The History of Coffee

The History of Coffee

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Coffee has percolated its way through the history books as well as into our hearts. Let’s start at the beginning.

There are a couple of conflicting stories about the origins of coffee, but the most famous legend begins in Jimma, the Ethiopian highlands with Kaldi, the goatherd. It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.

Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer.  Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread.

There is a 92 year old farmer alive in Jimma today, who claims to be 7th generation descendent of Mr. Kaldi.  Amazing story or urban myth? The jury’s out on this one.

As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.  The Arabs were the first, not only to cultivate coffee but also to begin its trade.

Coffee was drunk in the many public coffee houses.  They soon became immensely popular as social meeting places and known as ‘Schools of the Wise’, which sounds much more sophisticated than saying you’re seeing friends for coffee.

By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Opponents were overly cautious, calling the beverage the ‘bitter invention of Satan.’ With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.

The first European coffeehouse opened in Venice in 1683, with the most famous, Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco, opening in 1720. It is still open for business today.

The first coffee house opened in London is now the site of Lloyds Insurance. It was started in 1688 by Edward Lloyd. In the rest of England ‘penny universities’ sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation.  By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.

Meanwhile coffee was slowly spreading throughout the world, every time with its own unprecedented story, here is just a small taste…

Gabriel de Clieu is credited with bringing coffee to Martinque in 1720.  The French naval officer while on leave in Paris from his post in Martinique, acquired a coffee tree with the intention of taking it back with him. After a hellish journey involving pirates, storms and what can only be described as coffee plant sabotage, the ship arrived in Martinique and the coffee tree was re-planted at Preebear. It grew, and multiplied, and it’s recorded that, by 1777, there were between 18 and 19 million coffee trees on Martinique, and the model for a new cash crop that could be grown in the New World was in place.

Coffee is said to have come to Brazil in the hands of Francisco de Mello Palheta who was sent by the emperor to French Guiana for the purpose of obtaining coffee seedlings. But the French were not willing to share and Palheta was unsuccessful. However, he was said to have been so charming that the French Governor’s wife was captivated. As a going-away gift, she presented him with a large bouquet of flowers.  Buried inside he found enough coffee seeds to begin what is today a billion-dollar industry.

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