Articles From Whole Latte Love

The History and Transformation of the Coffee Bean

Posted: 02/24/09

coffee beansEver wonder how coffee came to be? How someone figured out how to take a bean, smash it up and run boiled, steeped or pressurized water through it? Whose idea was it to grind, tamp, drip, steam, froth and foam? Who even discovered the coffee bean to begin with? There are a few folklores and romantic tales as to exactly how it was discovered and how coffee came to be. But it is believed the coffee tree originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa.

Goats Discover Coffee Berries
Legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi began to notice his goats frolicking around in an unusually spirited manner after grazing from a bush of berries. Kaldi tried the berries himself, and became smitten with the energizing and stimulating effects of the berries. He began telling his friends of the berries and soon the word spread.

Camels Discover Coffee Berries
Another variation of the story says the berries were discovered by a camel shepherd who noticed his camels would stay awake all night after eating them, and the shepherd in turn told some local monks of the berries. The monks then used the berries to stay awake during late night prayer sessions. While we may not know for sure who discovered the coffee bean, for centuries this is how coffee was enjoyed – as a berry to chew rather than a bean to brew.

Turkish CafeAfrica and Ethiopia
It is believed that around 1000 AD, East African tribes began grinding coffee cherries into a paste and mixing the paste with animal fat. The mixture would then be rolled into little balls, which were believed to provide energy to the warriors fighting in battles. It wasn't until sometime around the 1100s that coffee was cultivated and the beans were roasted and boiled to make a drink. Ethiopians created a type of wine from coffee berries, but coffee beans were first made into a hot drink on the Arabian Peninsula.

We know that as early as the 15th century, coffee was being transported from Sudan into Yemen and Arabia through the Yemen port city of Mocha, famous for being the major marketplace for coffee from the 15th century until the 17th century. The Arabs, though, had a strict policy that denied the exportation of fertile coffee beans, so coffee could not be cultivated anywhere else. Then in 1616, the Dutch obtained some of the Arabs' live coffee trees and brought them back to Holland, where they began growing them in greenhouses. The Dutch eventually founded the East Africa coffee trade, becoming the first to cultivate and commercially transport coffee.

It was in 1457 in Istanbul that the first coffeehouse, Kiva Han, was opened. Soon after, coffee houses began springing up throughout the Arab world. Each coffee house had its own unique personality, was richly decorated, and offered something the Arabs had never before experienced – a place where business and pleasure could be shared over a cup of coffee. Patrons came to gossip, listen to music, sing and dance, play chess, and conduct business. In Mecca, the coffee houses became centers of political activities. This led to the banning of coffeehouses and coffee many times over the next few decades. The bans ended with the implementation of a coffee and coffeehouse tax.

coffee millEurope
After long being popular in Middle Eastern countries, Persia, Turkey and North Africa, coffee finally made its way to Europe in 1615, making its first stop in Venice. Though the British already had their favorite drink in tea, they recognized coffee's potential commercial possibilities and opened their first coffeehouse in 1652. The coffeehouses were known as penny universities because the patrons were charged a penny for admission and a cup of coffee. Interestingly, it is in the English coffee houses that the term tips originated – an abbreviation standing for "to insure prompt service."

Coffeehouses spread further through Europe in the mid to late 1600s, landing in Italy in 1654, in Paris in 1672, and finally seducing Germany in 1673. It is believed that Captain John Smith introduced the United States to coffee in 1607 while he was helping establish Jamestown, Virginia. Still, coffeehouses didn't emerge until much later, in 1689 in Boston. Soon after, more coffee houses began springing up in Boston, and in New York, Philadelphia, and other towns. The New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York got their starts in coffeehouses, in what is known today as Wall Street.

From Europe to America
Coffee has reformed many traditions since it first began caffeinating monks, herders and wild animals in the distant African forests. There was a time when beer was actually the preferred breakfast drink, until coffee dethroned the bubbly brew in 1668 when New York City ordained coffee the breakfast drink of choice. It wasn't long before the rest of the world followed in the Empire State's footprints. Brewing CoffeeThough it was not well received at first, coffee was so popular with the Ottoman Turks in the mid to late 1400s that a woman could file for divorce from her husband if he failed to deliver her quota of coffee to her. A governor of Mecca tried to ban coffee for fear it might promote opposition to his rule. Somewhat ironically, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was planned in a coffee house, the Green Dragon. And it was the famous Tea Party that led to the declaration that it was an American's patriotic duty to drink coffee.

Over the centuries, coffee has been both vilified and worshipped. Today coffee's popularity is paramount. Coffee shops line city streets, coffee websites and coffee clubs continue gaining popularity. Coffee is more than a beverage or a bean. It's more than Arabica and Robusta, drip or espresso, regular or decaf. Coffee is a tradition, a culture, an important and significant part of history. Since the realization that the coffee bean can perk people up and make them happy and more productive, the coffee bean has brought about changes and inventions that have transformed traditions and reshaped our culture.

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