Originally an Arabic word “qahwa” (‘wine of the bean’) that later became “kahve” (Turkish) and then “koffie” (Dutch), “coffee” is a thoroughly borrowed word emerging in English-language Europe during the 1500s. Its consumption primarily involved early Islamic religious practices in Sufi monasteries in southern Arabia, although coffee eventually became such a popular beverage that qahveh khaneh, or public coffee houses, emerged in Yemen and spread across the Middle East quickly. In addition to drinking coffee in qahveh khaneh, people also listened to music, played board games and watched plays. Eventually, these early Middle Eastern coffeehouses became known as “Schools of the Wise” because of their emphasis on exchanging philosophical ideas as well as the latest political news.
Muslim dervishes cultivated coffee shrubs in gardens to make a kind of “coffee” wine from fermented berries. Dervishes engaged in a ritual called the dhikr that involved repeatedly reciting devotional chants praising Allah, dancing and whirling around as a way to attain ecstatic experiences. Their homemade “coffee wine” no doubt promoted their ability to sustain these energetic dances for hours while expediting a sense of religious exhilaration and ecstasy.
The First Caffeine High?
Ethiopian ancestors of the Oromos are thought to be the first to recognize the stimulating effects of the coffee bean. An ethnic group living in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, the Oromos inhabited the Horn of Africa for thousands of years. Trade involving their highly treasured coffee and other cultural commodities brought the majority of Oromos to Ethiopia by the 17th century, along with fanciful accounts of how coffee’s energizing (magical, at the time) properties were discovered. One story tells of a goat herder named Kaldi who noticed that his flock running and dancing happily after eating red berries growing on a strange-looking bush. Being a curious goat herder, Kaldi chewed on some berries, experienced the same urge to run and dance as his sheep and excitedly took some of the berries to a monastery. Disapproving of the berries’ psychoactive qualities. the monks threw the berries into a fire. The enticingly rich aroma of the roasting berries aroused the monks’ own curiosity and they decided to rake the embers from the fire, grind them and dissolve them in hot water. Voila –the first time a bunch of monks enjoyed the pleasures of coffee–and caffeine!
Coffee Discovered by a Sheik’s Disciple?
A disciple of Sheik Abou’l Hasan Schadheili, Omar was revered for his ability to cure sickness through prayer. Exiled for an unknown reason from his home region to a desert cave in Ousab, Omar ate bitter berries to keep from starving and tried roasting them to reduce the bitterness. Fortunately, roasting the berries hardened them so much that he had to boil them so they would be soft enough to eat. After drinking brown liquid resulting from boiling these beans, Omar discovered he was so revitalized that he survived his exile, returned to his home with proof of this “miracle medicine” and was later canonized for his “invention”.
17th Century Europeans Get Addicted To Coffee
Europeans traveling to the Near East in the 1600s returned with tales about an unusually aromatic, dark beverage that made them feel energetic and euphoric. Traders eagerly rushed to the Near East to trade their wares for coffee, which they brought back to Europe in large quantities. Once again, however, religious people and clergymen objected to coffee and its mind-altering properties and even asked Pope Clement VIII to intervene in the great coffee debate. But when the Pope tasted a cup of coffee for himself, he found it so satisfying he immediately awarded it the Papal Seal of Approval.
Enrollment in Penny Universities Explodes
Once coffee earned the Pope’s blessing, European coffee houses sprung up like wildfire in all major cities. As bustling centers of conversation, communication and social activity, these coffee houses became known as “penny universities” because patrons could buy a cup of hot, steaming, aromatic coffee for one penny. Historians estimate London had over 350 “penny universities” operating in the 17th and 18th centuries where patrons included a fascinating mix of merchants, investment brokers, artists and captains of trading ships. One famous business developed out the Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House–the Lloyd’s of London.
Coffee or Tea in the 1700s? In America–It’s Coffee
Although coffee houses enjoyed immense popularity, tea remained the favored drink in newly colonized America until King George, overwhelmed with greed, laid a steep tax on tea. Naturally, the colonists revolted and the Boston Tea Party of 1773 turned “unpatriotic” tea drinkers into patriotic coffee drinkers, forever making coffee America’s #1 preferred beverage after the American Revolution.
No Coffee, No Coffee Cantata
In the mid 1700s, Johann Sebastion Back worked as a cantor in Leipzig at the St. Thomas Church. While visiting a coffee shop called the Cafe Zimmermann, Bach composed the Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, a Kaffeekantate (coffee cantata) about a young women who pleads with her hardheaded father to let her continue drinking her beloved beverage–coffee. One of the lines of Bach’s cantata states “Oh, how sweet coffee does taste…better than a thousand kisses…milder than muscat wine”.
Brazil’s Love Affair with Coffee
A lieutenant colonel smuggling coffee seeds from French Guiana helped established Brazil’s first coffee plantation in the early 1700s. Initially considered an elite beverage, coffee plantations spread rapidly to make coffee the preferred drink by all Brazilians, from peasants to royalty. Unfortunately, Brazil’s increasing reliance on coffee as their primary commercial commodity compelled Brazilian plantation owners to kidnap Africans for use as slave labor, a practiced abolished in 1888. Until the early 20th century, Brazil remained the largest coffee producer in the world, completely monopolizing the trade with the best coffee and the highest prices. In an effort to reduce coffee prices and take advantage of the millions of coffee addicts who had to have their coffee fix, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Nicaragua and Guatemala started cultivating and selling coffee prolifically after World War II. After normalizing trade relations with the U.S. in 1995, Vietnam became the second biggest producer of coffee in the world–right behind Brazil, of course.
Cuban Coffee Plantations
Supported by documentation and literature of the time, historians think that several million Africans were kidnapped between 1500 and 1885 and sent to Cuba to be sold into slavery. Sugar plantations originally used slaves to grow and harvest sugar cane and the introduction of coffee just increased the slave trade practice in Cuba. Farmers welcomed the chance to make money by growing coffee instead of sugar because coffee required less land and machinery to cultivate than sugar cane. Terrible conditions for plantation slaves created uprisings and inevitable rebellions against inhumane treatment of slaves which eventually resulted in the demise of Cuban coffee plantations.
Instant and Decaf–20th Century Inventions
Ludwig Roselius was a German coffee merchant who gave a shipment of ruined coffee beans to researchers interested in analyzing coffee’s phytochemicals. Roselius joined the scientists and together, they figured out how to remove caffeine from coffee beans without interfering with the flavor. Thanks to their entrepreneurial spirit, Roselius et al introduced the first decaffeinated coffee in the U.S. in 1923. They called their coffee “Sanka”, which is a contraction of sans caffeine Although Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato invented the first water soluble coffee, it was George Constant Washington who made instant coffee available to the caffeine-addicted masses of the world. The story–or legend–describing how he “invented” instant coffee claims that he saw a fine, dark powder on the spout of a silver coffee pot and realized it was condensation from coffee vapors. Something about this discovery intrigued him and he soon had the first instant coffee, Red E Coffee, on neighborhood market shelves in 1909.
The Television Commercial War Between Coffee and Tea
The popularity of instant coffee got a big boost from 1950s television commercials. Advertisers realized that a two or three minute commercial break didn’t give the audience enough time to brew a pot of hot tea but it did give them time make a cup of instant coffee. In retaliation, tea execs ordered their company researchers to camp out in their laboratories and find something that was comparable to the joys of instant coffee. Consequently, the tea bag was introduced, which did help tea brands remain competitive with instant and freeze-dried coffee.
Starbucks and Coffee Elitism in the 21st Century
The hippie movement of the 1960s interestingly created a deeper appreciation of coffee and an interest in “specialty” or gourmet coffees. Three students who met while attending the University of San Francisco, Gordon Bowker, Zev Siegl and Jerry Baldwin, opened the first Starbucks coffee shop in Seattle in 1971. Inspired by Alfred Peet, a coffee roasting promoter and entrepreneur who showed them his own special method of roasting beans, the three men originally wanted to call Starbucks Pequod, the name of the whaling ship in Melville’s Moby Dick, but they decided to call their company Starbucks, after the name of the chief shipman on the Pequod. Today, Starbucks is the most famous and popular coffee shop in the world and makes billions each year by selling eclectic varieties of flavored coffees, lattes and espressos.
We Love Our Coffee!
- Coffee shops comprise the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry, enjoying an annual growth rate of nearly 8 percent.
- Every year, the world produces over 110 million bags of coffee beans to satisfy the neverending demand for a rich, robust cup of coffee to start the day.
- Italy has the most espresso coffee drinkers, with an average of 15 billion espresso coffees sipped every year in the Italian Republic.
- The U.S. has the most coffee drinkers out of all other countries in the world. Americans drink 145 billion cups of coffee annually and show no signs of slowing down. In fact, 75 percent of caffeine consumed in the U.S. comes from coffee.
“This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder. ~Honor de Balzac, “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee”
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