Coffee is arguably one of the most beloved and widespread beverages in the world. It’s a light stimulant that is consumed in social and professional settings alike. Hardly any of us can imagine a day without a hot cup of this common drink. The popularity of coffee is nothing new, as it has been an absolute smash hit of a drink throughout the centuries.
The origins of coffee are fascinating, as is the story of how it made its way across the world to become the most beloved and occasionally controversial drink in recent history. Here’s the full story of coffee.
From legend to reality
The origins of one of the planet’s favourite hot beverages is a hotly debated topic. It’s hard to say who started consuming it, or when and where they started to distribute it to other people. If you were to get technical, the actual coffee plant is thought to originate from the Ethiopian plateau in East Africa.
Coffee has long been considered an important plant for Ethiopians. They even have a legend that describes its origins. A humble goat herder named Kaldi first stumbled upon the coffee plant when he noticed the erratic behaviour of his goats. After they had a few of the berries, the goats went wild with excitement and this alerted him to the potential of the plant itself. He shared his interesting find with an abbot from the local monastery. The abbot then tried the plant’s berries and found that they kept him up and productive all night. Once he shared this knowledge with the rest of the monastery inhabitants, the word quickly spread far and wide.
The power of this wonderous plant wouldn’t stay within the realms of word-of-mouth for long, as the word spread to the Arabian Peninsula.
Cultivation and trade in Arabia
Around the fifteenth century, coffee had already made its way around the Arabian Peninsula, and people weren’t just growing it for their own consumption. The Yemeni district of Arabia had begun to cultivate the plant en masse and it was being used throughout the country. By the sixteenth century, it started to spread all around the middle east, reaching everything from Persia to Egypt and Turkey. Unsurprisingly, coffee was a hit and cultivators were keen on taking advantage of this fact.
The coffee trade was becoming increasingly lucrative. People weren’t just drinking coffee in their homes, either. You had establishments that were dedicated to consuming hot beverages such as coffee. People would congregate here to chat, listen to music, and share information with one another. If this sounds eerily familiar, you’ll understand why coffee houses are still around. Coffee creates an ideal atmosphere for these kinds of gatherings, and this rings true to this day.
These ancient coffee houses were called qahveh khaneh and it’s where intellectuals came to have discussions about current events. They became such hubs of information that they were quickly nicknamed “Schools of the wise”. Where you have the exchange of goods and information, you’ll quickly see it spread across the border. It didn’t take too long before coffee crossed the border from Turkey into Europe.
Old-timey coffee taverns
Coffee very quickly made its way in and around Europe. There was no stopping it, as people far and wide were drinking it for the delicious taste and productive effects. The introduction of this warm, dark beverage had stirred up quite a bit of controversy in many European countries at the time. Christianity had a bone to pick with just about anything that was foreign or different in any way, so it’s no surprise that coffee was at first considered a heretic drink. People were up in arms about it and monasteries were calling on the Pope to resolve the issue.
The current pope at the time, Pope Clemens VIII, took a more laid-back approach and simply demanded to try the drink before making his judgement. Unsurprisingly, he enjoyed the beverage and deemed it satisfying. This was apparently enough of a reason to give it papal approval and the issue was settled.
Much like the middle east before it, Europe was soon filled to the brim with coffee houses of its own. People were loving coffee and its effects more and more. Much like in Arabia, the European coffee houses were becoming social centres and places for intellectuals to congregate. It wasn’t long before they started calling them “penny universities”. All you had to do was pay a penny for some coffee, and you could engage in a stimulating conversation with fellow patrons. The popularity of coffee showed no signs of stopping, and in fact, was soon to become even more widespread.
Early birds get the cup
If you needed an idea of how popular coffee houses were, you could just turn to England. You could find three hundred coffee houses in London alone, and that was pre-industrial London. While coffee houses were the perpetual homes of intellectuals at first, the common man started visiting them from time to time. You could find the occasional shipper, merchant, and even broker there each and every day. With the popularity of coffee rising among every societal class, the predictable happened.
People quickly wised up to the potential productive properties of coffee. The working man could have a cup of good coffee and get through their daily work without much issue. More importantly, having coffee right at the start of the day could get you working right away. Much like how people drink coffee before work nowadays, so too did European workers start having their daily cups in the early hours of the day.
Coffee wasn’t just reserved for discussions at the penny university anymore, it was now a staple of household warm beverages. Where previously people had beer or wine for their morning drink, this was now the ideal time for a nice cup of coffee.
Favourite drink of the civilized world
The New World didn’t immediately take a liking to the coffee bean. Tea was the most predominant drink all the way through the eighteenth century. This was until revolutionaries revolted against King George’s enormous tea taxes. Tea was poured into the harbour in the infamous Boston Tea Party and the rest is history. Coffee slowly made its way into the United States.
Despite spreading all over the world, the cultivation of coffee hadn’t moved very far from its origins. Arabia was still the coffee powerhouse of the world, but Europeans were aiming to change this. The Royal Botanical Garden of Paris received its first coffee tree at around 1714. This plant birthed the seeds that would spread this tree over the entirety of the Americas and the Caribbean. All it took was a dedicated naval officer who transferred a single seed to the New World and the rest is history.
Travellers and missionaries from various parts of Europe and the Americas would spread coffee seeds far and wide, helping to cover most of the New World. Plantations were established everywhere from lush forests to rugged mountainsides. Many of these crops failed, but an equal number also flourished. There was a booming economy for coffee all over the world, and entire nations originated on the basis of cultivating and trading coffee. By the end of the century, coffee was one of the most sought out commodities there were and it was extremely profitable to export.
Widespread Coffee drinking
Coffee had already established itself as one of the world’s most popular drinks by the twentieth century. Wars had been fought over plantations and entire trading empires rose and fell while trying to produce and export this invaluable crop. Neither war nor famine prevented people from seeking out coffee as a commodity, and you could expect to see coffee pots being heated on the front lines of every war. During World War 1&2, soldiers would trade valuables and the little funds they had to get coffee for their trenches.
Coffee houses had evolved over the centuries and interesting coffee shops were propping up in big cities all over the world. It was still being served in traditional ways to busy business people to help get them working. While they still didn’t have convenient and affordable coffee pods yet, there was still an enormous demand for casual leisurely coffee drinking. Once marketing had evolved to a new level, coffee was one of the first commodities to get a fresh image for every new advertising strategy. Before long, coffee was being marketed for a variety of situations and lines of work, just so that people would buy a specific brand. It was as effective as ever, as every household would soon have different forms of coffee to satisfy both casual drinkers and professionals that needed to get a nice morning boost to their concentration.
Modern-day coffee drinking
Most people don’t know how ubiquitous coffee has been over the past few centuries. The modern view of coffee as an essential hot beverage for productivity is nothing new, as people have been drinking it throughout royal courts and war-torn trenches before cameras were even invented. However, coffee has had time to evolve in the modern world and it has seen countless overhauls and modifications. Nowadays, you can head down to the store and try hundreds of different types of coffee for relatively cheap prices. Industrialization and widespread marketing have made coffee widely available in corner stores across the whole world.
The impact of coffee on productivity is well-documented and it’s a factor that influences decisions made by businesses. They often invest in coffee machines for workplaces in order to provide employees with a steady supply of caffeine for their workday. There’s a lot of strategizing involved when brewing coffee for productivity, whether it’s on the employee or employer level.
The history of coffee is full of some very interesting twists and turns. It has helped shape history and create the world as we know it. Some of the most famous and infamous individuals throughout the past have been coffee drinkers and this hot beverage might have altered the course of history from time to time. Blood, sweat, and tears have been shed just to make sure that people can enjoy a nice cup of Joe in the morning. If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that coffee is definitely here to stay.