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History of Coffee


Where did coffee originate? How did coffee become the world's second most valuable traded commodity? Read on to find out more...

Coffee Cherries on tree

6th Century AD
It is known that coffee was being cultivated in the Yemen in the 6th Century AD, though some say it was drunk as early as 900BC. One legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi was curious to see his goats leaping around after eating a certain type of red cherry. Kaldi tried the berries, and found himself strangely energised. Before long, Muslims were brewing a beverage from the dried berries, which they found gave them further energy in their long hours of prayer. This beverage became known as 'kahweh' from the Arabic for 'invigorating' and the Turkish derivative kahveh (that gives strength) - all forms are phonetic forms of this with 'coffee' now accepted widely throughout the world.

Around 900 AD, coffee was well established in Arabia.

1400 - 1500 AD
By the 15th Century, the practice of drinking coffee was popular throughout the Muslim world. Coffee was exported but its cultivation was jealously guarded.

Venetian traders smuggled a coffee plant out of the Yemen. Coffee, therefore, came to Europe along the Spice Route, and was used for medicinal purposes. By the end of the century, traders were also selling it as a drink alongside herbal infusions and lemon drinks.

The Dutch colonised Ethiopia and took coffee plants back to Holland. Plants were kept in greenhouses due to the climate not being suitable for growth. When the Dutch colonised areas of the world where coffee could grow, they introduced coffee to that country.

The first coffee house opened in Oxford, England, but women were not allowed access, other than to serve men. A number of British women wrote a lengthy petition (now in the coffee museum, London) to the coffee houses requesting access. They were refused.

The first tea house opened in England. This became a place for women to gather.

Coffee cultivation began in the Dutch colonies of Ceylon & Java. This movement resulted in the growth of coffee trading in Amsterdam.

Plants were sent from Amsterdam to King Louis XIV of France.

The Dutch moved coffee from Java to Dutch Guyana in South America.

The Brazilian coffee trade is reported to have been sparked by a love affair. A Brazilian coast guard officer visiting Cayenne, French Guyana, loved the coffee he drank there. He was also attracted to the Governor's wife, who in turn loved him, and, at his request, secretly supplied the few seeds that were subsequently grown in Brazil, subsequently founding the production that has dominated world trade for 200 years. They proved to be species Arabica. By 1800, Brazil had become the largest producer of coffee in the world.

The British took coffee to Jamaica.

Guatemala received its first coffee crop.

The year of the famous Boston tea party - a rebellion by Americans against the new increased taxes put on tea by their British rulers. Dressed as Indians, they dumped three boat loads of tea into Boston harbour and then replaced tea with coffee as their revolutionary beverage of choice.

Coffee moved from Cuba to Costa Rica.

Mexico received its first coffee plant.

A French naval officer, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, stole a cutting from the King's coffee tree, in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, and took it to the Caribbean island of Martinique. Fifty years later, there were an estimated 18 million coffee trees there.

Hawaii received coffee from Rio de Janeiro. Bourbon coffee seedlings arrived in South and Central America.

Introduction of coffee to British East Africa.

Coffee is the second largest traded commodity in the world (after oil). In Britain, over 7,000 million cups of coffee are served annually and 86% of this is instant.

Girls enjoying coffee and Kit Kat

The Great Coffee House Tradition

Coffee houses sprang up everywhere in the Arab world, and people flocked there, but the more they frequented the houses, the less they went to the mosques. 

In 1672 a coffee house was opened in Paris in the market place of St Germain by an Armenian named Pascal, created in Turkish style. He had the monopoly on coffee in Paris, until in 1686, a Sicilian (Francesca Procopio dei Coltelli) opened a café across the street, called Café Procope. This started to attract the literary and political élite of the city. From then on, the Parisians’ infatuation with coffee began and by the end of the 18th Century there were 700 cafés. By the mid 19th Century, there were some 3,000. Café Procope still exists today, just off Boulevard St Germain.

In the UK, the first coffee house opened in 1650 in Oxford. The first London coffee house opened in 1652 in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill. Lloyds of London was originally a Coffee Shop called “Edward Lloyds Coffee House”. London coffee houses were nicknamed “Penny Universities” because for the price of a cup of coffee you could sit and join in the stimulating conversation with the great thinkers of the day. Jonathon’s Coffee House in Change Alley was frequented by entrepreneurs and merchant venturers, and was the beginning of the London Stock Exchange.

By 1675 there were nearly 3,000 coffee houses in England. King Charles II tried to denounce them as seditious meeting places and issued a proclamation rescinding their licences - it created such opposition it was hurriedly withdrawn.

By the 18th Century in Germany, coffee had started to challenge the supremacy of beer as the nation’s favourite tipple.

Now there is a revival of the coffee house in the UK, with some 2,000 opened by 2002.