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The History Of Coffee In Three Minutes

Today, coffee is one of the most popular — and most profitable — beverages in the world. But what about the backstory behind the beans? It turns out that the history of coffee is as wide and varied as the countries that grow these magical beans. Let’s look at coffee’s journey from its legendary origins to its enduring influence on our current culture.

Coffee’s Mythical Origins

A number of stories exist about the origin of coffee, but the prevailing myth centers on a goat herder in Ethiopia named Kaldi. As the legend goes, Kaldi stumbled upon the energizing red coffee berries one day while out in the field. When his goats began to display some unusual behavior, jumping and bouncing around, bursting with energy, Kaldi realized the goats were helping themselves to the cherry plants. Kaldi grabbed a couple of cherries to taste for himself and soon discovered the same boost in energy. He later shared his discovery with the monks of a nearby monastery.

Though skeptical that the beans may be less than holy, the monks changed their minds after accidentally uncovering the pleasant aroma of the beans when one of them threw the beans into a fire. They began preserving the beans in hot water — and voila! The first brewed cup of coffee was born. The brew became a part of the monks’ daily rituals. Or so the legend goes.

The myth of Kaldi and his goats dates back to 800 AD, so the story does line up with the idea that coffee cultivation started in Ethiopia in the 9th century. But was Kaldi the goat herder really involved? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that, by the 10th century, Ethiopian tribes were regularly eating coffee in their morning porridge. Eventually, the beans became more commonly used as a beverage, with some tribes fermenting the beans to create wine, while others roasted and boiled them into something resembling the coffee we drink today.

European Pilgrimage

For the next several centuries, coffee cultivation remained almost exclusively in the Middle East and Africa. Then, in 1616, the Dutch established the first European-owned coffee plantation in Sri Lanka, later expanding into Java, Indonesia. The first British coffee house opened in 1652 and word of the magical, energizing elixir began to spread. The coffee trade expanded into Italy, France, and England.

Initially, coffee was considered a bit controversial, with many people fearing that the beverage was some sort of “devil’s brew.” In fact, the fears were so widespread that the Pope was eventually called upon to rule on whether the drink was okay to consume. After trying it for himself, Pope Clement VIII declared it a “Christian drink,” and the rest, as they say, is history. Coffee quickly began to replace wine and beer as the standard breakfast beverage, and coffee houses became social hubs in large European cities across England, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, and France.

Coffee Comes To The Americas

Coffee was first cultivated in the Americas in the 18th century, with the Spanish creating plantations in Central America and the French in the Caribbean. But with only a few countries tightly controlling the coffee supply, it remained a luxury only the rich could enjoy. That is until Brazil got into the coffee game.

The world’s largest exporter of coffee, Brazil became the coffee capital it is today thanks to the charms of a Brazilian lieutenant by the name of Francisco de Mello Palheta. During a diplomatic trip to France, Palheta used his good looks and charm to win over the French governor’s wife, who secretly gifted him with coffee clippings hidden in a bouquet of flowers upon his departure from the country. Brazil proved to be the perfect place to cultivate the beans, and by the 1850s, Brazilian coffee dominated the market.

Europeans also brought coffee to New York, then still known as New Amsterdam, as early as the 17th Century. But it wasn’t until the Boston Tea Party in 1773, that Americans began to turn to coffee over tea. Americans continued to protest against the tea tax by drinking more coffee, which was marketed as the patriotic beverage of choice. Coffee’s popularity continued to rise, and eventually became a part of Americans’ morning routines. From there, new innovations in brewing and distribution methods increased, and coffee farms were further established throughout the Americas.

Elsewhere around the globe, entire nations would rise and fall based on coffee economics, while coffee connoisseurs and entrepreneurs made and lost fortunes in the new, thriving industry centered around the delicious, dark brew. By the end of the 18th century, coffee was the world’s most profitable export.

Today, we’re currently in the period of coffee history referred to as the “Third Wave.” In this phase, coffee continues to be one of the most popularly traded commodities worldwide, second only to oil. Check out our blog post on the three waves of coffee to read more about where the coffee industry has been, and where it might be headed in the future.

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