What’s in a Cup of Joe? The History of Coffee


Nestled in your pantry or from a street corner cafe is the one thing that will start your morning off on the right foot. Maybe you take it black or with cream and sugar. It comes in many forms: mocha, latte and cappuccino – hot or iced. But no matter how you drink it, there’s a good chance you haven’t stopped to really appreciate the complexity of this necessity called coffee. So, grab your steaming cup of Joe and get educated on the history of America’s good morning.

Kaldi’s Discovery

Legend has it that Kaldi, a goatherd in Ethiopia, discovered coffee by accident in 750 AD. His goats had eaten berries from a certain tree and had so much energy that they couldn’t sleep at night. Kaldi shared his findings of the mysterious fruit with a monk who struggled with staying awake during prayer. He dried and boiled the fruit, which yielded a liquid, which we know as coffee. The monk then shared the coffee with other monks, who made use of it during their daily rituals.

Coffee Cultivation on the Arabian Peninsula

During the 15th century, coffee was grown in Arabia and by the 16th century, it was also grown in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. Public coffee houses eventually served as a place for all kinds of social activity – patrons would listen to music or watch performances as they sipped on coffee.
Coffee in Europe

Coffee replaced common breakfast beverages – beer and wine – in Europe during the beginning of the 17th century. Travelers to the Middle East came back to Europe with coffee but not everyone accepted it. Some Europeans were suspicious of the mysterious dark liquid and even called coffee the “bitter invention of Satan.” In 1615, coffee was taken to Pope Clement VIII and he tasted the beverage. He decided that the drink was satisfying and he gave the drink papal approval.

In Europe, coffee houses were also called “penny universities” because patrons could purchase a cup of coffee for just a penny. By the middle of the 17th century, there were more than 300 coffee houses in Europe and patrons ranging from merchants to brokers were attracted to coffee.

Coffee in the Americas

The British brought coffee to New Amsterdam – later called New York – during the 1600s. Even though the British brought coffee over, tea was still the favored beverage until 1773. The Boston Tea Party – the colonists’ revolt against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III – led coffee to becoming the drink of choice.
Across the pond, the Dutch had success growing coffee plants in Batavia on the island of Java – now known as Indonesia. Once the Dutch established success with growing coffee plants, they moved the cultivation of the plants to Sumatra and Celebes.
King Louis XIV of France received a coffee plant as a gift from the mayor of New Amsterdam in 1714. It was planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris and Gabriel de Clieu, a young naval officer, obtained a seed from the King’s plant in 1723. Clieu transported the seed to Martinique where it was planted and contributed to more than 18 million coffee trees in 50 years on Martinique.

Brazil has been the largest producer of Arabica coffee since 1852, with Colombia coming in second. Today, coffee is one of the most important commodities in world trade.