A Guide to History of Coffee

A Guide to History of Coffee

Introduction

Coffee has been a big part of our routine for many years and has become a regular part of many people’s routines. The widely used stimulant can be seen in many forms with different flavors and serving a variety of purposes. The cultural phenomenon of coffee across the developed world is the most widely consumed stimulant that helps provide the caffeine kick that so many of us need to get ready for the day. 

The versatile drink can be seen in many forms. From hot and cold variants, milk alternatives, to flavors, coffee has never had so many combinations and options. The versatility of the brewed drink is something that adds to the appeal because it can be exciting to experiment and try different flavors. Not to mention how much of a personal accomplishment it can be to find a combination that is perfect for you. Coffee orders can be very personalized, which is why brands like Starbucks encourage customers to use unique combinations. Baristas will even go as far as writing your name on the cup, to provide a more personal experience. 

The drink plays such a large role in the modern world that it is widely considered its own coffee culture. The caffeinated beverage is more than a wake-up ritual, it is considered a social lubricant, with “meeting for a coffee” having its own subtext and social purpose. The social role of coffee is not a small one, because of the immersive experience and welcoming feel of coffee shops, offering a great meeting point and social space. Ambiance, background noise, and smell all contribute to creating a cozy, warm atmosphere that encourages you to get comfortable and hit the pause button for a little while. 

With more flavor options than ever before, there is a different type of coffee for any time of the year, season, and weather. Extensive research goes into finding the most widely appealing coffee beverage, and heavy marketing follows. Cold-brew is the favorite for hotter seasons as a great way to cool down or refresh the soul. Whereas the fall sees the iconic pumpkin spiced latte going down a storm. Some might opt for a simple espresso while others choose vanilla sweet foam, or caramel drizzle, whatever you decide is your go-to order, baristas keep us supplied in the social lubricant. 

Coffee is even used in cakes to add a rich flavor that would otherwise be on the blander side. Some people have even gone so far as to add some instant coffee granules or an espresso shot to savory dishes. The addition of coffee to spicy or meaty dishes can really enhance the flavor and add another layer of depth and richness. People have been experimenting with coffee for years and exploring its versatility, but where did it originate from? 

Coffee mug with a coffee bean

The importance of coffee is an international matter, and preferences can be divided culturally. Italians prefer a richer flavor first thing in the morning enjoyed with hard nutty biscuits, whereas the French choose a sweeter drink, typically consumed mid-afternoon with a sweet pastry. Danes, on the other hand, prefer to make strong coffee at home in their favorite mug and curl up in front of an open fire. The role of coffee in different cultures is interesting because so many countries will believe that their own preference is superior. One thing is certain, however, which is that we are united globally by our love for the brewed beverage. 

Historically, coffee has been enjoyed by the wealthy and society’s finest. Although the origins of the beverage include questionable ethics and trade processes. In the modern age, more and more consumers and brands are alike in their concern for ethical products that are made using Fairtrade procedures. However, this wasn’t always the case. With a past of exploitation and manipulation of workers, landowners claimed coffee as their own with very little regard for manufactures. The deep origins of coffee are explored in this article, with its uses and function in society across growing cultures, illustrating how we have long been connected through the caffeinated beverage and will continue to do so.

What is Coffee?

What is Coffee

Coffee beans are ground and roasted, and then brewed through filters using piping hot water. The art of coffee is still in practice today, with more varieties existing than ever before. More and more quirky coffee shops and cafés are opening stocked with new and exciting flavors, smells, and atmospheres. Put simply, coffee is a brewed drink made by grinding beans and adding the end product to different types of milk, water, or ice. By definition, coffee is a rich drink with an earthy flavor that is typically sweetened with syrup or sugar. Many people prefer to add milk or creamer to make it more palatable. However you prefer to take your coffee and regardless of the time of day or function it plays in your routine, it is often an indulgent part of the day and has long been considered a delicacy. 

The coffee industry has taken the modern world by storm, with estimates around 102 billion dollars in the US in 2020. Nowadays, firms are working hard to give back to local communities, charities, and are actively challenging the negative stigma of worker exploitation. Efforts are being made to encourage communities, and many small businesses are donating a percentage of their revenue to local charities in order to give back and show thanks to the area. Coffee is so much more than just a drink, it is an experience and an entire industry. Paying it forward is another way in which a sense of community is encouraged. Some cafés will have a wall of post-it notes that homeless or financially challenged individuals can use as payment. The note usually has a kind message and is a great token of goodwill because someone can easily pay for another’s drink and leave a note. Kindness is another modern twist on the coffee game, and it is heartwarming to see these displays of generosity on the rise.

Coffee mornings are another way in which a sense of community is encouraged. Older people who don’t get out much can attend these events and see a friendly face and have a little chat. This sense of togetherness is a great way to bring people out of the home and create friendships that would have otherwise been dormant. The money generated by coffee mornings usually goes towards charities, for example, Britain focuses on Macmillan cancer research. Other great causes include more local charities and even putting money towards the next coffee morning or building a community center.

Origins of Coffee

Origins of Coffee

The origin story of the coffee that we know today comes from the legend of Kaldi. Around 700 A.D, an Ethiopian goat herder found some of his goats dancing around a small tree with red berries. After some investigation and discovered that the berries had an exhilarating effect, Kaldi brought his findings to a local monk, who was excited over having found something to keep him awake during nightly prayers. However, another version of the tale exists where the monk threw the beans onto the fire upon his disapproval. The coffee beans then created the first roasted coffee aroma, which was very pleasing to the pair. Shortly after that, the beans were then ground and boiled to create the coffee that we see today. Although there are different versions of coffee’s humble beginnings, evidence has shown that coffee beans are found within pods on small trees, typically found in Ethiopia. 

There are two main types of coffee beans in the modern world; Arabica, and Robusta. Native to the Arabian Peninsula and supplying most of the world’s consumption is Arabica. The beans are usually flatter, more elongated, and need a lot of moisture, sun, and shade to grow. These are usually more delicate and more vulnerable to pests and need to be grown in higher elevations within cool subtropical climates. Latin America, Eastern Africa, Asia, Arabia are some main growers of Arabica coffee beans. 

In contrast, Robusta beans are rounder and more convex. They usually hold twice the caffeine content of Arabica, and are usually the bean of choice for inexpensive commercial coffee brands because it is cheaper to produce. These beans are heartier and can be grown at lower altitudes. Robusta is usually grown within Western and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil.

The History of Coffee

The History of Coffee

This article will now plot the journey of coffee, from its Ethiopian discovery to the mass-marketed drink known globally for its energy boost.

15th Century 

Following Kaldi’s discovery of its stimulating effects, coffee began being cultivated around Arabia, and the drink appealed to many Muslims as a substitute for alcohol. The first species of the coffee plant became widely planted over time and cultivated for its properties. Coffee Arabia was essential in creating the highly exported good we know today. Despite Islamic authorities claiming coffee as intoxicating and the Qu’ran prohibiting it, coffee drinking spread rapidly among Arabs. Bans were eventually lifted following riots in Arab streets until justice was returned to the coffee-drinking nation. This was the real beginning of the cultural phenomenon, and the first coffeehouses came into fruition during the fifteenth century. Exports soon began, with the Mocha port playing an essential role in sending coffee across the Red Sea into Yemen. Coffee then became well-known across Egypt, Persia, and Turkey, and was already a big part of people’s routines and daily habits. 

16th Century

Coffee was being introduced to one European country after another. Yemen remained the main supplier and the government was determined to protect the fertile beans as much as possible to maintain exports and financial position. 

17th Century

On a pilgrimage to Mecca, Baba Budan smuggled some fertile beans back into India. This then turned into Southern India’s large-scale coffee farming that is still producing coffee today. The Dutch had attempted to do the same thing but failed due to Holland’s cold weather. However, friends in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) sent the Dutch Governor Java seedlings. Coffee was fast becoming international, and more and more countries were attempting to grow their own. 

Coffee arrived in Europe in the 17th century and soon started to replace breakfast drinks. In spite of mass controversy in Venice, the Pope thoroughly enjoyed the beverage, and the attempt to intervene resulted in the papal approval of coffee in 1615. England, Austria, France, Germany, and Holland all saw a boom in coffee houses. Like-minded people gathered to engage in stimulating conversations more and more, with The Oxford Coffee Club becoming later recognized as The Royal Society. 

The Dutch were gifted Java coffee plants which eventually were successfully grown overseas, creating a rich coffee brand of their own. 

1714

In 1714, It has arrived in the Americas first to Martinique, which led to the plantation of  18 million coffee trees on the island in the next 50 years. More and more people were trying to grow their own coffee with little success. Warmer climates were definitely preferable. 

It arrived in New Amsterdam, NY mid 17th century and slowly gained popularity. Although tea was the favored drink of the New World until 1773, Thomas Jefferson called coffee “the favorite drink of the civilized world”. Society was beginning to recognize coffee as a stimulant for rich conversation, with some women protesting against the drink because they believed it made their husbands spend long periods of time away from their homes where they could have been otherwise helping out. 

1800s

In 1825, cultivation began in Hawaii. Coffee seedlings were brought by Brazilians and the first official coffee orchard was born in 1825. Traders, colonizers, and travelers were bringing coffee plants with them and gradually creating coffee plantations where their efforts were successful. Before long, there was a global rise in coffee plants, cultivation, and farming to provide rich earthy flavor to more and more people. Brazil became the largest producer of coffee in 1852 and has remained that until today. Industrial roasting and grinding machines were coming into use, and people were becoming more creative with their drinks. The versatility of coffee was only just beginning to flourish. 

1900s 

The production of coffee has moved to the western hemisphere by the 20th century. The global phenomenon was being shipped and consumed everywhere. Anywhere where it could, it was also being grown and farmed. Vacuum packing made the drink more accessible and easier to transport, and the production of instant coffee was perfected in 1950. With the rise in popularity of coffee and increased demand, more Robusta coffee plants emerged in Africa. Three different types of processing stages became prevalent during this time and with the rise of technology and modern equipment, farmers chose methods best suited to them and the climate. 

The Dry Process

The oldest method does not require much equipment and is very traditional. Beans are washed and laid out to dry on raised surfaces or concrete in warmer climates. They are then usually left until they are at a water content of about 12%, and regularly rotated. After being mechanically hulled after the perfect amount of time, the beans leave their outer shells behind and can then go on to be roasted and ground. Timing is essential for this process because if the beans are left for too long, they will become overly dry, causing a very bitter taste. Equally, if they are cultivated too soon or get too moist, then fungi are likely to spread from the ideal damp conditions that are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. 

The Wet Process

Using more machinery, Arabica beans are usually processed in this way because they tend to cost more. Beans are sorted through pulping machines, which remove the outer layer of skin and pulp from the fresh fruit. However, a thin layer remains on the bean, which is eliminated by fermentation. The wetted seeds are then held in a tank for 1-3 days, and dried in the sun or passed through a heater. 

“Pulped Natural” Process

This is usually a combination of the two processes. The pulps are removed mechanically, but there is no fermentation involved. The outer shell isn’t removed until after the drying process. This achieves a good balance of sweet and acidic notes while maintaining a robust body. 

Industrial Revolution

The growth of the industrial revolution saw a boom in inventions and development of roasting techniques and improvements in coffee brewing technology. In 1871, Arbuckles became the largest importer of coffee in the world, thanks to their invention of the machine that filled, weighed, sealed, and labeled coffee in paper packages. 1901 then saw the first espresso machine coming into fruition. Luigi Bezzera was hoping to reduce the time it took to brew coffee so that workers took shorter breaks. The Italian manager used water and steam under high pressure to brew coffee fast. However, the coffee produced was extremely bitter, and Pavoni purchased the patent to improve on Luigi’s product in 1905. Rigorous product testing and development concluded that the bitter taste was coming from high temperatures and that they should not exceed 195 degrees. 

1970s

Moving forward in time, approaching modern America, we have the story of a successful business model. Alfred Peet was a Dutch-American wanting to share his father’s coffee roasting skills with his friends. Having started a small coffee store, Peet taught his friends the roasting process and family craft, who then went on to open a similar store in Seattle. This store was the first Starbucks in history, and they only sold roasted coffee beans. During the next decade, a series of franchise transactions led to the combination with Italian coffee-style joints and the introduction of brewed coffee available in Starbucks. The rampage of opening thousands of stores across the United States is known as the second wave of coffee in the US, and ultimately the world. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of Starbucks, they’re pretty hard to avoid, and the advertising is second to none in the modern world. They are definitely a gentle giant within the world of big brands, today’s media, and mass marketing. 

Nowadays, we see different ranges of coffee equipment in use, and we are able to locate the origin of our coffee beans. The integration of machinery into our homes means that the popular beverage has never been more accessible. However, there is definitely something different about the ambiance that can be found within a coffee shop. We are now able to discover unique blends within our homes and experiment with barista-level milk and flavored syrups without leaving the house. The possibilities are endless. You can even find milk steamers available in a good deal of coffee outlet stores nowadays, as well as milk frothers. You can really bring home the barista experience and have some fun by trying some creative new combinations and textures to suit your taste, preferences, mood, and the season.

Summary

A Barista with two hot coffee in front of him

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, and it isn’t hard to see why. The brewing industry is rich and a slight delve into the origins of coffee shops and how the scent of roasted beans can uplift brings a sense of understanding and appreciation for the drink that we know and love so much. We see coffee used in baking, cooking, and all kinds of different drinks nowadays. It is available in so many forms and can be used so widely that it’s plain to see why everyone’s so obsessed with it. Ice creams, tiramisu, and other desserts are another rich part of the culture we live in today, and Italy plays a large role in the integration of coffee into other foods such as sweet treats and even more savory desserts. 

There are mixed opinions about the health benefits of coffee. Caffeine is known to boost your metabolism, mood, and mental and physical performance. However, the high amounts of sugar and other additives which are commonly found in the coffee that is most popular among Americans, provide unnatural spikes in energy levels which can swiftly plummet. Increased heart rate isn’t always the best thing, because it can be especially alarming for those who experience symptoms of anxiety or other hyperactive conditions. While increased bowel movement is considered a benefit of caffeinated drinks, coffee is widely considered a laxative and can cause excessive bowel movements that limit daily activity. Other health concerns are that as with any caffeinated drink, coffee is addictive, and it is very easy for someone to become reliant on it in order to get through the day. Drinking coffee moderately has been shown to improve immune system functions and mental performance, however, if you are experiencing heart palpitations, anxiety, or other concerns, consult your doctor and seek medical advice. 

Overall, coffee has a very interesting history and a place in so many nations’ hearts. It is an extremely versatile ingredient and is the base for hundreds of different drinks. Cold-brew, iced coffee, lattes, Frappuccino, mochas, and of course the espresso. There are seemingly infinite options when it comes to coffee, and there are always new ones on the horizon thanks to big brands who are always thinking of new ways to use the age-old product. Humble beginnings are part of the appeal for so many of us, and it might be why the calm atmosphere of coffee shops is something that so many people strive towards. 

When considering the origins of coffee, it is ironic that it is not used in cocktails. Alcohol was forbidden by the Qu’ran and many Muslims used coffee as an alternative, yet espresso martinis will keep you alert all night, making it an interesting combination for bartenders and consumers alike. It is unclear what the future holds for coffee, but there is no doubt that it has shaped society and the cultures that we know today. Starbucks created a coffee shop environment that is now a multi-million dollar market and can be seen around the world. Coffee can even be seen within the skincare world. Breakthroughs have been made about the uses of the grounds as a great exfoliant, leaving the skin feeling soft and refreshed. Not to mention the gardening world. Of course, coffee plants and cultivation have always been an exotic focal point of any garden, but have you considered an environmentally conscious use for used coffee grounds? They can be used as a great fertilizer for your soil that your plants will thank you for. 

Even if you prefer your coffee black without any new additions, there is some credit owed to the dancing goat story and Ethiopian routes of the humble coffee bean. Having overtaken tea in popularity, coffee is an essential part of modern culture and adds a touch of sophistication to conversations. You can usually tell a lot about a person by how they take their coffee, and whether you want to see what all the young people are trying, or stick to what you know, take a minute the next time you’re in a coffee shop to breathe it all in.

Hopefully, by now, you’ve understood some common jargon around the coffee industry, and have a bit of appreciation for where it has all come from. The global market is rich, and it is fascinating to see how acts of goodwill have contributed to the planting of coffee plants around the world. For hundreds of years, leaders have enjoyed the brewed drink and celebrated their similarities. This is something that is unchanged today because people are showing acts of goodwill across communities. Small acts of kindness to strangers go a long way, and many coffee shop customers are demonstrating their generosity by paying for the order of the person behind them in the line or using pay-it-forward post-it note schemes. Hopefully, this type of kindness will continue in the future and people will continue to give something back to the world and their local community whenever they can. 

There are three main types of processes to get the coffee beans from their pods, and concerns were made within the media decades ago. Ethiopian workers were not being paid correctly for the amount of work, which is why Fairtrade campaigns are now essential in maintaining a quality product while ensuring that workers are cared for and thoroughly supported. This was a cultural shock many years ago because coffee is something that so many people take for granted, and don’t appreciate where it comes from or the processes involved behind the production and manufacture. 

Concerns for the future of coffee bean production and processing include climate change. Of course, the planet’s weather patterns are changing dramatically, and it is unclear what effect this will have on coffee plantations. The drying process may be affected because it relies more heavily on warm weather and less rain, but this is simply a precaution to be aware of. Robust beans are unlikely to be affected because they can withstand weather variations more. However, there is a chance that the Arabica beans will become harder to yield, and the beans themselves could see an increase in the manufacture and retail price. People are becoming more aware of how their behaviors have an impact on the environment, and it is likely that more sustainable coffee-yielding methods will be in development. 

Coffee has always been a symbol of sophistication and complexity. People have long used the hot drink to engage in political and deep conversations. This is why there is no doubt that innovative methods of farming, processing, and shipping are on the horizon for the coffee industry. People are always going to want their caffeine fix wherever they go, on the daily commute, or even from home. Coffee is the most easily accessible stimulant that can be delivered to your door, or collected on the high street. There are even an array of coffee drive-thru joints across the country. Water, tea, and coffee are our main sources of liquid around the world, and it’s no wonder why coffee drinkers are considered higher in society.

Matt Marshall

As I learn more and more about coffee and coffee products I want to share all my learnings with you here on this website. I hope you find my articles useful and entertaining to read.

Recent Posts