There are a lot of legends about the history of coffee, and although we will never know for sure, it is said that the discovery of coffee is due to the Ethiopian shepherd Kaldi. One day he noticed that his goats, after eating berries from a certain tree became so lively that they could not sleep at night.
Kaldi reported the results to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that they kept him awake for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks of the monastery, and the knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries soon began to spread. Thus the coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, where it began to spread throughout the world.
Today coffee is grown in a multitude of countries around the world: Asia, Africa, Central, and South America, islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The Arabs were the first, not only to grow coffee but also to start their business. In the 15th century, coffee was grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia, and from the 16th century, it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
Coffee was not consumed only in homes, but also in the many public cafes that appeared in the cities of the Middle East. The popularity of coffee was unparalleled, and people began to frequent them for every type of social activity: not only to drink coffee but also to hold a conversation, listen to music, watch artists, play chess and keep up with the news of the day. Public cafés quickly became a valuable information exchange centre and were often referred to as ‘Schools of the Wise’.
With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca every year from all over the world, the fame of coffee began to spread far beyond Arabia. In an attempt to maintain a complete monopoly in the coffee trade, the Arabs continued to monitor their coffee production closely.
European travelers in the Middle East reported stories of the unusual dark black drink. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. In 1615 the coffee arrived in Venice, and the local clergy defines it as the ‘bitter drink of Satan’. The controversy is so great that Pope Clement VIII must intervene. However, before making a decision, he decides to taste the drink and, finding it satisfying, grants papal approval.
In the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands, public cafés are rapidly becoming centres of social activity and communication. In the mid-17th century, there were more than 300 coffee houses in London. Customers were merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.
The Arabs tried to maintain the monopoly in the cultivation of coffee, but Dutch settlers succeeded, in the second half of the 17th century, in obtaining some seedlings. Their first attempts to grow coffee in India failed, but they succeeded later on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia. The plants prospered, and soon the Dutch developed a productive and growing coffee trade also on the island of Sumatra.
In 1723, a young French naval officer obtained a coffee plant from King Louis of France, and after an arduous journey, the shoot arrived in Martinique. Once planted, the sprout prospered and gave birth to over 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique in the next 50 years. It was the beginning of the spread of the coffee plant in the Caribbean region, in Central and South America.
In just over a century, coffee has established itself as an agricultural product all over the world. Missionaries and envoys, traders and settlers continued to transport coffee seeds to new lands. Coffee plants were planted in many countries. Plantations were created in magnificent tropical forests and on mountainous plateaus. Some crops flourished, others vanished. By the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the most profitable export crops in the world.