A brief history of coffee

A brief history of coffee

​Coffee has a long and interesting history. Yet unlike other common beverages and foods that we regularly consume today, the use of coffee has changed very little over the centuries.

Goat Herder Discovers Coffee

The most common version about the discovery of coffee centres around a man named Kaldi. He was a goat herder in Kaffa, a province in Ethiopia and lived in the late 6th century. The story talks about how he noticed his flock of goats were more restless when they had eaten berries and leaves from a particular plant he didn’t recognise.

He told of his experiences to others. When a nearby monastery heard the stories, the monks decided to investigate. They conducted several experiments and discovered that if the plant was properly roasted, ground, and infused with water, it would become a tasty beverage.

The monks also found that drinking this beverage would help them stay awake during long prayer sessions.

Coffee Becomes Very Popular

Soon news of the new beverage spread, and coffee began to become a popular drink across the Middle East. Coffee houses started to appear across the area with some houses in Mecca and Medina.

Coffee was so important that Arabian leaders wanted to protect the valuable export. Therefore, they banned fertile beans from being exported. However, that didn’t stop Bab Budan, a pilgrim, from smuggling out some seed berries from the area to his home in India sometime in the 17th century.

Mixed Reception To Coffee In Europe

While coffee was very popular in the Middle East, Europe was at first suspicious of the new drink. In Venice, the local clergy condemned the drink in 1615. However, Pope Clement VIII intervened as he liked the taste so much that he gave it papal approval.

So much was the demand for the new beverage that Europeans wanted to grow it themselves, instead of having to rely on importing it from the Middle East. A coffee plant was stolen by Dutch traders and taken to Europe in 1616. The Dutch took to growing their own coffee beans by setting up plantations in their colonies.

In the UK, coffee became the preferred breakfast drink replacing beer and wine. When people switched they noticed that they were more alert and energised in the morning and, therefore, their work was of better quality.

By the 1650s, there were 300 coffee houses in the capital. These places were where businessmen could meet and many businesses were established from them, such as Lloyd’s of London.

To show the importance of coffee for the UK population, it was never rationed in the UK during wartime. However, coffee was scarce and people would queue for long periods to collect any they could for the family.

Developments in Coffee

Coffee has also undergone several revolutions during its history. Instant coffee was developed by David Strang in New Zealand in 1889. Decaffeinated coffee was first created in 1903, while a coffee filter was created in 1908 and it took another thirty years for freeze-dried coffee to be invented.

All of these have helped coffee to remain a popular drink that has retained its benefits: alertness, improved concentration and better productivity.


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