Whether you prefer an automatic drip coffee maker or the meditation of a perfect...
All great things in this world come from a mistake, it seems. And coffee is no exception. But the history of coffee is one that is full of twists and turns, some political, some down to happenstance, but all of them have contributed to your double espresso being what it is today.
The popular theory is that coffee was really ‘discovered’ by a sheep herder from Caffa Ethiopia. The herder was known as Kaldi, and he happened to notice that his sheep would get hyperactive after eating red “cherries” from the plant we now know to be coffee.
Intrigued as to what the plant was doing to his flock, Kaldi tried a couple himself, and was soon in a caffeine frenzy. Initially, the local monks scolded Kaldi for his new found drug, but they soon found that if they took some coffee themselves, the monks could stay up later for their prayers- or so the story goes.
Originally the coffee plant grew naturally in Ethopia, where the coffee bean would be wrapped in animal fat by the locals and used as sustenance on long hunting and raiding expeditions over a thousand years ago. It was the Arabians that took the plant away, farmed it heavily, and began the first coffee monopoly. In 1453, the Turks were the first people to actually make a drink out of coffee beans, and the world’s first coffee shop, Kiva Han, opened there 22 years later. At the same time, Turkish law made it legal to divorce a man if he fails to provide his wife with enough coffee to last her the day.
In 1511, the governor of Mecca, Khair Beg, tried to ban coffee because he saw that its influence might encourage the emergence of an opposition to his government. Beg wasn’t a smart man, because the Sultan of Arabia considered coffee to be sacred, and duly had the Governor killed. In Arabia at the time, coffee plants were guarded like we guard nuclear plants today. The idea was to keep coffee in Arabia, but it was a theory that worked better in concept than practice. Just as with any other delicacy, when you tell people they can’t have it, they find a way to have it anyway, and so a man by the name of Baba Budan smuggled the precious beans to the region of Mysore, India, and began farming coffee. To this day, the offshoots of those original plants are still farmed in Mysore.
Not everyone was a fan- at least initially. Pope Vincent III was told that coffee was the Devil’s drink, so he decided to give it a tiny taste before putting through the decree that would ban the drink. That taste was enough to turn the religious leader around on the topic, leaving him to state that the drink was “so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.” Vinnie the Third duly ‘baptized’ coffee, making it an acceptable drink for the Christian flock.
So how did coffee get out to America? Some say that Captain John Smith brought it with him when he founded the colony of Virginia at Jamestown. Not long after that time, in 1645, the first coffeehouse opened in Italy, followed by one in England some seven years later. From that point, coffee was unstoppable. Within six years, coffee had replaced beer as New York’s City’s favorite breakfast drink. Within another ten, Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse in England makes such good money, and does so well at attracting wealthy merchants and maritime insurance agents, that it becomes Lloyd’s of London, the best-known and one of the most profitable insurance companies in history.
When the Dutch smuggled a coffee plant smuggled out of Arabia, they took it to Ceylon and Java, and soon had a near monopoly of their own. In 1723, the French used the same trick of sneaking a coffee seedling across the sea and turning it into an industry, when naval officer Gabriel Mathieu do Clieu stole a plant and shipped it to Martinique. 50 years later, there were over 19 million coffee trees on the island, and over time, 90% of the world’s commercial coffee crop would come from this one single plant.
Meanwhile, the Brazilians had got into the act. In 1727, a Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta came to arbitrate a border dispute between the French and the Dutch colonies in Guyana. By all reports, he did his job well, but while he was at it, he shacked up with the wife of the Governor of French Guyana. When Palheta departed, the lady saw him off with a bouquet containing hidden coffee cuttings and fertile seeds.
In 1773, Americans threw coffee and tea overboard to protest English taxes on the nation, bringing about The Boston Tea Party and spurring a revolution. In Europe at the same time, Prussia’s Frederick the Great tried to block imports of green coffee to stop Prussia’s economy going south. He needn’t have bothered, for the public outcry that ensued soon proved impossible to bare and he revoked the ban.
Fast forward 120 years and the local roasting shop and coffee mill is a commonplace sight in most western cities – that is, until Hills Bros. begin packing roast coffee in vacuum tins, destroying the roasting shop industry for all but a few large companies in the process. A year later, in 1901, instant coffee was created by Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato in Chicago, and two years after that, a German coffee importer, Ludwig Roselius, decides to see if a batch of ruined coffee beans can be turned into something useful by his researchers. They notice the caffeine has been removed by the water that ruined the beans, and the decaffeinated product is soon marketed as Sanka.
And if you think coffee was big by that point, just imagine what happened when the American government banned alcohol in 1920. Coffee sales skyrocketed. Twenty years later, the United States regularly imports a whopping 70% of the world coffee crop for itself. American soldiers are issued instant Maxwell House coffee in their ration kits as they fight World War II, while widespread hoarding on the home front leads to coffee becoming a rationed commodity across the country. The other side of the War was working coffee magic too, as Italian Achilles Gaggia invented the espresso machine. He duly named the Cappuccino for its resemblance to the color of the robes of the monks of the Capuchin order.
In 1971, Starbucks opened its first store in Seattle’s Pike Place public market. By 1995, Starbucks had become a pop culture reference, with a store on every block, and, in some cases, every corner. From 1995 to 2000, coffee consumption skyrockets once more, rising a whopping 700%. The price paid to growers drops, in the same time, by over 50%, due largely to competition from Asian growers and predatory buying practices.
Tomorrow? Who knows?