History of Coffee
- 1 Discovery Of The Coffee Bush
- 2 Coffee Beans From Mocha
- 3 Coffee Drinking Reaches The Ottoman Empire
- 4 The Coffee Bush Leaves Arabia
- 5 The Coffee Habit Enters Europe
- 6 The Early Global Trade In Coffee
- 7 Coffee Houses In Europe
- 8 Coffee Reaches The West Indies
- 9 Coffee In Brazil
- 10 The Importance of Robusta Coffee
Discovery Of The Coffee Bush
During the sixth century, a new plant, Caffea arabica, was discovered in Arabia in what is now called the Yemen. The bush was named after the place it was discovered - Kaffa. This bush had bright green leaves, fragrant white blossoms and mature and immature berries growing on the same plant. The foundation myth is that a goatherd noticed his goats getting very boisterous after nibbling at the berries on these bushes. He told the local mullah, who found that chewing coffee berries (or kaffa bun in Arabic) helped him to stay awake during prayers and meditation.
Gradually this habit rather than drinking spread through the Middle East via nomadic trade links and local apothecaries added it to their repertoire of herbs and roots for medicine. Coffee became recognised and enjoyed as a stimulant in a culture that forbade alcohol. Until the thirteenth century, kaffa buns were chewed raw or ground up with other seeds and made into a porridge.
How roasting arose no-one knows. However, it probably came about by accident, and we can imagine some beans fell into a cooking fire and the aroma and then taste being enjoyed. After being discovered, roasted coffee as a drink soon spread and its demand as a traded commodity rose.
Coffee Beans From Mocha
Local rulers saw the advantages of a monopoly in trade of coffee beans, so forbade the export of seeds of the coffee bush to prevent new growing regions becoming established. During the thirteenth century, all coffee was grown in the Yemen and Ethiopia and exported from Mocha, then a port in the Red Sea. Mocha is still used, but usually incorrectly. Mocha should only refer to beans from Ethiopia, but is frequently used to describe strong coffee blends or espresso-making machines.
The original mocha coffee probably had a similarly tangy and gamy character to that of today. These naturally processed, sun-dried coffee beans have a hint of the dry soil and arid growing conditions in both Ethiopia and Yemen. However, most of us would not appreciate the Arabian custom of when brewing kawa or kisht of throwing in a few handfuls of cardamom, cinnamon and ginger to enliven the flavours and simmering the brew over an camp fire.
Coffee Drinking Reaches The Ottoman Empire
By 1517, coffee was arriving in the Ottoman Empire. This was around the same time as the Reformation in Europe. Turkish coffee was made with roasted coffee beans, using the nomadic technique of crushing and then stewing them in water. This is still how coffee is made when it is drunk as café Turk. A traveller in that period wrote of the Ottoman practice of "drinking long drafts of black brew after meals...as a delicacy and in mouthfuls whilst taking one's ease in the company of friends."
Not all were happy about the spread of coffee. Religious leaders in the Ottoman Empire denounced drinking coffee, having noticed mosques were sometimes empty but the coffee houses full. However, already coffee was an important part of Turkish social culture and wherever the Ottoman Empire spread, so did the coffee house. There were mutterings from the leaders that coffee house with their lavish decorations and rich carpets were centres of dissent. They were banned every so often by governors and at one time the punishment for being caught drinking a cup of coffee was to be flung into the Bosphorus in a sack.
The Coffee Bush Leaves Arabia
About 1600, a Moslem called Baba Budan, when on pilgrimage to Mecca, smuggled out a handful of coffee seeds to his home in Chikamalagur in India. The coffee seeds germinated and soon coffee bushes were to be found throughout the State of Mysore. With rich soil and humid climate, Mysore coffee had a smoother, softer taste and blended well with the acidic nature of mocha. The Dutch exported Indian coffee globally and planted the coffee bushes throughout their colonies. Indian coffee was destroyed by the blight from 1860, but later reintroduced by the British as the "Kent variety" in 1920.
The Coffee Habit Enters Europe
Mediterranean merchants had known of coffee since around 1615, but as the Ottoman Empire monopolised trade only small volumes of Café d'Arabie were imported into Europe via Marseilles and at really high prices. Nevertheless, rich French families took up coffee drinking, so the merchants sold them whole red cherries which weighed more.
These red cherries had to be stripped of their flesh and shell, so reducing their weight by one-sixth, then were roasted over an uneven heat from charcoal or wood. Then when the beans emerged they would be a further 20% less in weight than their original. The beans would then be ground in a mortar and pestle and flung into a pan of water.
Although they were not experts or particularly scientific about it, these early European adopters paid the modern equivalent of £500 per pound ($750 per lb), so coffee-making was a very expensive hobby.
The Early Global Trade In Coffee
The European nations wanted to become involved in the coffee trade. Because coffee bushes were in India by the early seventeenth century, the Dutch were able to take plants and seeds to Java between 1620 and 1630, where the soil and climate were ideal. After some experimentation, Java coffee was introduced to coffee drinkers and by 1660 the Mocha-Java blend was an everyday luxury of the rich. In 1656, Ceylon was taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch and another coffee country was soon established.
Coffee beans from Ceylon and Indonesia were bolder than those from Mocha and India. The rich volcanic soils at over 900 metres (3,000 ft) suited the coffee bushes, producing a richer taste. Also, the rainfall was better. Understanding of cultivation methods improved and the coffee trade grew strongly until the blight of 1860, which virtually destroyed all Singhalese and Indonesian coffee plantations. Many of those in Indonesia were converted to rubber plantations and those of Ceylon to tea.
Coffee Houses In Europe
In 1650, the first coffee house was opened in Europe by Jacob the Jew, in Oxford, and soon the Mediterranean and North African coffee habit became popular in England, remaining popular ever since. Within two years there were coffee houses all over Britain, because during this Puritan period alcohol was frowned upon and coffee was an ideal alternative to the decadence of pubs. Really, we should see Costa Coffee and Starbucks as merely keeping this 350 year old tradition alive rather than being anything novel.
On the Continent, the French continued to struggle on with home brewing, the Austrians had a stroke of luck. After the failed Siege of Vienna in 1683, the attacking Turkish army left behind their possessions. An essential part of their solder's equipment was the mortar and pestle, their coffee pot (Ibrik) and coffee beans. The art of coffee-making was handed over to them on a plate. A former Turkish prisoner then set up the first café in Vienna, copying the luxury he had witnessed in Turkey, while learning how to filter off its sediment and adding a little milk and honey to set off the bitter taste. Vienna became, and remains, one of the coffee capitals of Europe, inventing for example the delicious "Viennese Iced Coffee" made with whipped cream.
However as the European coffee house waxed, those in England were on the wane. The "Penny Universities" as thee were called were cheaper than French coffee houses. In England, anyone could enter a coffee house for the 1d price of a cup of coffee. For 2d, he could get a newspaper as well. Some coffee house attracted men of influence, so the London Stock Exchange started in Jonathan's coffee house in Exchange Alley and Lloyds Bank, the Lloyd's Insurance Market and Lloyd's Register of Shipping began in the Lloyd's Coffee House, while Dr Johnson and John Dryden, the poet were regulars at coffee houses. The first newspapers circulated through the coffee houses, providing the latest gossip and news on politics and commerce. However, many coffee houses had simply replaced pubs and were sordid, violent places.
Women, in particular, objected to the time their husbands spent in such establishments. In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was launched, stating in a pamphlet that coffee "made men as unfruitful as the deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought". King Charles II was concerned about them as places of dissent much like the Ottomans had also felt earlier. Charles II tried to ban them, calling coffee houses "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of his Majesty and his Ministers", he was forced to withdraw the ban almost before the ink was dry. However, coffee houses were on the wane and paved the way for the rise of the tea house. By 1715, tea houses were everywhere and coffee houses had become pubs, chop houses or private clubs.
At the same time, English interest in coffee waned, leaving the field clear for the Dutch and the newcomers, the French.
Coffee Reaches The West Indies
The French Court was introduced to coffee by an expert, Suleiman Aga, the Turkish Ambassador to the Court of Louis XIV. Those courtiers were able to afford experimenting with coffee whatever the cost of the coffee beans.
The French did try to plant coffee in Dijon, but the crop failed after a hard frost. However, Louis XIV had been given one coffee bush by the Dutch, which was nurtured in the royal greenhouse in Paris and this eventually bore fruit. No-one is sure whether Matthieu de Clieu, one of his subjects, stole or was given some seedlings, but he took them in 1720 to the Caribbean, hoping to plant them in Martinique, a French colony. After a tricky voyage, where water was rationed while the boat was in the doldrums, so de Clieu shared his water with his coffee seedlings, and one of the passengers tried to destroy the plant when in a rage. Nevertheless, both he and his coffee seedlings survived and within 50 years Martinique had 18 million coffee bushes, so French coffee merchants had a supply chain.
All coffee at this stage was Caffea arabica, but coffee seedlings sent from Martinique to Réunion, a French colony in the Indian Ocean, developed to a new variety that produces a smaller coffee bean. This type of coffee was called Caffea arabica, var. bourbon named for the old name for Réunion, Bourbon, named after the French royal family's name.
Coffee In Brazil
The Emperor of Brazil wanted to expand into the coffee market, but like everyone beforehand could not get hold of coffee beans. However, in 1727, a Brazilian Lieutenant Colonel, who was "very friendly" with the wife of the Governor of French Guyana, received some coffee plants smuggled in a bunch of flowers. The plants, if not the relationship, bore fruit and soon plantations were growing throughout Brazil off the back of the missionary network.
Brazil's position in the global coffee trade was confirmed when in 1860, coffee blight (Hemileia vastatrix) destroyed almost all coffee plants in Ceylon, India and Indonesia, leaving Brazil to provide most of global supply. With its good climate, rich volcanic soil, huge area and unlimited slave labour, Brazil was now able to dominate coffee production.
The Importance of Robusta Coffee
Between 1890 and 1930, pioneers penetrated deep into the heart of Africa in search of new land to grow coffee and tea. In the Congo, they found a wild and robust coffee bush on the west coast, which since has been found to have originated in Ethiopia. This new coffee strain was found to be resistant to coffee blight and easy to grow, even if bitter and poor tasting. The new coffee plant was named Caffea robusta. Robusta has enabled both old and new areas of orthodox coffee to be reclaimed, plus provides a cheap base for instant coffee and cheaper coffee blends. Robusta can also be used as the rootstock for Arabica, but it is unclear if this has any impact on flavour or is even commercially used. Robusta provides about 30% of global coffee and is the main variety grown in Vietnam, the world's largest coffee exporter, and is grown alongside Arabica in Brazil, India and Indonesia.