Nobody knows when or how coffee was discovered, but there are a lot of legends about the origin of coffee.

The Ethiopian Legend

The origin of the coffee that we grow today can be traced way back centuries ago to the coffee forests of the Ethiopian plateau. It was Kaldi, the goat herder who first discovered the potential benefits of these amazing beans. Based on the story, Kaldi discovered coffee after he observed that his goats became energetic after eating a certain type of berry from a tree. Their energy levels were so high that they did not even want to go to sleep at night.

Kaldi then reported this observation to the abbot of the local monastery, who quickly made a drink using these berries. As a result, he discovered that he stayed alert the entire night while doing his evening prayer. Afterward, the abbot then informed the other monks about his discovery, and the idea of these energizing berries started to spread.

As word about coffee spread east and reached the Arabian Peninsula, it started a journey that would bring coffee beans worldwide.

The Arabian Peninsula

Coffee growth and trade started in the Arabian Peninsula. Coffee was cultivated in the Yemeni district of Arabia during the 15th century. Later, in the 16th century, coffee became well-known in Egypt, Turkey, Persia, and Syria.

Coffee was not only loved in homes, but also in various public coffee houses, also known as qahveh khaneh. It was introduced in cities across the Near East. Coffee houses have risen to fame and today, many people continue to visit them for different types of social activity.

Aside from drinking coffee, the patrons also enjoy conversing while watching performers, listening to music, playing chess, or keeping themselves updated with the latest news. At this point, coffee houses became a significant place for exchanging information that they often called as “Schools of the Wise.”

Every year, several pilgrims from all over the world visit the holy city of Mecca, and the concept of “wine of Araby” started to spread.

Coffee Reaches Europe

People who have traveled to Europe, particularly, the Near East, brought back stories about this unique dark black beverage. During the 17th century, coffee was already introduced in Europe and became famous all over the continent.

Unfortunately, some people had unusual reactions to this new beverage. They have suspicions or fears and even call it the “bitter invention of Satan.” In 1615, when coffee was introduced in Venice, the local clergy doomed it. The controversy even grew bigger that Pope Clement VIII needed to intercede. He decided to taste the beverage for himself and discovered that coffee feels so satisfying so it was given papal approval.

Despite experiencing such controversy, coffee houses instantly became the center of social activities and communications in the prominent cities of Austria, Germany, England, France, and Holland. “Penny universities” became popular in England. This is known as such because a penny was enough for buying one cup of coffee and engaging in stimulating conversation.

During that time, instead of drinking wine and beer during breakfast, people replaced these beverages with coffee. Those who drank coffee rather than alcohol started their days energized and more alert, and it is not surprising to learn that the quality of their work has greatly improved. When the mid-17th century came about, the coffee houses in London had grown to more than three hundred in number. Most of these coffee houses are a great attraction to like-minded patrons such as shippers, artists, merchants, and brokers. Most businesses grew out of coffee houses. For instance, Lloyd’s of London existed because of Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.

The New World

During the mid-1600’s, coffee reached New Amsterdam, which was later named New York by the British. Although coffee houses quickly started to appear, the preferred drink in the New World was still tea. It was not until 1773, when the colonists started a revolution due to the enormous tax on tea implemented by King George III. The revolution, also referred to as the Boston Tea Party, created a huge impact on American drinking preferences. According to Thomas Jefferson, coffee is considered the preferred drink of the civilized world.

Coffee Plantations Around the World

As the demand for coffee continued to grow, the competition for growing coffee outside of Arabia was getting more intense. Finally, during the latter half of the 17th century, the Dutch were able to obtain seedlings. Unfortunately, their attempt in planting coffee in India was a failure.  But they succeed in their attempt in Batavia, Indonesia, formerly the island of Java.

The plants flourished and soon after, the Dutch had a productive and developing trade in coffee. Afterward, they expanded their plantation of coffee trees to other places, particularly, in the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.

Reaching the Americas

Back in 1714, King Louis XIV of France received a young coffee plant as a gift from the Mayor of Amsterdam. The King then decided to plant it in the Royal Botanical Garden, which is in Paris. Gabriel de Clieu, a young naval officer, was able to get a golf of the seedling from the King’s coffee plant in 1723. Despite experiencing various challenges in the voyage, such as infiltrators trying to destroy the seedling, harsh weather conditions, and a pirate attack, he successfully transported it to Martinique.

After planting the seedling, it not only thrived, but it was also responsible for the spread of more than 18 million coffee trees that were cultivated on the island of Martinique during the succeeding 50 years. What’s even more amazing is that this seedling became the parent of every coffee tree grown throughout South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

The famous Brazilian coffee existed because of Francisco de Mello Palheta, who was summoned by the emperor to obtain coffee seedlings from French Guiana. The French did not want to share their coffee seedlines with anybody, which made his mission difficult. However, the wife of the French Governor was greatly attracted to his good looks. Before leaving, she gave him a huge bouquet of flowers with coffee seeds buried inside. It was how this billion-dollar industry started.

Colonists, traders, travelers, and missionaries have continued to bring coffee seeds to new places, which is why we can see coffee trees planted all over the world. Plantations were set up in rugged mountain highlands and tropical forests. Some crops thrived, while others did not. New nations were set up on coffee economies. Some fortunes were made while some were also lost. Nevertheless, when the 18th century ended, coffee has turned to become one the most profitable export crops in the world. Coffee is considered the most sought-out commodity worldwide, next to crude oil.

Yemen’s Myth

Another myth about coffee’s origins is that it all started in Yemen. The first Yemen legend is quite basic compared to the Kaldi myth, but it has an interesting twist since it is linked to the origin of coffee in Ethiopia.

Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, a Yemenite Sufi mystic, had once traveled through Ethiopia, most probably, due to spiritual matters. During his travels, he came across very energetic birds that were consuming the fruit of the bunn plant, which is also referred to as the coffee plant. Feeling tired from his journey, he tried to eat these berries and discovered that he himself became more energetic.

The second Yemen myth about the origin of coffee alleged that coffee originated in Yemen. The legend is focused on the follower of Sheik Abou’l Hasan Schadheli, who is also a doctor-priest, Sheikh Omar. He was exiled to a cave near the mountain of Ousab.

One version states that the cause of the exile was a moral transgression. Based on another version, he was exiled since he practiced medicine on the princess rather than on his master. After treating her, he chose to keep her. And because of this, the king exiled him as a punishment.

While Omar was exiled for some time, he was starving and discovered red berries of the coffee plant and ate them. Another version says that a branch bearing coffee cherries was brought by a bird after he asked for some help from his master, Schadheli.

However, Omar thought that they are too bitter when eaten raw. In an attempt to eliminate their bitterness, he placed the berries in the fire. The roasting of the berries hardened it, so he tried to soften them. When he boiled the roasted berries, he instantly noticed the great aroma of the brown liquid. Hence, he opted to drink this, instead of eating the beans. He discovered that the beverage was revitalizing, so he shared this story to others.

According to another version, Omar thought that the raw beans were delicious, so he turned them into soup. After removing the roasted coffee beans, the soup resembled the drink that we referred to as coffee.

Omar’s story about his invigorating drink instantly reached Mocha, his hometown. After his exile was over, he returned home bringing the berries that he discovered. Upon returning to his hometown, Mocha, he shared coffee beans and drank coffee with other people. He also found out that it played a role in the treatment of a lot of ailments. Later, coffee was considered a miracle drug, and Omar was hailed as a saint. In Mocha, you can find a monastery that was built in his honor.

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