The History of Coffee

No one knows who discovered coffee, but the general consensus is that it came from either Ethiopia or Yemen.

According to legend, an Ethiopian shepherd, who noticed how energetic his sheep had became after eating a certain red fruit from a coffee tree, took some fruit, ate it, and felt more invigorated and aware. Later, coffee developed into a stimulating drink that helped people stay alert. About five hundred years ago, Arabs in Yemen began planting coffee trees on a commercial scale, becoming the first to make coffee an economical agricultural product. They began trading coffee, keeping its secrets safe for nearly 150 years by boiling the coffee before selling it, a process which killed the seeds and prevented others from planting them anywhere else.

Trade caravans spread the coffee throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The Dutch, whose fleets controlled most of the maritime trade routes, brought the coffee to Europe. Venetians living in 1615 would first use the coffee as medicine, mixing the coffee with lemon and honey.

Coffee was exported from the port of Al-Mukha, which is the source of the coffee variety called “Mocha”, though this name is usually used to refer to coffee originating in Indonesia and other countries. However, this name originates in a place that, for coffee lovers, has no substitute today- namely, Yemen, where the best variety of coffee are planted, using the same methods used to produce coffee five hundred years earlier.

In 1699, the Dutch managed to acquire coffee beans, which they planted in their East Asian colonies, such as India and Java- the largest of the Indonesian islands. In America, from 1720 to 1777, around 19 million coffee trees were planted.

Following in the footsteps of the Dutch, the French planted coffee in Jamaica, a country which still produces some of the best varieties of coffee.

Later, coffee was planted in Hawaii and Central America, and would eventually spread throughout throughout the Americas, from Mexico in the north, to Brazil in the south.

The Arabs had brought coffee to the Turks, who in turn brought the coffee beans to Europe, reaching as far as Austria. The Turks conquered the Balkans as well, and lent their name to another variety of coffee- Turkish coffee. It’s no secret that the Turks preferred tea to coffee, but at that time, Turkey ruled over the Arab world.

After reviewing these facts, one can conclude that the Arabs were the first to discover and plant coffee, and coffee shops that have sprung up around the world in recent centuries were preceded by shops that opened in the Arab world; the first coffee shop was established in Damascus in 1610. These coffee shops became clubs where people would meet to play chess, exchange ideas and discuss their feelings, and listen to music. Later, these coffee shops became a hub for political activity, and for the Arabs, coffee became the language of social discourse, used to determine an individual’s social status. The coffee cup became a tool. You could speak and respond to people in the way you sipped coffee at a wedding, a celebration, reconciliation meetings or everyday encounters. One could learn about the personality of a host by the way the coffee was served; the owners of the Divans would leave the coffee remains at the doors of their tents. The higher the pile of coffee- the more respectable the master of the house. The fire in the coffee roaster would attract beggars, strangers, and passers-by.