History of Coffee Consumption (Back to the Past)

Coffee is wild. One cup and it’ll keep you awake for hours. Two cups and it’ll leave you wanting more. Three cups and before you know it, you’re addicted.

History is even wilder. It’s crazy to think that the thing that we are so casually enjoying had to go through all the trouble of being discovered, talked about, passed around in a few controversies until eventually, it ended up in the mugs of tired college students and overworked accountants.

Wild.

Coffee was first consumed in the 15th century. The drink was discovered in Ethiopia and was popularized by trading. Due to its popularity, coffee houses became a thing, the first ones being known as Qahveh Khaneh in Arabian Peninsula.

Fast forward to hundreds of years later, two world wars after, and coffee is now one of the world’s most consumed drinks.

But how did this drink get to this point?

Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we?

When Did People Start Consuming Coffee?

two people having a cup of coffee

People started consuming coffee around the 15th century, and by the 16th century, it spread to Middle East Africa, North Africa, and then to Europe. Come the 17th century and the drink had traveled all across the globe.

Coffee drinking was said to have begun in Yemen, although the plant was traced back to Ethiopia.

Coffee was consumed during religious rituals by Sufi circles in order to keep those who performed the rituals awake. From there, coffee and its beans ended up being traded and passed about until it ended up in Europe.

Although there was a little bit of controversy surrounding the drink, it ended up being widely accepted when Pope Clement VIII dubbed it a Christian drink.

In 1645, Europe spawned its first coffee house in Rome due to the drinks growing popularity, now there are over hundreds of thousands of coffee houses in Western Europe alone.

Who Invented Coffee?

There are many names tied to the credits of who invented coffee. Names being Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili, Kaldi, and Omar. It’s also been said that the people of Oromo were the first to discover the plant.

Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili

While there’s no way to know for sure, a lot of people believed that coffee was first invented by Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili who was traveling to Ethiopia when he spotted a few birds acting strangely energetic after eating berries.

Because the natural instinct whenever you see an animal try an unknown plant that causes them to behave differently is to try it yourself, Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili tried the berries himself. Upon doing so, he realized its energizing effect and thus discovered the coffee plant.

Kaldi

But many also say that it was Kaldi, an Ethiopian goatherd, who discovered the coffee plant by noticing one of his goats chewing on a couple of berries.

Said goat ended up being energetic and this prompted the goatherder to try the berries himself. When an exhilarating boost of energy overcame him, Kaldi gathered the berries and presented them to a monk who, in turn, threw the berries into a fire. Apparently, goat-approved berries weren’t enough to convince the monk to try it.

However, fire ended up roasting the beans, which let out an enticing aroma that piqued both Kaldi and the monk’s interest. After raking the roasted beans from the embers of the fire, they dissolved them into the water and created the world’s first cup of coffee.

Omar

Another name that pops up every time a discussion of who discovered coffee arises is Omar. Omar, who was a disciple of Abul Hasan ash- Shadhili, was said to be able to cure people through prayer. For some reason, the disciple was exiled to a desert cave where he was left with no food.  

Starving, he decided to try out a couple of berries growing from nearby shrubbery. When he found that it was too bitter, he roasted the seeds. But that ended up being too hard for him. As a last attempt to feed himself, he boiled the seeds to soften them, but upon doing so ended up accidentally creating what would become the world’s most consumed and most addicting energy booster: coffee.

Oromo People 

The invention of coffee was also credited to the ancestors of the Oromo people. The Oromo people lived in a region of Ethiopia called Kaffa and in that region lied a plant they later discovered to have an energizing effect.

So there really is no way to know for sure who invented this addicting cup of wake-up juice. The only thing certain is that said cup of wake-up juice whose origins are still of mystery is now one of the most popular drinks worldwide with billions of people consuming it.

Where Was Coffee First Discovered?

Coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, and then later spread onto different parts of the world.

Although much like the drink’s inventor, there’s no certain answer as to where the drink was first discovered. However, popular belief points to a forest in Ethiopia. You can read more about the origins of coffee in this other article I wrote.

When the coffee plant and its beans were discovered, word of its discovery traveled fast and the beans ended up in the Arabian Peninsula due to trading. The plants were then grown in Yemen and were passed around until they ended up in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey around the 16th century.

Travelers from Europe came and witnessed this mysterious dark drink that provided whoever drank it a short boost of energy and naturally spread the word.

By the late 16th century and early 17th century, the drink became a well-known beverage all across Europe, resulting in over 300 coffee houses in the city of London.

Around 1714, King Louis XIV of France received a coffee plant as a gift, which he had planted in his gardens. Come 1723, Gabriel de Clieu, a young naval officer, took it upon himself to take a seedling from the King’s coffee plants.

Gabriel managed to bring the seedling back to Martinique, despite the many obstacles he had to go through to do so. There he planted the seed, and for the next 50 years, it spread and became responsible for over 18 million coffee trees on Martinique.

That one seedling was thought to be the parent of most if not all coffee trees in the Caribbean, South, and Central America.

Here’s an interesting video on coffee that does a great job of summarizing its history:

How Did Coffee Become Popular?

Coffee became popular through trade and spread of word. It began in Ethiopia until it ended up in Yemen. The spread of coffee began in the 1600s when the Netherlands decided to start a coffee plantation in Sri Lanka.

In 1711, the Dutch East India Company entered the business venture of importing coffee, which was then followed by the other countries. By this time, a certain French naval officer brought the coffee to the Caribbean meanwhile the Portuguese took it to Brazil.

In short, the drink became popular thanks to trading, and perhaps even smuggling as some accounts say that coffee had to be smuggled in order to get it into a country. People weren’t into sharing back then.

Little did they know that the drink that was possibly discovered by some guy’s goat would have global exports of up to 10 million bags. Insane.

The First Coffee House

table with a plant on it next to a counter

The trend of coffee houses began in the Arabian Peninsula in the 15th century, bearing the name ‘Qhaveh Khaneh’.

In the 1600s, where coffee was booming in Europe, coffee houses became a common thing. In fact, in London, there were already about 500-600 coffee houses standing by the 17th century.

In 2019, statistics show that the UK now has over 25,000 coffee houses standing. Judging by how in-demand coffee is, this number will continue to grow.

Coffee houses were considered a haven for the artists and intellectuals, a direct polar opposite of the bars and clubhouses filled with men itching to get into heated arguments with anyone about anything.

In fact, in Britain, coffee houses were dubbed Penny Universities because for one penny they could get one cup of coffee, which they could sip on while they discussed frivolous societal matters with one another and complain about the mundane.

What a time. Fast forward to hundreds of years later and the coffee house industry is valued at thirty-six billion dollars. And it’s still often a haven for the artists and intellectuals. You can no longer get coffee for a penny though.

To get a feel of how popular coffee houses are, here’s a table showcasing the amount of cafe’s and coffee focused shops there are in a few select countries of Europe in 2017:

CountryCafeCoffee Focused Shops
Italy58,153505
Turkey41,8461,366
Greece37,914343
Germany28,9302,160
United Kingdom10,2065,355
Statistics of coffee houses in select countries of Europe.

Where Did Coffee Get Its Name?

The name ‘coffee’ can be traced to an Ethiopian port called ‘Kaffa’, however many accounts report that the name coffee actually came from the Arabic word ‘Qahwah’.

Originally, the word Qahwah was linked to wine, but over time it was used to refer to the caffeinated beverage. Like a wild game of telephone, the word Qahwah was passed on to Turkish, which became Kahveh, then Kahveh became Koffie in Dutch. Until eventually, it became coffee in English.

Coffee is also popularly referred to as a cup of Joe.

Who’s Joe and Why Is This His Cup?

a white wall with the words 'how about a cup of Joe?' on it

Joe is Josephus Daniels and coffee was the drink of the Navy. Joe was a former secretary of the US Navy who issued an order banning alcoholic drinks from naval vessels in 1914.

This resulted in unhappy sailors being stuck with coffee as the only non-water drink they had, so out of pure pettiness and as an inside joke, they began calling the drink ‘cup of Joe’. From there, the term caught on and everybody began calling their coffee that.

However, as interesting as that story was, researchers believe that ‘cup of Joe’ was more likely created by the combination of two coffee nicknames that were combined: Java and Jamoke.

People also lean to the idea that Joe is just a name representing the common American man.

We may never know who Joe is, all we know is that we love his drink and we’re thrilled to have it.

Why was Coffee Called the Devil’s Drink?

Coffee was once dubbed as the devil’s drink due to its Islamic origin.

For a long time, before the nickname cup of Joe, a lot of people in Europe gave the drink the name ‘devil’s drink’. This was because the drink was traded from Arab and was heavily linked to Islam. 

The drink’s association with Islam did not bode well for the European Catholics so they tried to pressure poor Pope Clement VIII into banning the drink for its Satanic implications.

However, God bless his soul, the Pope ended up taking a liking to the drink after a few sips and convinced the anti-coffee folks that it was rid of the devil’s spirit by blessing it himself.

After that, it was all good. Satan left the drink alone and the Catholics were happy. 

In Summary

To keep it short, coffee was discovered in Ethiopia and was first consumed in the 15th century.

Credits to its discovery are still widely unknown but it has been tied to:

  • Kaldi
  • The Omoro people
  • Omar
  • Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili.

It was popularized by trade, beginning in the Arabian Peninsula until it ended up in different parts of the globe.

Coffee houses became all the rage due to people’s all-consuming obsession over the drink and were often habituated by the smart folks wanting to take a break from the lives of the mundane.

But coffee didn’t just receive praise and applause. It got quite the criticism from the Catholics who wanted to condemn the drink to the pits of hell. That was until it got blessed by a pope.

A couple of hundred years later and coffee is now the lifeline of so many people, and due to the obsession with coffee, many variants of the drink were spawned.

People aren’t shy with experimenting as well as they end up adding all sorts of things into the drink.

Simply put, coffee was loved back then and is still being loved now.

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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.

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