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The history of coffee

The discovery of coffee is associated with the legend of Khaldi, the goatherd, who noticed that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they could not sleep at night.

Khaldi  reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer.  The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread.  Word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula and from began a journey across the globe.

The Arabs were the first, not only to cultivate coffee but also to begin its trade.  By the fifteenth century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the sixteenth century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.

Coffee was not only drunk in homes but also in the many public coffee houses that appeared throughout the Near East that became ‘institutions’ of social life, providing entertainment and a place to listen to current affairs and the prevailing thought of the day.

By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.

In the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, coffee houses were quickly becoming centres of social activity  In England ‘penny universities’ sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation.  By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.

In the mid-1600’s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, a location later called New York by the British.Though coffee houses rapidly began to appear, tea continued to be the favoured drink in the New World until 1773 when the revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, would forever change the American drinking preference to coffee.

In only 100 years, coffee had established itself as a commodity crop throughout the world.  Missionaries and travellers, traders and colonists continued to carry coffee seeds to new lands and coffee trees were planted worldwide.  Plantations were established in magnificent tropical forests and on rugged mountain highlands. Some crops flourished, while others were short-lived. Fortunes were made and lost.  And by the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the world’s most profitable export crops.
Today coffee is grown in a multitude of countries around the world. Whether it is Asia or Africa, Central or South America, the islands of the Caribbean or Pacific, all can trace their heritage to the trees in the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.