Today’s post is by guest writer, Nick Huxsted, with his short History of Coffee. If you would like to be a guest writer, please see our writing guidelines.
How it all started
There are many myths about how coffee was first discovered, but the most captivating for its apparent humble beginnings and the sheer strangeness of its discoverer, comes from Africa and involves a goat.
Apparently, an Ethiopian goat herder, out one day feeding his goats, noticed that his herd were behaving with a little more zest and zeal than was typically normal. Curious about this newly acquired but somewhat frenetic behavior, he looked around to see if he could find the cause. He quickly discovered that they had been happily munching on a type of bean for most of the morning. With his curiosity firmly piqued, he promptly ate them himself and almost immediately felt invigorated with renewed strength and energy.
Fueled with the excitement that can only come from loosing your coffee virginity, he spread the word until people were throwing the beans in the fires, grinding up the roasted beans and throwing the powder in water.
How much of this is true we’ll never know, I hope all of it, but what isn’t in questions is that from these humble African origins, coffee has spread throughout the world to be beaten only by oil as the world largest commodity. Its popularity is unrivalled, and without it, many of us would go about our daily lives resembling a disheveled zombie with a glorious hangover. Who knew goats had such entrepreneurial foresight!
So how did coffee become so popular?
Its history is rich and extensive and while we could dedicate and entire book to the topic, here are some highlights, a bit like a trailer for a Hollywood film, just without the weird voice.
The evolution of the word “coffee”
Qahwa – Arabic (wine of the bean)
Kahve – Turkish
Koffie – Dutch
Coffee – English introduction in 1582
The First Coffee Shops
The earliest evidence of coffee being widely consumed throughout society is in Mocha, Yemen, during the 15th Century. Through trade it quickly spread to Egypt before the first ever coffee shop (presumably Starbucks) was opened in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in 1554. Popular trading routes between Muslims and Venice opened the door for coffee to Italy where smartly dressed Italians with nice shoes opened the first European coffee-house in Venice in 1645.
Coffee houses quickly became a place for political and religious discussion, a social gathering where gossip, news and views were discussed and debated; fueling the fire for radical thoughts and ideas. So dangerous were some of these ideas that the King of England, Charles II, tried to ban coffee houses in 1675. It didn’t work and the plotting continued, culminating in the French and American Revolutions that were supposedly both planned in the comfy confines of a coffee-house.
Coffee In England
It’s Oxford, not London as you would expect, where coffee first laid its roots in England. Introduced by a Turk to students at Oxford University, it quickly became popular among his peers and teachers.
Queens Lane Coffee House in Oxford was one of the first to open in 1654 and it’s still there today. In 2009 It was re-branded QL and is one of the oldest coffee houses still open in the UK.
By 1660 coffee had reached the capital and the coffee houses were dubbed “Penny Universities”. You paid a penny to enter and the wide array of artists, intellectuals, poets and writers ensured that stimulating conversion and an educational environment was available to you for the afternoon.
Initially the Dutch were more concerned with coffee as an industry than an enjoyable beverage. Through their trade routes they shipped coffee from Yemen in the 17th Century and planted the crop in their royal botanical gardens. It thrived in these conditions and eventually they shipped the plants to Java, starting the coffee industry in Indonesia. Before long, Java became the largest supplier of coffee to Europe.
Introduction to America
Captain John Smith, who founded the colony of Jamestown, is most likely the first to bring an awareness of coffee to North America. His frequent travels to Turkey enabled him to bring the black bean to the new world, but it wasn’t until 1670 that the first license to sell coffee was granted to Dorothy Jones of Boston.
During this period coffee never really took off as it had in Europe. The Dutch East India Trading Company was looking to expand its sales of tea to North America and often shipped the English tradition to the new colonies. Tea was very much the national drink and its availability made it much more prevalent throughout society.
This, however, all started to change when King George of England imposed additional taxes on the new colonies. Unhappy with the way they were being treated, the public demonstrated against being taxed by an overseas monarch, culminating in the now famous Boston Tea Party. Seen as a symbol for English oppression, tea was replaced by coffee and became the sovereign drink of the American people.
Coffee in WWII
With companies across North America looking to cut costs they started to promote the inferior Robusta coffee bean (the large majority of todays instant coffee is made from Robusta). Advertised as “functional” rather than “enjoyable” clever marketing campaigns were aimed at factory workers who could have a “coffee break”, reinvigorate their energy to continue the war effort free from fatigue.
This tradition has continued throughout modern society and the “coffee break” is now a part of our daily ritual.
Expansion of Coffee in America
1793 saw the first roaster open in New York on Pearl St its coffee allowed hotels, taverns and new coffee houses to expand throughout the city. Improved methods of shipping and storing lowered the price and made coffee available to all classes of society.
One of the most influential coffee houses to open in New York, without doubt, has to be the Tontine Coffee House of 1973. Stockbrokers originally opened it as a place to socialize and talk about business. Before long, trading and the buying and selling of shares was commonplace. It became a hub of activity and eventually grew into what we now know as the Wall St Stock Exchange.
Coffee has helped shape the world in a rich variety of ways.
This is just a small selection of how a simple, hungry goat, helped influence the world.
This post is written by Nick Huxsted of Joe Black Coffee. Roasting coffee in the UK for over 50 years, delivering coffee direct to your door.
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