Coffee's History

A simple Ethiopian shepherd by the name of Kaldi noticed that whenever his goats chewed on the bright red berries from the coffee shrub, his flock would become hyperactive and frolic about joyfully. He nibbled some of the berries himself and also experienced the exhilarating affect he noticed his goats enjoyed, so decided to take some berries to a wise Islamic Sufi mystic in a nearby mountain monastery to get his verdict on the colourful beans. The holy man was not impressed and suspected the berries might be ‘haram’ (forbidden) so tossed them into the fire. He and Kaldi were immediately intoxicated by the alluring aroma of the burning beans which they rescued from the embers and added to hot water and enjoyed as the world’s first cup of coffee!

This delightful tale is set in the in 9th Century but the first written account of this event is from 1671.
Whatever the truth regarding the origin of coffee, the shrub’s cultivation is credited to Ethiopia’s Galla tribe around this time. From Ethiopia it was carried across the Red Sea where the enterprising traders of Yemen introduced it to the Islamic World, where it quickly found favour as a healthy and ‘halal’ (permitted) beverage. Eventually an entire culture developed around the drink with sociable Coffee Houses flourishing everywhere, the first opening in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1554.

Coffee reaches Europe

Venetian traders brought coffee samples back to Europe where they were enjoyed by the rich who called it the ‘Muslim Drink’. In 1600 Pope Clement VIII declared coffee a Christian drink and Europe’s first Coffee House opened in Italy in 1645. Coffee made its first large scale debut onto the European stage when the invading Ottoman Turks besieged the Holy Roman Empire capital of Vienna in 1685. As part of their invasion stores, were thousands of bags of coffee, enough for the Sultan’s 150,000 strong Army to brew every morning before they set off on their day’s military endeavours. When the cavalry of Polish King John III Sobieski overran the Turkish camp on the morning of 12th September they sampled from the still bubbling coffee pots and enjoyed the taste so much they carried the booty back to Poland where it became an instant sensation. In celebration of the Turkish defeat the pastry chefs of Vienna invented a bread roll in the shape of the Turkish flag, known as the Croissant.  Marie Antoinette introduced the Croissant to her adopted nation, France a century later.

From Poland and also through Dutch and other European traders, coffee spread throughout northern Europe where Coffee House’s sprang up providing a real and healthier competition to the ubiquitous ale houses.

In Yemen coffee was and is still enjoyed somewhat ‘green’ while the rest of the world tends to enjoy it roasted and ground. As an economic precaution to enjoy control of the trade the Islamic World banned the export of living coffee plants or unroasted beans but a profiteering Dutchman named Pieter van den Broeck successfully smuggled coffee seedlings to Europe in 1616 where they were cultivated in botanic gardens. Later they were carried to Holland’s colonies in the East Indies (Indonesia) and Brazil.

So today when you next sip your brew spare a thought for the simple goat herder Kaldi who discovered the joy of Coffee and the Turks who even in defeat gifted Europe the world’s favourite and most refreshing drink.

Many parts of Europe, especially the Mediterranean regions have developed Coffee into a fine art form, so when touring Europe make sure you don’t expose yourself to ridicule; learn what each drink is and how it should be appreciated.