People have been trying to make the best cup of coffee since the 800s CE. Since then, coffee has gone on to be one of the most powerful beans in the world. Its growth and cultivation have helped build whole economies.
From humble beginnings, coffee would spread to become one of the most popular drinks in the modern world. Today 64% of adults in America have a cup of coffee or more a day, and that trend isn’t slowing down, with millennials being one of the heaviest coffee drinking groups.
Regardless of how you enjoy your daily cup, learning the history of coffee will help you appreciate it even more.
Who First Invented Coffee?
There is a good chance that the world owes a huge thank you to a Kingdom of Sheba goat herder named Kaldi. According to legend, he made the first drink from coffee berries in modern-day Ethiopia when he noticed the red coffee cherry gave goats extra energy.
He reported his discovery to a local monastery where the monks threw the berries into the fire to destroy them but instead roasted the first coffee beans. The monks loved the smell so much they decided to boil them and drink coffee.
It’s a fun tale, and depending on who’s telling it, the goats sometimes dance. The real story involves much more work, testing, and experimentation of recipes.
There are no clear-cut answers in the real story, so the legend lives on.
Where Did Coffee Originate?
The roots of coffee go back to the Ethiopian plateaus, but coffee started spreading around the world quickly after that. Historical accounts mention coffee in monasteries in the Middle East and even found its way to Mecca in the 15th century.
The first cup of what modern people would consider coffee first appeared in the Arabian Peninsula. The custom of drinking coffee would flourish there.
People enjoyed coffee in the home and coffee houses, called qahveh khaneh, where people would gather and share discussion, arts, and culture. It started the association with coffee houses and art that many people still have today.
Coffee started showing up all over Asia, Europe, and most of Africa. It would be grown in the Caribbean and parts of North and South America. As more areas started to cultivate the bean, more types of brews began popping up, and people started finding the beans and taste they prefeed.
How Was Coffee First Discovered?
People noticed the effects coffee had on some of the wildlife around them, especially goats, and decided to try their hand at eating the same berries. When they noticed the positive effects, more people started to experiment with the coffee berries.
It would take another 400 years to figure out and perfect the coffee brew that people worldwide enjoy today, but many would argue it was a goal well worth the time.
What Was Coffee Originally Used For?
Coffee is currently the second most traded commodity in the world. It lags behind only Petroleum, leading some to wonder what the world really runs on. When local monks first started to make coffee, it was in the form of wine from the coffee berries.
As coffee became more popular, some religious leaders looked at the new trend with suspicion. They even went as far as calling it the “bitter invention of Satan.” However, initially, monks used the coffee drink in religious ceremonies to help them stay up and finish their daily prayers. In a way, the purpose of coffee hasn’t changed very much in over 1,200 years.
Today it may only be your Grandma that drinks a pot to stay up to pray, but most people use caffeine for an energy boost to finish tasks as you start to drag.
Coffee as a Medicine
Throughout the history of coffee, people have made many claims about its health benefits. In some traditional Chinese medicine texts, coffee can have positive effects on digestive health and respiratory health.
Though many of these claims have been disproven or disputed, there are still many health applications that coffee can help today. These include heart health and decreased chances of some forms of cancer.
Coffee in the Middle East has become a lifestyle. Being home to the first coffee houses in Constantinople in the 1400s has allowed them to develop a culture around coffee.
Some legends claim that the Sultan of Yemen expressed his love for coffee which helped make the drink immensely popular in the region. Today Yemen coffee red berries are considered to be related to the oldest coffee plants.
Coffee houses spread into Cairo, Egypt, and throughout Syria around universities and large cities. By the 16th century, coffee made its way north into Turkey, where coffee lovers enjoyed a new form of pressed Turkish coffee. People also enjoyed it as far east as Persia.
As coffee became more popular in large trade cities, it started to expand outward, becoming a massive trend in Europe and Asia.
Europe and Asia
As coffee came into the new markets of Europe and Asia, it brought a lot of the coffee house culture. The drink became extremely popular, especially after Pope Clement VIII, who changed the church’s position on the one-time “devil’s drink”, tried it and decided to endorse coffee for public use.
People started replacing morning alcohol with coffee because it helped make people more alert to get more work done during the day.
Coffee took longer to become popular in China and Japan, but European-style coffee cafes started showing up in the late 19th century and are now very common.
Main Land Europe
Germany was an early adopter of coffee. It was imported coffee through the Black Sea in the 1600s, and coffee shops started popping up immediately as people enjoyed their coffee with their pastries.
Austria found coffee while fighting in Turkey in 1683, and they brought it back home, where they started serving it with cream and sugar.
In the 1600s, the Dutch East India trade company would start coffee cultivation in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), Java, and Southern India. They would become a significant force in spreading coffee to the rest of the world.
Coffee would become popular in Europe due to the use of coffee by many famous figures. King Louis XIV of France ordered it to be planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in 1714. The drink became popular in cafes in Paris and continues to be a favorite french drink today.
Italy took to coffee quickly. Venice imported coffee from Egypt and opened over 200 coffee shops by 1763.
When you think about London and Great Britain in general, you probably think about tea. Though tea is an institution in England, coffee has had large stretches of popularity.
England started enjoying coffee in the 1500s due to the trade with Turkey. However, there were many attempts to stop coffee from taking hold. Some of these movements called for the outlawing of coffee as a new form of liquor.
During the Enlightenment, coffee houses became “Penny Universities,” where people would learn outside of the standard education structure. King Charles II banned women from the coffee houses in an attempt to limit their popularity.
Today, coffee still has an important place in English culture. And luckily, everyone is free to enter coffee houses (or tea houses) and pick their own source of caffeine.
Indonesia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world. One primary nickname for coffee comes from the island of Java in Indonesia. It exported so much coffee that people started to refer to it as Java.
Indonesia exports most of its coffee, but you can get Indonesian drinks like Kopi Ende, which adds ginger and other spices to coffee.
Baba Budan, who became a Sufi saint, is considered the person who brought coffee to India in the 1500s. Coffee remains both a popular drink and a major export from southern India.
Gabriel De Clieu introduced coffee seedlings to Martinique in 1720. That was the introduction of coffee to the Americas, and it would take off from there. Soon coffee plantations could be found all over the Caribbean, Southern North America, and South America.
Since its founding, America always drank some coffee, but their consumption exploded after the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Drinking tea became a sign of loyalty to England, so coffee became the drink of choice.
In 1864 John and Charles Arbuckle started selling pre-roasted coffee by the pound, which caused an explosion in coffee’s popularity and availability. Instant coffee created in 1881 would help allow even more people to enjoy a cup of joe.
Coffee’s popularity would wax and wane, but the drink would remain on almost every menu in the U.S. Brewing it at home or buying it out, Americans still drink a myriad of coffee-inspired beverages every day.
By the 1980s franchise, coffee shops were changing the landscape of the coffee industry. The world is still dealing with these ramifications today.
The coffee trade built many South American economies. They are so tied to coffee that dips in the market have historically hurt the region a lot. In the 1800s, Brazil had a near-monopoly on coffee-producing more coffee than the rest of the world combined.
Today South America continues to make a ton of coffee for both internal use and export. New sugar-filled drinks have hurt some of South America’s coffee industry because Robusta beans from Africa have become more popular for those.
Even though South America is one of the biggest producers of coffee, almost all of it gets exported. Brazil drinks the most coffee in South America, but it is still not one of the top coffee consumers. They grow it there, but they don’t tend to drink much of it.
Contemporary Coffee Trends
Coffee has come a long way from being a wine drink created from coffee cherries. In 2020 whipped coffee took the world by storm, and more new styles are coming out all the time. (We’ve created an overview of different types of coffee drinks here, in case you’d like to expand your horizons and tease your tastebuds.)
More international flavors will come into the market, and a focus on healthy coffee options will probably dominate the next year.
Trends in coffee tend to come and go, but there have been three major waves of coffee in America over the last 220 years.
You can break recent history of coffee into three waves. Each wave has overlapped with each other, and even today, there are still people who prefer their first wave coffee experience.
There can be some competition behind the mindsets of the three waves. Some people only believe in the ideals of one wave of coffee, but often people will enjoy their coffee in multiple forms using all three different waves.
First Wave Coffee
First wave coffee goes back to the early 18th century when coffee became a commodity. It is all about getting coffee into as many cups as possible.
This wave is known for the colossal coffee companies like Folgers and Maxwell House. Basic black coffee is the king of this wave, with some people adding coffee and sugar.
Getting your caffeine is the most crucial feature that coffee offers. Taste is secondary, and how you get the beans doesn’t enter the equation.
Second Wave Coffee
Second wave coffee started from people starting to get a better understanding of the coffee industry. It was the beginning of the focus on the beans. Some people credit the creation of this wave with the opening of the first Starbucks coffeeshop in Seattle in the 1970s.
This wave was the change from nameless cups of coffee to branded coffee experiences to start your morning. It included more flavors and more coffee-based drinks like espressos, cappuccinos, and frappuccinos.
The coffee shop experience came back into favor during this wave. Even though the concept had never gone away, it had become less popular.
Third Wave Coffee
These are coffee companies that take you through the journey your coffee makes. It starts with when, where, and how it is grown. It also includes how they roast the beans and brew the coffee.
Coffee is considered more of an art form, with people spending extra time and taking additional steps to make perfect cups of coffee that look, smell, and taste excellent.
This wave focuses on the sustainability of coffee. Looking at the economic and environmental impact of coffee can help find ways to make the industry run better and use its resources more thoughtfully.
It focuses on fair trade coffee, which helps provide fair wages to coffee farmers. There are also ways to help improve labor conditions. It tends to avoid large coffee plantations and instead focuses on artisan coffee from small growers.
The coffee industry is worth over 450 billion dollars. More than 100 million people depend on their livelihood from the industry. One of the goals is to make the world a better place by making every aspect of the coffee industry more fair and pleasant.
The history of coffee continues to grow and change by the day. In the last ten years, coffee house chess, a more aggressive version of the classic game, has become very popular. It grew out of coffee house society.
The roast, drinks, and blends continue to change and grow daily as different coffee companies compete to be the most popular drink.
Coffee has come a long way. It has fought through prohibitions, religious scandals, and high export prices and remained one of the most popular drinks in the world. No matter how you drink your favorite brew of coffee, you can be sure that there is something new and fun coming that will help invigorate your favorite drink.