Ever sip your morning cup of coffee, and in between the sips of energy felt gratitude towards whoever discovered this magical drink? Today, I may have the answer for who invented coffee. So, you can send your thanks to the right person(s).
The Khaldi story
Legend has it that a young goat herder named Khaldi invented coffee. When he first discovered in the Ethiopian mountains, he noticed his goats were acting a little strange. Instead of their usual calm, they were very energetic. They were so energetic that they were up all night. They kept poor Khaldi up all night as well! After discovering the cause of the unexpected all-nighter, Khaldi saw his goats munching on berries from an unfamiliar tree. After trying some of the berries himself, Khaldi also started dancing!
Soon, word of Khaldi and his red berries reached a monastery. There, a monk who fell asleep midway through his prayers tried the berries. When he saw their effects, he created a mixture of the berries and created the drink we know as coffee.
At least, that’s what legends and popular folklore tell us. Historical sources also credit coffee drinking or knowledge about coffee trees in 15th centur Yemen. It was in Arabia where people first roasted and brewed coffee seeds. They typically used them in Sufi circles to stay awake for religious rituals, similar to present-day coffee. Different accounts credit different explorers, voyagers, and merchants for bringing coffee to the lands of Arabia. But all of them seem to agree coffee was originally discovered and transported from Africa in the Zeilia region of modern-day Somaliland.
By the 16th century, coffee had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia (modern-day Iran), Turkey, and northern Africa. Eventually, spice traders smuggled coffee out of the Middle East from Yemen to India, where the first coffee seeds were planted in Mysore. This was an important event because typically when exporting coffee, people boiled and sterilized the seeds. By the 17th century, coffee had spread to Italy and then to Europe, Indonesia, and eventually the Americas.
While the spread of coffee seems relatively straightforward, it took a while before it gained acceptance with the local populace of Europe. While some people drank it more than others, most of them were German physicians who prescribed coffee for stomach problems. Other people called it “the bitter invention of the devil.”
The thriving trade between Venice, North Africa, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire brought many goods, including coffee, to the Venetian port. There are stories that when traders brought it to Venice in 1615, the local clergy and townsfolk were so outraged that Pope Clement VIII himself had to get involved. The stories say that after sampling a little of the dark liquid, he was so impressed he gave it complete approval.
Despite these issues, or maybe because of them, the love for coffee quickly grew. Many coffee houses opened in all the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany, and Holland. In England, the British East India Company made extra efforts to popularize the drink. As a result, many coffee houses sprang up over London, of which many exist to this day. The coffee houses came to be known as “penny universities” since for a penny, one could buy a coffee and be a part of great conversation afterwards.
Coffee began to replace common breakfast drinks, such as weak beer and wine. This way, the people who drank coffee began the day alert and energized. This of course led to more productive workdays. The Dutch East India Company was the first to import coffee on a large scale. The Dutch grew the crop in Java and Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). The first exports of Indonesian Coffee from Java to the Netherlands took place in 1711.
In 1712 a Frenchman took a coffee plant to the French territory of Martinique in the Caribbean. At the time, the area was responsible for most of the world's Arabica supply. The reason was because coffee did well in the climate, and was traded across the Americas. Saint Domingue-grown coffee in around 50 years began supplying 50% of the international coffee supply. However, slave labor was responsible for all the coffee grown on plantations. In fact, the poor working conditions were the main reason for the Haitian revolution. The coffee industry collapsed and never fully recovered afterward.
In North America, coffee was not very popular right away. However, during the Revolutionary War and especially after the Boston Tea Party incident, the demand for coffee increased. So much so that dealers had to hoard their scarce supplies and raise prices dramatically. The drinking of coffee in North America grew only after the War of 1812 cut off British tea imports.
In South America, while coffee had been introduced in Brazil in 1727, its growth was slow until Brazil gained independence in 1822. After which, they cleared huge amounts of the Amazon rainforest to make way for large-scale coffee farms. Brazil went from having no coffee exports in 1800 to exporting around 70% of the world’s coffee by 1910. Other South American countries like Colombia, Guatemala, and Venezuela exported the additional 30%.
The cause for this was the increasing demand for coffee in North America and Europe in the latter half of the 19th and 20th centuries. It ultimately led to a rise in the price of the crop. With South America's ideal climate and fertile soil to have large farms, many indigenous people were driven out of their homes. People seized their lands and enslaved them to grow coffee.
Ethical practices and sustainability
Overall, we can see through the story how coffee went from being a strange drink from a faraway land to one of the most widely consumed drinks on Earth. Sadly, the expansion was so quick that many people were exploited and ended up losing their lives and livelihood to establish the modern-day coffee industry. This is why it’s important not to repeat mistakes of the past.
While many celebrate and praise the coffee drink itself, it should not lead to exploiting indigenous land and people from where it originates. Which is where the specialty coffee industry and Era of We hope to make a difference. With ethical decisions on how and where sourcing happens, Era of We hopes to create a time for coffee built on complete respect. This way, Khaldi and the Sufi saints can look on in pride of their discovery.