A Brew Beginning – The Origin of the Bean

A short history about coffee and coffee culture

Back to Coffee – How did it start ?

OK ! you may have heard about the story of a shepherd called KALDI, who one day was out with his goats and noticed that they got a bit excited eating red berries. He thought hey ! this must be good stuff, tasted them and also felt a bit excited too. He actually went to a local sufi (Ioosely translated as Islamic Spiritual Master) and told him about the excited goats. The sufi was a bit curious, threw the berries into a fire and was delighted by the aromatic smell that came from it – the birth of roasted coffee.

The sufi took the roasted berries, mixed it with water and tried it as a nice hot drink. He quickly realized their energizing qualities, which helped him to pray longer at night and recommended them to his fellow sufis, who drank the roasted berry drink to help them with their pre-dawn prayers. A berry blessed by God !

Soon their popularity grew and grew and the Arab traders around the years between 600 and 800 AD soon started cultivating them in their land, more specifically at the port of al-Muka (the name for the coffee, Mocca) in Yemen, leading to the name of the berries, Arabica.

Soon their popularity spread to Syria and then to Turkey, where they were first roasted in open fire and crushed and drank in a way similar to what we drink today. In fact it was the Turks who really popularized the concept of coffee shops, traditionally visited by men, who sat for hours and talked. But of course, it didn’t stop there – coffee became so popular in Turkey that every bride was entitled to her own coffee maker (a barista). More wealthy households had a designated barista just for preparing coffee for visitors. However, whether rich or poor, coffee was drunk at least twice a day in Turkey.

As the Turkish Empire spread and people visited their lands, so did the fame and mystery of coffee. Coffee was offered at each and every occasion and to as many people as people in a land where if someone visited your house, not offering coffee, was offensive. Even when traveling, the Turks always took their coffee beans and baristas with them.

By the early 1600s, you won’t be surprised to know that the first European country that began to import coffee was of course Italy. Back then in Italy, the Venetians were the traders of Europe and often went to Turkey, where they took to the beans. The Turks and Arabs were proud of the bean which back then was only cultivated back then in Yemen.

In Italy, the street sellers of citrus fruits were the first to take to selling coffees. However, at the beginning, the clerics tried to get coffee banned as a drink from the devil, but as soon as the Pope had a sip, it was all over – he blessed it. Soon their popularity spread across to Italy with many coffee houses sprouting up before the end of the 1600’s.

In France, coffee was introduced to the aristocracy by the Turkish Ambassador, keen to impress the dignitaries with “coffee” parties. However, the first cafe was opened by an Italian around 1686 in Paris and because of the slow uptake by the Parisians, the owner marketed it first as a classy soft drink stop and as soon as coffee began to outsell the other drinks, the word “CAFE” was born – et voila !

In Austria, the local Turkish Ambassador “again” was known for his hospitality in always serving the lovely black drink to guests, who took to the bean very quickly and started importing it. However, when the Turks decided to invade Europe, things didn’t go quite to plan and in the rush they left their coffee beans behind, where it was adopted by a keen Polish immigrant, who eventually opened Vienna’s first coffee house before 1700.

In the UK, again the Turks were responsible, with a refugee introducing the beautiful black drink to the Oxford dons and before you knew it, a cafe was opened up in London before 1670. However, it is widely believed that coffee was the first official beverage of choice in the UK, leading to the birth of the modern cafe culture because coffee was only really drunk at cafes and never in the home. However, once tea was discovered in Asia, it quickly replaced coffee – the reason – tea was much easier to brew at home and the English couldn’t be bothered to go through the hassle of making coffee at home.

In North America, the Dutch probably introduced coffee around 1670 and as a protest against British rule and taxes, coffee was adopted as the national drink at the famous Boston Tea Party a hundred years later.

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