The next time you’re waiting in line at Starbucks for your double vanilla mocha latte, remember that coffee wasn’t always so easily accessible. Many people take coffee for granted, yet history shows that coffee has come a long way since the days of the Galla!
Coffee isn’t anything new; in fact, coffee has been popular for over four hundred years. The history of coffee is anything but dull. The earliest reference to coffee may be a reference to Bunchum in the works of the 10th century Ce Persian physician Razi, but more specific information on the preparation of a beverage from the roasted coffee berries dates from several centuries later.
From frappuchinos to lattes to macchiatos, coffee has become mainstream in our society. The popularity of chains like Starbucks and Caribou Coffee is only one indicator of how reliant our society has become on coffee.
There are various myths and legends about the discovery of the coffee bean. Some people say that an Ethiopian sheep herder noticed that when his sheep ate small red “cherries” from a particular plant, they became hyperactive. The sheep herder tried the fruit himself and noticed the same effect.
Yet another legend tells the story of an Arabian who was banished to the desert with his followers. Out of pure desperation, the Arabs boiled and ate the fruit from an unknown plant, thus surviving the exile. the Arab world began expanding its trade horizons, and the beans moved into northern Africa and were mass-cultivated. From there, the beans were introduced into the Indian and European markets, and the popularity of coffee spread.
Whichever myth you choose to believe, the fact is that coffee originated in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, the plant was not used as a drink. In fact, the earliest use of the coffee bean was by the Galla tribe, who wrapped the beans in animal fat before eating them.
After the plant was brought to Arabia, the Arabians began experimenting with its use as a drink. One of the earliest versions of coffee as we know it today is “qahwa” (which, directly translated, means “that which prevents sleep”), made in 1000 AD. The word "coffee" entered English in 1598 via Italian caffè. This word was created via Turkish kahve, which in turn came into being through Arabic qahwa, a adaptation of qahhwat al-bun or wine of the bean. Coffee provided a suitable alternative to wine as traditional Islam prohibits the use of alcohol as a beverage.
The Boston Tea Party in 1773 was a significant event in the history of coffee, because the boycott of the English tea made coffee even more essential to American colonists. In fact, drinking coffee was almost considered a patriotic requirement.
The next era in the history of coffee is the commercial era. The first coffee shop opened in Constantinople around 1475, after the drink was introduced to the region in 1453. Italian traders were the first to introduce coffee to the Western world in 1600, and in 1607, John Smith is believed to have introduced the drink the Americas.
The coffee industry began booming after it was introduced to Europe. Italy’s first coffee shop opened in 1645, and in 1652, the first coffee shop opened in England. The first Parisian coffee house opened in 1672. By 1940, the United States imported 70 percent of the world’s coffee crop.
The modern history of coffee begins with the invention of instant coffee. Japanese-American Satori Kato invented the first instant coffee drink sometime in 1901, and it was mass produced starting in 1906 after English chemist George Constant Washington perfected the process.