More than 2.25 billion cups of coffee are drunk around the world every day, so it is safe – and hardly surprising – to say that the beverage is popular.
Next time you sit down to enjoy a mug; remember that coffee’s story is one of discovery, exploration, pirates, and flirtatious governor’s wives. Its history began in either Ethiopia or Yemen, and it has become one with a huge global impact. Find out all about it, and then enjoy the sweet, strong coffee-themed action of Microgaming’s new Le Kaffee Bar. That’s right, coffee has even inspired online casino games!
A Powerful Discovery
There is no way of knowing the identity of the first person to sample the berries of the coffee plant. What does seem certain is that the plant is native to Ethiopia. According to one story of its discovery, a Moroccan Sufi mystic was travelling though the African region when he noticed some of the birds were unusually vigorous.
The story claims that the mystic sampled some of the berries that he had seen the birds eating and experienced a boost of vitality. Another account claims Omar, a disciple of Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili, discovered the beverage when he tried using the berries as a food source while living as an exile.
A more likely history is that the Ethiopian ancestors of the Oromo tribe used the plant as an appetite suppressant and as an energy source while on long hunting trips.
By the 1400s, Somali merchants were exporting coffee beans from Ethiopia to Yemen, where it was used mostly by Sufis in their religious rites. From there, the beverage’s use spread to Mecca and Medina, and then to Aleppo, Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, and what is now Istanbul.
Europe’s introduction to the beverage may have happened on the island of Malta. Turkish prisoners kept on the island were recorded as having brewed the drink for themselves and as a way of making money. The drink was all the rage on the island, but it was not long before coffee fever spread to Venice, where the first European description of the plant was published in 1591. This happened a decade after the word ‘coffee’ became part of the English language, by way of the Dutch word ‘koffie’, which itself had come from the Ottoman Turkish word ‘kahve’.
This period in the beverage’s history also saw the first bans placed on it. The first one came in 1511, when conservative imams in Mecca forbade the drink because of its stimulating effects. The bans were overturned in 1524. Cairo banned the beverage in 1532, but it also was overturned later. Ethiopia’s orthodox church also banned the drink in the 1600s. Attitudes in the plant’s homeland changed swiftly in the 1800s.
Coffee Goes East
Europe went absolutely gaga for coffee, and Arabian traders could not keep up with the demand. The Dutch were among the first to cultivate the plant successfully outside of Arabia.
Their success happened in the mid to late 1600s on Java Island near what is now Indonesia. Dutch cultivation spread from what was called Batavia to Celebes and Sumatra.
Crossing the Atlantic
In 1714, King Louis XIV of France was given a coffee plant by Amsterdam’s mayor. The king had it planted in Paris’ Royal Botanical Garden.
In 1723, naval officer Gabriel de Clieu took a seedling that had been grown from that plant to Martinique. The voyage was a difficult one. The weather was horrific, pirates attacked his ship, and a member of his own party tried to kill the seedling. The officer went on to plant the ancestor of the more than 18 million coffee trees that spread across the island over the following 50 years.
De Clieu’s coffee plant became even more significant when the Portuguese king sent Francisco de Mello Palheta to French Guiana for seedlings. The island’s governor was not prepared to share, but his wife took a fancy to their visitor. She hid coffee seeds and cuttings in the bouquet of flowers she presented him when he departed. Her gift enabled the founding of the South American industries.
Back to Africa
In the late 1800s, the coffee plant returned to Africa. Brazilian plants were taken to Kenya and Tanzania, and they were used to start the industries in those countries.
Today, 90% of the world’s coffee is produced in developing countries. The bulk of the production happens in South America. In contrast, the greatest amounts of the beverage are consumed in countries where the economy is heavily industrialised. There are approximately 25 million small producers around the world. More than 3 billion plants provide work for more than 5 million people.
We are sure you will agree – that is quite a story. Next time you pour a mug, just remember, ‘Pirates!’