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History of coffee

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Main article: Coffee

The exact origins of coffee are unknown, but it is believed that its consumption by humans dates as far back as the sixth century Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia), with beans from the species Arabica were initially consumed as a food rather than a beverage. Eventually coffee trees would come to be cultivated in the nearby Arabian peninsula, from which it first was used for religious purposes, then as a medicine, before finding widespread recreational use throughout the region. In a short period of time, coffeehouses would form, and coffee would find its place as an intellectual, stimulating, and often subversive agent. Despite efforts to hold a monopoly on trade, inevitably, coffee beans were smuggled out of the Middle East to India and beyond. From that time coffee has spread throughout the world to become a widely consumed beverage with great cultural significance.

Cultivation and propagation in Arabia

Arabica coffee is native to rain forests in the central plains of Ethiopia, wherein it still grows wild today. While the route is unknown, it is believed that arabica coffee trees were first cultivated in the Southern Arabian peninsula (modern-day Yemen) in the sixth century after being brought over by invading Ethiopians. At first, coffee was used primarily by the Sufi monks to allow them the stay awake and alert for prayers[1]. Eventually coffee would find more widespread use, first as a medicine and then as an everyday beverage. It would not be long before coffee spread throughout Arabia, with those who could afford to do so, dedicating a room in their homes to coffee consumption. This era also marked the appearance of the first coffee houses. The popularity of coffee quickly spread throughout the Arabian peninsula and into other Islamic-dominated regions, from North Africa to Persia[2].

While the initial spread of coffee was caused by its adoption as a component of religious ceremonies, it was not long before it was enjoyed in a more secular setting. As coffee houses sprang up, they became places at which people would gather for chess, dancing, debate, and music. More conservative Muslim sects objected to these settings, and put forward the argument that coffee was as much of an intoxicant as wine and therefore prohibited by the Koran. In 1511, the governor of Mecca, believing that coffee encouraged sedition, agreed and closed down all of Mecca's coffee houses. Not long thereafter, the Sultan of Cairo (who outranked the governor of Mecca) overruled this prohibition and coffee was once again accepted. Coffee would then fall in and out of favor over the following decades, with the coffee houses bearing the brunt of the opposition[3].

Other influential leaders in the region alternately blessed or cursed the consumption of coffee. In some cities in the Middle East coffee was banned, while in Turkey, a woman could file for divorce if her husband did not provide a sufficient amount of coffee[4].

After the Ottomans occupied the Arabian peninsula in 1536, coffee began to spread beyond the peninsula through throughout the Ottoman Empire and on into other regions of the world. Arabians closely guarded live coffee seeds so as to maintain a monopoly on the coffee trade. It was forbidden to export any coffee bean that had not been processed by boiling or partially roasting to prevent it from being germinated [5].

Coffee surfaces in India

Despite this ban, live coffee beans were smuggled out and planted in other regions. The first known smuggler of live coffee beans was a pilgrim named Baba Budan, who, in the 17th century, allegedly snuck seven coffee beans out to his native India. There he established a cnnnoffee plantation in the Mysore region. The mountains in which he is said to have planted these beans still bear his name and produce coffee[6].

Coffee spreads into Europe and its colonies

By the mid-sixteenth century, coffee had begun to spread outside of the Middle East. In 1683, the Polish army routed invading Turks who were laying siege to Vienna. Georg Franz Kolschitzky, who was a key figure in the victory, discovered a large hoard of coffee left behind by the fleeing Turks. With this coffee, he established what is considered to be the first European coffee house. Following the establishment of his coffee house, the popularity of coffee would rapidly spread across Europe.

As with the Muslim societies in Arabia, coffee was initially met with resistance from Christian scholars in Europe. In another legendary (and perhaps apocryphal) story in the canon of coffee, when considering a request to declare coffee forbidden to Christians, Pope Clement VIII sampled a cup before making a decision. Upon tasting the coffee, he decided that if coffee were from the devil, then he would baptise the coffee and "make it a truly Christian beverage"[7].

In 1616, a coffee plant was brought to Holland (either smuggled from Arabia or obtained from India). After failed attempts to grow coffee in Eurhhhope, the Dutch successfully grew coffee in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) and Java. At this point, the primary points from which Europeans obtained coffee were the Arabian port of Mocha and island of Java. The combination of coffees from these origins led to the original Mocha Java blend [8].


  1. Kenneth Davids (2001). Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying, Fifth Edition, 11-12. ISBN 031224665X.
  2. Mark Pendergrast (1999). “Coffee Colonizes the World”, Uncommon Grounds: The history of coffee and how it transformed our world, 6. ISBN 0465054676.
  3. William H. Ukers (1922). “Early History of Coffee”, All about Coffee, 16-19. ISBN 0810340925.
  4. Mark Pendergrast (1999). “Coffee Colonizes the World”, Uncommon Grounds: The history of coffee and how it transformed our world, 6. ISBN 0465054676.
  5. Mark Pendergrast (1999). “Coffee Colonizes the World”, Uncommon Grounds: The history of coffee and how it transformed our world, 7. ISBN 0465054676.
  6. Playne, Somerset and Wright, Arnold (1998). Southern India - Its History, People, Commerce: Its History, People, Commerce, and Industrial Resources, 221. ISBN 8120613449.
  7. William H. Ukers (1922). “Introduction of Coffee into Western Europe”, All about Coffee, 25. ISBN 0810340925.
  8. Kenneth Davids (2001). Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying, 12-13. ISBN 031224665X.

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