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The History of Coffee

Have you ever wondered where coffee first originated? Or where coffee shops and houses first began?
Let’s travel back in time to where coffee was first discovered and how it slowly spread to the rest of the world.

Africa – The Cradle of Coffee

The coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th century. Back then it was used for its supposed medicinal properties and was thought to be a “magical plant”.

It originated from a plateau in Ethiopia, in a region known as Kaffa.

The first known writings of coffee were by a Persian physician and philosopher named Rhazes. He too characterized it as a medicine.

Rhazes described a beverage called Bunchum in his literature, which was prepared with an infusion of a fruit called Bunn—the Ethiopian name for a coffee cherry.

Additional early writings establish Yemen, found on the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, just across the Red Sea from Ethiopia, as the birthplace of the first established coffee plantations starting in the early 15th century.

Where the Coffee Ritual first began

Coffee plants were brought over from Ethiopia to Yemen. Sufi monks would use coffee to stay awake and pray throughout the night by preparing an infusion of coffee cherry leaves. It is unknown but the first roasting and grinding of coffee most likely began here.

However, the coffee beans true worldwide journey began when the Turkish conquered the Arabian Peninsula during the early 16th century.

It was the Ottoman Empire that brought coffee to entirely new places, for new reasons.

Muslim religion prohibited the consumption of alcohol, giving coffee a big lift throughout Turkey and the rest of the Ottoman Empire.

Kahvé Road

Consequently, coffee became a substitute for wine, and was given the name Kahvé which when translated literally means the “wine of Arabia”.

The word came from the Arabic term oahwah, which itself came from the verb oahiya, signifying the action of feeling sated.

Coffee spread rapidly throughout the Ottoman Empire, giving rise to the world’s first coffee houses, called Kaveh-kanes or Oahveh-khaneh.

The first recorded coffee house was opened in 1554 in Constantinople (Istanbul), however, there may well have been earlier coffee houses in Cairo, Damascus, Mecca, and Medina.

Coffee’s Short-Lived Prohibition

The beginning of the 17th century saw coffee’s introduction to Christian Europe. However, the popular beverage was met with strong opposition from the Catholic Church and was labelled “the bitter invention of Satan” by Pope Clemente.

Fortunately, Pope Clemente tried the drink and was pleasantly surprised by what he tasted, declaring “this devil’s drink is so delicious … we should cheat the devil by baptizing it.”

Coffee’s World Domination

Coffee spread swiftly throughout Europe with Venice’s first coffee house, Bottega del Caffe, opening in 1645. England followed suit opening their first coffee house in 1650. France followed in 1672, with the New World opening an outpost in Boston in 1676.

Coffee’s spread throughout the world made it quickly become a precious commodity. European empires such as Holland and France began attempting to grow coffee in their regions, however, due to the lack of tropical climate, their efforts were unsuccessful.

In an attempt to preserve their monopoly, Arabian coffee traders deliberately exported infertile beans which they parched or boiled before exporting to Europe.

The Birth of Mocha Java

The Dutch persisted, acquiring their own coffee plants and eventually opening their first successful coffee plantation on their colony of Java in early 18th century Indonesia. The plantation started off with only a few coffee plants which were attained through trade with merchants in the Yemenite port of Mocha.

This was the birth of Mocha Java and in 1719 the first harvest was shipped to Europe. Java’s success led to the fast establishment of coffee plantations on Sumatra and Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. Furthermore, some plants were cultivated in specially created botanical gardens in Amsterdam.

A military agreement had France receive some of these plants as gifts in 1720, promptly transporting them to its colonies in Central America.

King Louis XV ordered Captain Gabriel de Clieu of the French Navy to establish a plantation in Martinique. Recent findings indicate that coffee was already growing as early as 1715 in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, and in the Dutch colony of Surinam since 1718.

The tropical regions of the New World revealed themselves to be ideal for cultivation, resulting in coffee plantations spreading throughout Central and South America. Central America’s first coffee harvest occurred in 1726.

Currently, Brazil reigns as the world’s biggest coffee producer, claiming no fewer than 10 billion coffee plants.

Kahvé Road – Your Coffee Shop and Supplier

Today, coffee shops are in abundance and can be found all over the world, including our coffee shop in Claremont, Cape Town – Kahvé Road.

We offer an array of aromatic coffees in both cup and wholesale form, as well as a premium range of coffee capsules. For more information about our available coffees, please contact us.

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