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The History of Coffee

coffee beansIt is believed that coffee originated in the high elevations of Ethiopia and was discovered by a goat herder when he noticed his goats were unable to sleep after eating the cherries from a certain tree. The goat herder shared the news with a local religious leader who made a drink from the fruit and found he was able to stay up longer in prayer. He shared his new drink with others and slowly coffee made its way across the continent to the Arabian Peninsula.

The Arabs quickly realized the marketability of coffee and became the first to not only cultivate the trees, but to begin trading in the coffee bean. Some believe the Arabs used coffee as a substitute to alcohol which the Koran forbade. Coffee houses quickly spread throughout the Arab world and beyond.

Where the city of Mecca was the center of the trade world at the time thousands of travelers visited the area each year and many returned home with stories of this fabulous drink. Though sources of the drink were quite popular in the area the actual production of the plant was guarded for centuries.

By the 1600s coffee had arrived in Europe and soon became popular there. Everyone, however, was not as enthusiastic as the Arabs were about this new drink and some religious groups sought to condemn it. The Pope himself was asked to pass judgment on this vial drink, but after trying it he gave it the Holy stamp of approval.  Over the course of the next century coffee house sprang up across Europe with London claiming no less than 300. Many of these coffee houses were segregated by the interest of the individuals that frequented them such as musicians, artists, scholars, merchants and so on.

Also by the mid-1600s coffee had made it to the new world and New York (then New Amsterdam).  Though many started drinking coffee in public places, tea continued to be the hot drink of choice. This changed rather quickly when in the late 1700s King George of England imposed heavy taxes on tea which not only led to the Boston Tea Party but also to a change in the preferred beverage.

It was about this time that the Dutch were able to secure some coffee seedlings from the Arabs and were able to successfully grow the plant on the Island of Java, one of the islands of Indonesia. The plants did well in the mild climate and soon the Dutch had a thriving coffee trade. Cultivation spread to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes as well.

In the early 1700s a gift was given of a single coffee plant  to King Louis XIV by the Dutch and a seedling from the plant in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris was taken with much hardship to the Island of Martinque where care of the plant paid off with millions of coffee trees spreading across the island over the next few decades. This one plant was credited with the coffee which now is spread throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Over the next two centuries coffee has become one of the most heavily traded commodities in the world with variations of the plant in several countries around the world.