Coffee History

How it all started

Legend has it that a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee. He noticed that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi immediately took the berries to a nearby monastery. The Monks there made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept them alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon, this news reached other monasteries, and beyond.

The Arabs were the first, to cultivate coffee and begin its trade. For many centuries Arabia's Yemen province was the world's only source. The demand was very high, and beans leaving the Yemeni port of Mocha were highly guarded. With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year, word of the 'Wine of Araby' as the drink was often called, began to spread far beyond Arabia.

By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it due to its bitter taste. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. He decided to taste the beverage himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.

As demand for the beverage spread, there was tense competition to cultivate coffee outside of Arabia. Dutch were the first to obtain some seedlings and plant them on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia. The plants thrived and soon they expanded the cultivation to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.

In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France, who planted it in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. In 1723, a young naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu obtained a seedling from the King's plant and managed to transport it safely to Martinique. It is from here the coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America originated.

Coffee is said to have come to Brazil through Francisco de Mello Palheta who was sent by his emperor to French Guiana to obtain coffee seedlings. But the French were not willing to share the seedlings. However, he used his charm to impress the French Governor's wife, so much so that 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.

Coffee had established itself as a commodity crop throughout the world. By the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the world's most profitable export crops. Today it is the second most traded commodity on the planet.