in such short supply. In fact, it drives the wheels of world trade as the second most valuable legally traded commodity in the world, worth nearly $9 billion a year.