The History of Coffee

The History of Coffee

Coffee is the most popular beverage in the United States, with 54% of Americans drinking between one and one-half to three cups daily. Today, the United States is also the world’s largest coffee consuming country, and accounting for 24% of the world’s coffee exports. However, coffee as a drink and coffee houses as community centers have been around for centuries.

The Origins of Coffee in East Africa and Arabia

Some sources say that coffee originated in Abyssinia, but the majority of experts agree that the cultivation of coffee originated over a thousand years ago in Ethiopia with the Oromo tribes of East Africa. Originally, the berries and leaves of the coffee plant were mixed with animal fat, rolled into little balls, and eaten as an energy snack before battle. At this time the closest the coffee was used as a drink was when it was fermented into wine or the husks of the bean were roasted into a liquid. As the coffee plant spread into Arabia, probably carried by traders, the beans were boiled or roasted and boiled and the liquid consumed as a drink.

Sometime between the sixth and ninth centuries, Muslims in Arabia, who were forbidden to drink wine, developed a drink called “qahwa”-or that which prevents sleep-which they used as a stimulant. Qahwa was drunk during daily prayers, at the mosques, and at the Holy Tomb of the Prophet Mohammad in Mecca. For several centuries, coffee was used as a food product and as medicine and consumed as wine, spreading with the Arabic Muslims throughout North Africa including Sudan, and the Eastern Mediterranean including Persia and Turkey.

Coffee was first widely cultivated after it arrived in Yemen between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although the coffee plants were carefully guarded and the shipping of live seeds was prohibited, some plants were smuggled out of Arabia through the trade routes. The most famous and the busiest port in the world at that time was named “Al-Mokha”; and that name, which was shortened to “Mocha” became synonymous for both the coffee drink and the medium-brown color.

The first coffeehouses also originated in Arabia: called “kaveh kanes”, these gathering places became very popular. Men came to the coffeehouses to play chess (which also originated in Arabia), discuss politics, conduct business, and generally socialize while drinking coffee. The first coffeehouse, called “Kiv Han”, is thought to have been started in Constantinople (later called Istanbul) in the later part of the fifteenth century by the Ottoman Turks. Kaveh Kanes subsequently spread to the cities of Medina, Cairo, Alexandria, and Baghdad; and Turkish warriors brought the drink and the coffeehouse tradition to Spain, Central Europe, and the Balkans.

Fearing political uprisings, several Arabian political leaders tried without success to ban coffee throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The coffeehouses and coffee itself was subsequently taxed, but those taxes did little to suppress the spread of coffee and coffeehouses throughout Arabia and eventually to Europe.

Coffee Comes to Europe
Before the seventeenth century, coffee was barely known in Europe. European royalty had developed a love for chocolate instead, which had been brought to Europe from the New World. However, Venetian traders with the Middle East started bringing the green coffee plants to Europe for sale. In the first half of the seventeenth century, the drinking of coffee was mostly limited to Venice and Marseilles. The first European coffeehouse, was opened in 1620 in Venice; and the “Caffe Florian”, which began in 1720, still operates in Venice today. A Polish army officer, Franz Georg Kolscitzky, is credited with the development of filtering out coffee grounds, and inventing “Venetian Coffee” by adding sweetener and milk.
The Turkish Ambassador introduced coffee French high society through the Court of the King of France Louis XIV, although at the time, the King preferred hot chocolate. The first French coffeehouse is said to have opened in Paris in 1686; and a coffeehouse called Le Procope, established by a Sicilian, Francesco Procopio, is still in existence at the present time.
Tea was the preferred drink of the British, of course, and that preference has continued to the present day. However, England was the first European nation to adopt coffee on a wide-scale commercial basis. The first British coffeehouse was opened in 1650 in Oxford by a Turkish Jew; soon there was hundreds of coffeehouses in England. In 1688, a coffeehouse was started by Edward Lloyd, which eventually grew into the largest insurance company in the world, Lloyd’s of London. Stockbrokers met at Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley; the beginning of the London Stock Exchange.
The coffeehouses in London were not the swanky and fashionable shops that they are today. They were dark, smoky, noisy, smelly, and crowded. To find a coffeehouse in London in the 1600s and 1700s, one would walk down the street to catch the aroma of roasting coffee beans, or look for a wooden sign shaped like a Turkish coffee pot. The custom of “tipping” the waitresses started in the London coffeehouses. If patrons wanted the best seats and better service they would put money in a tin can labeled “TIPS”, which stood for “To Insure Prompt Service”.
Many coffeehouses in England came to be known as “Penny Universities”, because the information and knowledge people gleaned from the artists, intellectuals, banks, and political activists who populated the establishments. For the cost of a cup of coffee, one penny, it was said that a man could learn as much in the coffeehouses as he could by studying books for a month.
Just as in the Middle East, however, coffee and coffeehouses had many opponents in several European countries. Around 1600 in Italy, the priests asked Pope Clement VIII to ban coffee, but after he tasted it, he decided to bless and “baptize” the drink instead, making coffee acceptable in Christian circles.
Meanwhile in 1674 in London, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee started. Men were spending so much time in the coffeehouses that the women protested by stating that they were suffering great inconveniences because of the excessive use of the “drying and enfeebling liquor”. King Charles II tried to ban coffee, but there was such a public outcry, the ban lasted only eleven days.
As both an ode to coffee and a rebuke of the German movement to prevent women from drinking it, even Johann Sebastian Bach composed a Cantata, “Kafee-Kantate” in 1732. The Germans thought that coffee made women sterile. In Prussia, Frederick the Great tried to block the import of green coffee and encouraged his subjects to drink beer instead. He even went as far as to employ “coffee smellers” to roam the streets in search of home coffee roasters.
Despite all of the efforts to ban coffee and reduce the influence of coffeehouses, the enjoyment of coffee spread throughout Europe until its use started declining in the 18th century because of increased import duties. The French introduced coffee to the New World, but the British East India Company concentrated on the importation of and taxation of tea, leading to the rebellion in the British Colonies culminating with the “Boston Tea Party” in 1773. It was then that coffee replaced tea as the American “beverage of choice”.

Coffee in Asia and the Americas
The Dutch were responsible for spreading the cultivation of coffee beyond Europe and the Middle East after smuggling a coffee plant out of the Arab Al-Mokha port in the late 1600s. They eventually made Amsterdam the trading center for coffee by cultivating coffee in Java, their East Indian colony, as well as in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). A gift of a coffee plant was also given to French King Louis IV, who assigned the botanists at the King’s Royal Botanical Garden (the “Jardin de Plantes”) the task of caring for and cultivating the seedlings.
The Dutch also spread the coffee plant in Central and South America; beginning in Suriname in 1718. In the mid-1700s, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a French naval officer stole a seedling from the royal greenhouses, hoping to develop Java-like coffee plantations in the Caribbean. After several setbacks, Clieu was finally able to plan one tree on his estate in Martinique, where it eventually yielded over 18 million trees by 1777. In 1730, the British introduced coffee to the blue Mountains in Jamaica, where today some of the most famous and expensive coffee is grown.
The first known coffee reference in North America was noted in 1668, and coffee houses were established in major cities of the day such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The Green Dragon Coffeehouse in Boston is said to have been used to plan the 1773 “Boston Tea Party”. As in London, where some of today’s largest financial institutions began as coffee houses, both the Bank of New York and the New York Stock Exchange were initiated in coffee houses on what is now known as the Wall Street Financial District.
Although the French and the Dutch tried to protect their monopoly over coffee the way the Arabs had first attempted, an affair between a Brazilian emperor and the wife of the governor of French Guyana had the unexpected result of coffee plant cuttings and seeds being smuggled into Brazil. From this transaction, by 1800 there emerged the great coffee empires of plantations in Latin America. In 1825, coffee was first planted in Hawai’i, which today is the only place in the United States where coffee is produced.

Modern Coffee Developments
Innovative developments in coffee production started appearing early in the twentieth century. Both instant coffee and decaffeinated coffee products were invented, almost by accident in different parts of the world.
“Sanka” (meaning “sans caffeine”) was developed 1903 after a German coffee importer, Ludwig Roselius, perfected the process of removing the caffeine from ruined roasted coffee beans without destroying the flavor of the coffee. Sanka began to be marketed in the United States in 1923.
A Japanese-American chemist living in Chicago named Satori Kato is credited with inventing instant coffee. Mass production of instant, or soluble, coffee, however, started with an English chemist living in Guatemala, who noticed that coffee vapors condensed on the edges of his silver coffee pot. In 1906, he started experimenting with ways to develop dried coffee from its liquid form, and in 1909 started marketing his instant dried coffee under the brand name “Red E Coffee”.
The production of coffee is Brazil had become so successful that the government found itself with huge surpluses. In 1938, the Swiss company Nestle’ developed freeze-dried coffee at the request of the Brazilian government. However, it was during the spread of television in the 1950s that instant coffee really became popular. The commercial breaks were too short to brew either a cup of tea or a pot of coffee, so both Nestle’ and General Mills encouraged TV viewers to fix a quick cup of instant coffee instead. The tea companies developed the tea bag to try to combat the competition, but tea has never been able to compete with coffee in the United States.
An Italian inventor, Achilles Gaggia, perfected the modern espresso machine in 1946. His spring-powered lever system yielded a higher pressure than the steam-powered espresso machines at the time. In the 1950s, Gaggia opened a mocha bar in Soho in London; the beginning of the modern coffee bar. In 1960, the first pump driven espresso machine was mass produced.

In the 1970s, the modern coffee culture in the United States was born in Seattle. New coffee “concoctions” such as latte, cappuccino, double mocha, and others are now available at trendy cafes around the world.

How Coffee is Grown and Harvested
There are actually over 60 varieties of coffee that have been developed from the original coffee plant. For the modern coffee trade, however, the two most important varieties are the “Coffea Arabica” (Arabica) and the “Coffee Canephora” (Robusta). Although coffee trees can naturally grow to heights of between 10 and 15 meters, professional plantations prune the trees to a maximum height of between 1.5 to 3 meters ensure a higher yield per tree and make harvesting easier.
Coffee is exclusively grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Usually coffee trees blossom over a six- to eight-week period, but the labor-intensive harvesting process, done entirely by hand, can take up to nine months.
The coffee bean itself is actually two flat-sided seed inside the coffee berry. It is covered with a thin membrane called a silverskin. Unprocessed coffee is called green coffee.
The country which is the world’s largest coffee producer is Brazil, with about 28 percent of the total world output. The higher altitudes in Brazil allow for slower growing time, which produces more fully-flavored and delicate beans.
Worldwide, two different coffee processing methods have been developed and perfected: wet processing is used primarily in Central America and West Africa (especially Kenya); while less labor-intensive dry processing is used in South America for the Arabica and Robusta beans.
After processing, the coffee is inspected, graded, and prepared for storage and shipping.

The Development of Coffee Roasters
Making the coffee drink we know today is not as simple as roasting beans over a fire and then adding water. If the coffee beans are not kept moving during the roasting process, they will burn. Therefore, over the centuries, many different attempts at inventing the perfect coffee roaster has yielded many different roasting devices.
The first coffee roasters developed for individual home use in the American colonies looked like bed warmers; they actually may have been used for that purpose as well. They usually had a round or square shape and a long handle to hold them over the fire while the beans were constantly shaken.
As coffee became more popular it was necessary to develop larger and more efficient roasters. The drum roaster was the next major incarnation. Throughout the 1800s, the drum roaster, which had sliding doors and was mounted on ball bearings, came in different sizes, and made it easier to roast large amount of green coffee beans at once.
Coffee roasters were still heated over open fire until the mid-1800s when gas and coal became the heat source of choice. Gas and coal were both easier than wood to manage in large amounts for commercial roasters. The problem with both gas and coal, however, especially when used for coffee roasters in huge amounts, was the soot that was produced. Even in the late 1800s and early 1900s, soot and smoke from large coffee manufacturers presented pollution problems.
Enter the electric coffee roasters. Roasters with screens were developed that allowed for more even roasting; but more importantly, the invention of electric-powered roasters eliminated the need for humans to actually turn the beans. This allowed for larger and more efficient coffee roasters, which of course led to higher production.
Today. modern coffee roasters also automatically removed the husks from the beans and dispose of the dust. Consistency of roasting temperature and texture is also possible with modern commercial coffee roasters. Because coffee beans release gases, “fresh” coffee beans are first allowed to completely release the gas before being shipped.

Coffee as a Global Commodity
As the economic influence of coffee exports grew, several Latin American countries started allocating quotas to ensure that those coffee exporting countries would be guaranteed a share of the coffee market. Just before World War II, the first coffee quota agreement was administered by a group called the Inter-American Coffee Board. World-wide coffee export quotas were not adopted until 1962. The United Nations set up an “International Coffee Agreement” which remained in effect for five years. Although the pact was renegotiated several times between 1968 and 1983, several nations refused to sign a new agreement in 1989 causing a world-wide drop in coffee prices. The early 1990s, however, saw a wave of coffee crop failures, particularly in Brazil, dramatically raising the price of coffee.
Today, coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the world, often second only to oil on the futures exchange markets in New York and London.


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