A History of Coffee from the 15th Century

Early modern London coffee house / Wikimedia Commons

The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the early 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.

Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief


The Coffee Bearer by John Frederick Lewis (1857). (Ottoman quarters in Cairo, Egypt) / Manchester Art Gallery, Wikimedia Commons

The history of coffee dates back to the 15th century, and possibly earlier with a number of reports and legends surrounding its first use. The native (undomesticated) origin of coffee is thought to have been Ethiopia, with several mythical accounts but no solid evidence. The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the early 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen,[1] spreading soon to Mecca and Cairo. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, South India (Coorg), Persia, Turkey, the Horn of Africa, and northern Africa. Coffee then spread to the Balkans, Italy, and to the rest of Europe, as well as Southeast Asia and then to America,[2] despite bans imposed during the 15th century by religious leaders in Mecca and Cairo, and later by the Catholic Church.


The word “coffee” entered the English language in 1582 via the Dutch koffie,[3] borrowed from the Ottoman Turkish kahve, in turn borrowed from the Arabic qahwah.[4]

The Arabic word qahwah originally referred to a type of wine, whose etymology is given by Arab lexicographers as deriving from the verb qahā (قها, “to lack hunger”) in reference to the drink’s reputation as an appetite suppressant.[4][5]The word qahwah is sometimes alternatively traced to the Arabic quwwa (“power, energy”), or to Kaffa, a medieval kingdom in Ethiopia whence the plant was exported to Arabia.[4] These etymologies for qahwah have all been disputed, however. The name qahwah is not used for the berry or plant (the products of the region), which are known in Arabic as bunn and in Oromo as būn. Semitic languages had the root qhh, “dark color”, which became a natural designation for the beverage. According to this analysis, the feminine form qahwah (also meaning “dark in color, dull(ing), dry, sour”) was likely chosen to parallel the feminine khamr (خمر, “wine”), and originally meant “the dark one”.[6]

First Use

There are several legendary accounts of the origin of the drink itself. One account involves the Moroccan Sufi mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili.[7] When traveling in Ethiopia, the legend goes, he observed birds of unusual vitality, and, upon trying the berries that the birds had been eating, experienced the same vitality. Other accounts attribute the discovery of coffee to Sheikh Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili’s disciple, Omar. According to the ancient chronicle (preserved in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript), Omar, who was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer, was once exiled from Mocha to a desert cave near Ousab. Starving, Omar chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavor, but they became hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized and sustained for days. As stories of this “miracle drug” reached Mocha, Omar was asked to return and was made a saint.[8]

The Ethiopian ancestors of today’s Oromo ethnic group were the first to have recognized the energizing effect of the native coffee plant.[1] Oromo tribesmen who consumed it were hunters who left on days-long treks and benefitted from the coffee plant’s ability to quell hunger and provide more energy.[9] Studies of genetic diversity have been performed on Coffea arabica varieties, which were found to be of low diversity but with retention of some residual heterozygosity from ancestral materials, and closely related diploid species Coffea canephora and C. liberica;[10] however, no direct evidence has ever been found indicating where in Africa coffee grew or who among the natives might have used it as a stimulant or known about it there earlier than the seventeenth century.[1] The original domesticated coffee plant is said to have been from Harar, and the native population is thought to be derived from Ethiopia with distinct nearby populations in Sudan and Kenya.[11][12]

Coffee was primarily consumed in the Islamic world where it originated and was directly related to religious practices.[13] For example, coffee helped its consumers fast in the day and stay awake at night, during the Muslim celebration of Ramadan.[14]

It [coffee] became associated with Muhammad’s birthday. Indeed, various legends ascribed coffee’s origins to Muhammad, who, through the archangel Gabriel, brought it to man to replace the wine which Islam forbade.[15]

Another account involves a 9th-century Ethiopian goat-herder, Kaldi, who, noticing the energizing effects when his flock nibbled on the bright red berries of a certain bush, chewed on the fruit himself. His exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to a monk in a nearby monastery. But the monk disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed, causing other monks to come and investigate. The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee. Since this story is not known to have appeared in writing before 1671, 800 years after it was supposed to have taken place, it is highly likely to be apocryphal.[1]

Historical Overview

The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century, in Yemen’s Sufi monasteries.[1]

Syrian Bedouin from a beehive village in Aleppo, Syria, sipping the traditional murra (bitter) coffee, 1930 / Wikimedia Commons

Coffee beans were first exported from Ethiopia to Yemen. Yemeni traders brought coffee back to their homeland and began to cultivate the bean.[16] The word qahwa originally meant wine, and Sufis in Yemen used the beverage as an aid to concentration and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.[17] Sufis used it to keep themselves alert during their nighttime devotions. A translation of Al-Jaziri’s manuscript[18] traces the spread of coffee from Arabia Felix(the present day Yemen) northward to Mecca and Medina, and then to the larger cities of Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Constantinople. By 1414, the beverage was known in Mecca, and in the early 1500s was spreading to the Mameluke Sultanate of Egypt and North Africa from the Yemeni port of Mocha.[11][17] Associated with Sufism, a myriad of coffee houses grew up in Cairo (Egypt) around the religious University of the Azhar. These coffee houses also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo,[17] and then in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, in 1554.[17] In 1511, it was forbidden for its stimulating effect by conservative, orthodox imams at a theological court in Mecca.[19] However, these bans were to be overturned in 1524 by an order of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I, with Grand Mufti Mehmet Ebussuud el-İmadi issuing a fatwa allowing the consumption of coffee.[20] In Cairo a similar ban was instituted in 1532, and the coffeehouses and warehouses containing coffee beans were sacked.[21] During the 16th century, it had already reached the rest of the Middle East, the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire. From the Middle East, coffee drinking spread to Italy, then to the rest of Europe, and coffee plants were transported by the Dutch to the East Indies and to the Americas.[2]

Similarly, coffee was banned by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church some time before the 18th century.[22] However, in the second half of the 19th century, Ethiopian attitudes softened towards coffee drinking, and its consumption spread rapidly between 1880 and 1886; according to Richard Pankhurst, “this was largely due to Emperor Menilek, who himself drank it, and to Abuna Matewos who did much to dispel the belief of the clergy that it was a Muslim drink.”[23]

Palestinian women grinding coffee, 1905 / Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

The earliest mention of coffee noted by the literary coffee merchant Philippe Sylvestre Dufour[24] is a reference to bunchum in the works of the 10th century CE Persian physician Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, known as Rhazes in the West,[25] but more definite information on the preparation of a beverage from the roasted coffee berries dates from several centuries later. One of the most important of the early writers on coffee was Abd al-Qadir al-Jaziri, who in 1587 compiled a work tracing the history and legal controversies of coffee entitled Umdat al safwa fi hill al-qahwa عمدة الصفوة في حل .[19][[26 He reported that one Sheikh, Jamal-al-Din al-Dhabhani (d. 1470), mufti of Aden, was the first to adopt the use of coffee (circa 1454).

He found that among its properties was that it drove away fatigue and lethargy, and brought to the body a certain sprightliness and vigour.[1]


Dutch engraving of Mocha in 1692 / Wikimedia Commons


Coffee was first introduced to Europe on the island of Malta in the 16th century, according to the TV documentary Madwarna. It was introduced there through slavery. Turkish Muslim slaves had been imprisoned by the Knights of St John in 1565—the year of the Great Siege of Malta, and they used to make their traditional beverage. Domenico Magri mentioned in his work Virtu del Kafé, “Turks, most skilful makers of this concoction.” Also the German traveller Gustav Sommerfeldt in 1663 wrote “the ability and industriousness with which the Turkish prisoners earn some money, especially by preparing coffee, a powder resembling snuff tobacco, with water and sugar.” Coffee was a popular beverage in Maltese high society—many coffee shops opened.[27]

Coffee was also noted in Aleppo by the German physician botanist Leonhard Rauwolf, the first European to mention it, as chaube, in 1573; Rauwolf was closely followed by descriptions from other European travellers.[28]

The vibrant trade between the Republic of Venice and the Muslims in North Africa, Egypt, and the East brought a large variety of African goods, including coffee, to this leading European port. Venetian merchants introduced coffee-drinking to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for the beverage. In this way, coffee was introduced to the mainland of Europe. The first European coffee house apart from those in the Ottoman Empire and in Malta was opened in Venice in 1645.[2]


The first coffeehouse in Austria opened in Vienna in 1683 after the Battle of Vienna, by using supplies from the spoils obtained after defeating the Turks. The officer who received the coffee beans, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, a Polish military officer of Ukrainian origin, opened the coffee house and helped popularize the custom of adding sugar and milk to the coffee. Melange is the typical Viennese coffee, which comes mixed with hot foamed milk and a glass of water.


A 1652 handbill advertising coffee for sale in St. Michael’s Alley, London / British Museum, Wikimedia Commons

According to Leonhard Rauwolf’s 1583 account, coffee became available in England no later than the 16th century, largely through the efforts of the Levant Company.[29]The first coffeehouse in England was opened in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, London. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods. Edwards imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment. Coffee was also brought in through the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses throughout England, but there were many disruptions in the progressive movement of coffeehouses between the 1660s and 1670s.[30] During the enlightenment, these early English coffee houses became gathering places used for deep religious and political discussions among the populace. This practice became so common, and potentially subversive, that Charles II made an attempt to crush coffee houses in 1675.[31][32][33][34]

The banning of women from coffeehouses was not universal, for example, women frequented them in Germany, but it appears to have been commonplace elsewhere in Europe, including in England.[35]

Many in this period believed coffee to have medicinal properties. Renowned and eminent physicians often recommended coffee for medicinal purposes and some prescribed it as a cure for nervous disorders. [36] A 1661 tract entitled “A character of coffee and coffee-houses”, written by one “M.P.”, lists some of these perceived benefits:

‘Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the Stomack, and for expelling Fumes out of the Head. Excellent Berry! which can cleanse the English-man’s Stomak of Flegm, and expel Giddinesse out of his Head.

This new commodity proved controversial among some subjects, however. For instance, the anonymous 1674 “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” declared:

the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE …has…Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent, as Age.[37]


Antoine Galland (1646–1715) in his aforementioned translation described the Muslim association with coffee, tea and chocolate: “We are indebted to these great [Arab] physicians for introducing coffee to the modern world through their writings, as well as sugar, tea, and chocolate.” Galland reported that he was informed by Mr. de la Croix, the interpreter of King Louis XIV of France, that coffee was brought to Paris by a certain Mr. Thevenot, who had travelled through the East. On his return to that city in 1657, Thevenot gave some of the beans to his friends, one of whom was de la Croix.

In 1669, Soleiman Agha, Ambassador from Sultan Mehmed IV, arrived in Paris with his entourage bringing with him a large quantity of coffee beans. Not only did they provide their French and European guests with coffee to drink, but they also donated some beans to the royal court. Between July 1669 and May 1670, the Ambassador managed to firmly establish the custom of drinking coffee among Parisians.


In Germany, coffeehouses were first established in North Sea ports, including Bremen (1673) and Hamburg (1677). Initially, this new beverage was written in the English form coffee, but during the 1700s the Germans gradually adopted the French word café, then slowly changed the spelling to Kaffee, which is the present word. In the 18th century the popularity of coffee gradually spread around the German lands, and was taken up by the ruling classes.

Café Zimmermann, Leipzig (engraving by Johann Georg Schreiber, 1732) / Wikimedia Commons

Composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who was cantor of St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, in 1723–50, conducted a musical ensemble at Café Zimmermann in that Saxon city. Sometime in 1732–35 he composed the secular “Coffee Cantata” Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (BWV 211), in which a young woman, Lieschen, pleads with her disapproving father to accept her devotion to drinking coffee, then a newfangled fashion. The libretto includes such lines as:

Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,Und wenn jemand mich will laben,Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!

(Oh! How sweet coffee does taste,
Better than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscat wine.
Coffee, coffee, I’ve got to have it,
And if someone wants to perk me up, *
Oh, just give me a cup of coffee!)


The race among Europeans to obtain live coffee trees or beans was eventually won by the Dutch in 1616. Pieter van den Broecke, a Dutch merchant, obtained some of the closely guarded coffee bushes from Mocha, Yemen, in 1616. He took them back to Amsterdam and found a home for them in the Botanical gardens, where they began to thrive. This apparently minor event received little publicity, but was to have a major impact on the history of coffee.

The beans that van der Broecke acquired from Mocha forty years earlier adjusted well to conditions in the greenhouses at the Amsterdam Botanical Garden and produced numerous healthy Coffea arabica bushes. In 1658 the Dutch first used them to begin coffee cultivation in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and later in southern India.

Within a few years, the Dutch colonies (Java in Asia, Suriname in the Americas) had become the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.


Coffee reached the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th century, primarily through merchants trading with the Ottomans.[38] The first coffee shops opened a century later.[39] Usage of coffee has grown since, though it was a luxury commodity during the communist era of the Polish People’s Republic. Consumption of coffee has grown since the transformation of Poland into a democratic, capitalistic country in 1989, though it still remains lower per capita than in most West European countries.[40]


Coffee plantation (1881) / Wikimedia Commons

Gabriel de Clieu brought coffee seedlings to Martinique in the Caribbean in 1720. Those sprouts flourished and 50 years later there were 18,680 coffee trees in Martinique enabling the spread of coffee cultivation to Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Mexico and other islands of the Caribbean. The French territory of Saint-Domingue saw coffee cultivated starting in 1734, and by 1788 supplied half the world’s coffee. Coffee had a major influence on the geography of Latin America.[41] The French colonial plantations relied heavily on African slave laborers. However, the dreadful conditions that the slaves worked in on coffee plantations were a factor in the soon-to-follow Haitian Revolution. The coffee industry never fully recovered there.[42]

Coffee also found its way to the Isle of Bourbon, now known as Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. The plant produced smaller beans and was deemed a different variety of arabica known as var. Bourbon. The Santos coffee of Brazil and the Oaxaca coffee of Mexico are the progeny of that Bourbon tree. Circa 1727, the King of Portugal sent Francisco de Melo Palheta to French Guiana to obtain coffee seeds to become a part of the coffee market. Francisco initially had difficulty obtaining these seeds, but he captivated the French Governor’s wife and she sent him enough seeds and shoots to commence the coffee industry of Brazil. In 1893, the coffee from Brazil was introduced into Kenya and Tanzania (Tanganyika), not far from its place of origin in Ethiopia, 600 years prior, ending its transcontinental journey.[43]

Meanwhile, coffee had been introduced to Brazil in 1727, although its cultivation did not gather momentum until independence in 1822.[44] After this time, massive tracts of rainforest were cleared first from the vicinity of Rio and later São Paulo for coffee plantations.[45]

After the Boston Tea Party of 1773, large numbers of Americans switched to drinking coffee during the American Revolution because drinking tea had become unpatriotic.[46]

Cultivation was taken up by many countries in the latter half of the 19th century, and in almost all of them it involved the large-scale displacement and exploitation of indigenous people. Harsh conditions led to many uprisings, coups and bloody suppressions of peasants.[47] For example Guatemala started producing coffee in the 1500s but lacked the manpower to harvest the coffee beans. As a result the Guatemalan government forced indigenous people to work on the fields. This led to a strain in the indigenous and Guatemalan people’s relationship that still exists today.[48][49] A notable exception is Costa Rica where a lack of ready labor prevented the formation of large farms. Smaller farms and more egalitarian conditions ameliorated unrest over the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the 20th century Latin American countries faced a possible economic collapse. Before World War II Europe was consuming large amounts of coffee. Once the war started Latin America lost 40% of its market and was on the verge of economic collapse. Coffee was and is a Latin American commodity. The United States saw this and talked with the Latin American countries and as a result the producers agreed on an equitable division of the U.S. market. The U.S. government monitored this agreement. For the period that this plan was followed the value of coffee doubled, which greatly benefited coffee producers and the Latin American countries.[50]

Brazil became the largest producer of coffee in the world by 1852 and it has held that status ever since. It dominated world production, exporting more coffee than the rest of the world combined, from 1850 to 1950. The period since 1950 saw the widening of the playing field due to the emergence of several other major producers, notably Colombia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and, most recently, Vietnam, which overtook Colombia and became the second-largest producer in 1999 and reached 15% market share by 2011.[51]

Around the turn of the century an organization named Fair Trade[52] emerged. In the past 20 years Fair trade coffee has become very popular. The idea of fair trade is to pay the farmers more money, so the farmers can have better lives. Most fair Trade’s farmers come from Latin America. There is controversy about the effectiveness of Fair Trade. Opponents argue that Fair Trade does not keep records and therefore cannot be accountable.[54]

A recent change to the coffee market are lattes, Frappuccinos and other sugary coffee drinks. With the rise of lattes and Frappuccinos becoming more popular this has caused coffee houses to be able to use cheaper coffee beans in their coffee, which has hurt the Latin American countries’ economy. The cheaper coffee beans are called Robusta and they contain more caffeine than the more expensive beans. The cheaper beans’ higher caffeine content is also a factor in their popularity. These cheaper beans hurt the Latin American economy because the producers receive less money for the production of the cheaper beans than they do for the production of the higher quality beans. Since the producers get paid less, they are receiving a smaller income, which in turn hurts the economy of Latin America.[55]



Monsooned Malabar arabica, compared with green Yirgachefe beans from Ethiopia / Photo by Takeaway, Wikimedia Commons

Coffee came to India well before the East India company, through an India Sufi saint named “Baba Budan”.[56] The first record of coffee growing in India is following the introduction of coffee beans from Yemen by Baba Budan to the hills of Chikmagalur (Coorg, Southern India) in 1670.[57] Since then coffee plantations have become established in the region, extending south to Kodagu.[56]

Coffee production in India is dominated in the hill tracts of South Indian states, with the state of Karnataka accounting 53% followed by Kerala 28% and Tamil Nadu 11% of production of 8,200 tonnes. Indian coffee is said to be the finest coffee grown in the shade rather than direct sunlight anywhere in the world.[58] There are approximately 250,000 coffee growers in India; 98% of them are small growers.[59] As of 2009, the production of coffee in India was only 4.5% of the total production in the world. Almost 80% of the country’s coffee production is exported.[60] Of that which is exported, 70% is bound for Germany, Russian federation, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, United States, Japan, Greece, Netherlands and France, and Italy accounts for 29% of the exports. Most of the export is shipped through the Suez Canal.[58]

Coffee is grown in three regions of India with Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu forming the traditional coffee growing region of South India, followed by the new areas developed in the non-traditional areas of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa in the eastern coast of the country and with a third region comprising the states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh of Northeastern India, popularly known as “Seven Sister States of India”.[61]

Indian coffee, grown mostly in southern India under monsoon rainfall conditions, is also termed as “Indian monsooned coffee”. Its flavour is defined as: “The best Indian coffee reaches the flavour characteristics of Pacific coffees, but at its worst it is simply bland and uninspiring”.[62] The two well known species of coffee grown are the Arabica and Robusta. The first variety that was introduced in the Baba Budan Giri hill ranges of Karnataka in the 17th century[63] was marketed over the years under the brand names of Kent and S.795. Coffee is sold by the name of “filter coffee” by small restaurants and small chains like MTR’s, Narasu’s, etc. Recently, larger coffee outlet chains like Coffee Day and Starbucks have been opening up in larger cities and towns.


Coffee is the cornerstone of Chikmagalur’s economy. Chikmagalur is the birthplace of coffee in India, where the seed was first sown about 350 years ago. Coffee Board is the department located in Chikmagalur town that oversees the production and marketing of coffee cultivated in the district. Coffee is cultivated in Chikmagalur district in an area of around 85,465 hectares with Arabica being the dominant variety grown in upper hills and Robusta being the major variety in the low level hills. There are around 15000 coffee growers in this district with 96% of them being small growers with holdings of less than or equal to 4 hectares. The average production is 55,000 MT: 35,000 MT of Arabica and 20,000 MT of Robusta. The average productivity per hectare is 810 kg for Arabica and 1110 kg of Robusta, which are higher than the national average. Arabica is a species of coffee that is also known as the “coffee shrub of Arabia”, “mountain coffee” or “arabica coffee”. Coffea arabica is believed to be the first species of coffee to be cultivated, being grown in southwest Arabia for well over 1,000 years. It is considered to produce better coffee than the other major commercially grown coffee species, Coffea canephora (robusta). Arabica contains less caffeine than any other commercially cultivated species of coffee. Robusta is a species of coffee which has its origins in western Africa. It is grown mostly in Africa and Brazil, where it is often called Conillon. It is also grown in Southeast Asia where French colonists introduced it in the late 19th century. In recent years Vietnam, which only produces robusta, has surpassed Brazil, India, and Indonesia to become the world’s single largest exporter. Approximately one third of the coffee produced in the world is robusta.


Coffee was introduced to Japan by the Dutch in the 17th century, but remained a curiosity until the lifting of trade restrictions in 1858. The first European-style coffeehouse opened in Tokyo in 1888, and closed four years later.[64] By the early 1930s there were over 30,000 coffeehouses across the country; availability in the wartime and immediate postwar period dropped to nearly zero, then rapidly increased as import barriers were removed. The introduction of freeze-dried instant coffee, canned coffee, and franchises such as Starbucks and Doutor Coffee in the late 20th century continued this trend, to the point that Japan is now one of the leading per capita coffee consumers in the world.[65]

South Korea

Coffee’s first notable Korean enthusiasts were 19th century emperors Sunjong and Gojong, who preferred to consume it after western-style banquets.[66] By the 1980s instant coffee and canned coffee had become fairly popular, with a more minor tradition of independently owned coffeehouses in larger cities; toward the end of the century the growth of franchises such as Caffe Bene and Starbucks brought about a greater demand for European-style coffee.[67]


Coffee was first introduced by the Dutch during colonization in late 17th century. After several years coffee was planted on Indonesia Archipelago. Many coffee specialties are from the Indonesian Archipelago. The colloquial name for coffee, Java, comes from the time when most of Europe and America’s coffee was grown in Java. Today Indonesia is one of the largest coffee producers in the world, mainly for export. However coffee is enjoyed in various ways around the archipelago like traditional “Kopi Ende” which is with ginger to fancy new ways in Jakartas many coffee shops like Anomali.


The Philippines is one of the few countries that produces the four varieties of commercially viable coffee: Arabica, Liberica (Barako), Excelsa and Robusta. Climatic and soil conditions in the Philippines – from the lowland to mountain regions – make the country suitable for all four varieties.

In the Philippines, coffee has a history as rich as its flavor. The first coffee tree was introduced in Lipa, Batangas in 1740 by a Spanish Franciscan friar. From there, coffee growing spread to other parts of Batangas like Ibaan, Lemery, San Jose, Taal, and Tanauan. Batangas owed much of its wealth to the coffee plantations in these areas and Lipa eventually became the coffee capital of the Philippines.

By the 1860s, Batangas was exporting coffee to America through San Francisco. When the Suez Canal was opened, a new market started in Europe as well. Seeing the success of the Batangeños, Cavite followed suit by growing the first coffee seedlings in 1876 in Amadeo. In spite of this, Lipa still reigned as the center for coffee production in the Philippines and Batangas barako was commanding five times the price of other Asian coffee beans. In 1880, the Philippines was the fourth largest exporter of coffee beans, and when the coffee rust hit Brazil, Africa, and Java, it became the only source of coffee beans worldwide.

The glory days of the Philippine coffee industry lasted until 1889 when coffee rust hit the Philippine shores. That, coupled with an insect infestation, destroyed virtually all the coffee trees in Batangas. Since Batangas was a major producer of coffee, this greatly affected national coffee production. In two years, coffee production was reduced to 1/6th its original amount. By then, Brazil had regained its position as the world’s leading producer of coffee. A few of the surviving coffee seedlings were transferred from Batangas to Cavite, where they flourished. This was not the end of the Philippines’ coffee growing days, but there was less area allotted to coffee because many farmers had shifted to other crops.

During the 1950s, the Philippine government, with the help of the Americans, brought in a more resistant variety of coffee. It was also then that instant coffee was being produced commercially, thus increasing the demand for beans. Because of favorable market conditions, many farmers went back to growing coffee in the 1960s. But the sudden proliferation of coffee farms resulted in a surplus of beans around the world, and for a while importation of coffee was banned in order to protect local coffee producers. When Brazil was hit by a frost in the 1970s, world market coffee prices soared. The Philippines became a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in 1980.


The first step in Europeans’ wresting the means of production was effected by Nicolaes Witsen, the enterprising burgomaster of Amsterdam and member of the governing board of the Dutch East India Company who urged Joan van Hoorn, the Dutch governor at Batavia that some coffee plants be obtained at the export port of Mocha in Yemen, the source of Europe’s supply, and established in the Dutch East Indies;[68] the project of raising many plants from the seeds of the first shipment met with such success that the Dutch East India Company was able to supply Europe’s demand with “Java coffee” by 1719.[69] Encouraged by their success, they soon had coffee plantations in Ceylon, Sumatra and other Sunda islands.[70] Coffee trees were soon grown under glass at the Hortus Botanicus of Leiden, whence slips were generously extended to other botanical gardens. Dutch representatives at the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Utrecht presented their French counterparts with a coffee plant, which was grown on at the Jardin du Roi, predecessor of the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris.

The introduction of coffee to the Americas was effected by Captain Gabriel des Clieux, who obtained cuttings from the reluctant botanist Antoine de Jussieu, who was loath to disfigure the king’s coffee tree.[71] Clieux, when water rations dwindled during a difficult voyage, shared his portion with his precious plants and protected them from a Dutchman, perhaps an agent of the Provinces jealous of the Batavian trade.[72] Clieux nurtured the plants on his arrival in the West Indies, and established them in Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue in addition to Martinique, where a blight had struck the cacao plantations, which were replaced by coffee plantations in a space of three years, is attributed to France through its colonization of many parts of the continent starting with the Martinique and the colonies of the West Indies where the first French coffee plantations were founded.

The first coffee plantation in Brazil occurred in 1727 when Lt. Col. Francisco de Melo Palheta smuggled seeds, still essentially from the germ plasm originally taken from Yemen to Batavia,[73] from French Guiana. By the 1800s, Brazil’s harvests would turn coffee from an elite indulgence to a drink for the masses. Brazil, which like most other countries cultivates coffee as a commercial commodity, relied heavily on slave labor from Africa for the viability of the plantations until the abolition of slavery in 1888. The success of coffee in 17th-century Europe was paralleled with the spread of the habit of tobacco smoking all over the continent during the course of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648).

For many decades in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Brazil was the biggest producer of coffee and a virtual monopolist in the trade. However, a policy of maintaining high prices soon opened opportunities to other nations, such as Venezuela, Colombia,[74] Guatemala, Nicaragua, Indonesia and Vietnam, now second only to Brazil as the major coffee producer in the world. Large-scale production in Vietnam began following normalization of trade relations with the US in 1995.[75] Nearly all of the coffee grown there is Robusta.[76]

Despite the origins of coffee cultivation in Ethiopia, that country produced only a small amount for export until the Twentieth Century, and much of that not from the south of the country but from the environs of Harar in the northeast. The Kingdom of Kaffa, home of the plant, was estimated to produce between 50,000 and 60,000 kilograms of coffee beans in the 1880s. Commercial production effectively began in 1907 with the founding of the inland port of Gambela. 100,000 kilograms of coffee was exported from Gambela in 1908, while in 1927–8 over 4 million kilograms passed through that port.[77] Coffee plantations were also developed in Arsi Province at the same time, and were eventually exported by means of the Addis Ababa – Djibouti Railway. While only 245,000 kilograms were freighted by the Railway, this amount jumped to 2,240,000 kilograms by 1922, surpassed exports of “Harari” coffee by 1925, and reached 9,260,000 kilograms in 1936.[78]

Australia is a minor coffee producer, with little product for export, but its coffee history goes back to 1880 when the first of 500 acres (2.0 km2) began to be developed in an area between northern New South Wales and Cooktown. Today there are several producers of Arabica coffee in Australia that use a mechanical harvesting system invented in 1981.[79]



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  2. Meyers, Hannah (7 March 2005). “‘Suave Molecules of Mocha’ – Coffee, Chemistry, and Civilization”. Archived from the original on 21 February 2007. Retrieved 3 February 2007.
  3. OEDs.v. “Coffee”.
  4. Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. “coffee, n.” Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1891.
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  10. Steiger, L.; Nagal, C.; et al. (2002). “AFLP analysis of genetic diversity within and among Coffea arabica cultivars”Theoretical and Applied Genetics105 (2–3): 209–215. doi:10.1007/s00122-002-0939-8. PMID 12582521.
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  14. Topik, Steven (2009). Cultural Critique, No. 71, Drugs in Motion: Mind- and Body-Altering Substances in the World’s Cultural Economy. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 88–89.
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  16. Ukers 1922:5, and all other sources
  17. “Coffee and qahwa: How a drink for Arab mystics went global”BBC News.
  18. Al-Jaziri’s manuscript work is of considerable interest with regards to the history of coffee in Europe as well. A copy reached the French royal library, where it was translated in part by Antoine Galland as De l’origine et du progrès du café.
  19.  “عمدة الصفوة في حل القهوة – resource for arabic books”alwaraq.net.
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  22. Aregay, Merid W. (1988). “The Early History of Ethiopia’s Coffee Trade and the Rise of Shawa”. The Journal of African History29 (1, Special Issue in Honour of Roland Oliver): 20. doi:10.1017/s0021853700035969. JSTOR 182236.
  23. Richard Pankhurst, Economic History of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1968), p. 198
  24. Dufour, Traitez nouveaux et curieux du café, du thé et du chocolat (Lyon, 1684, etc).
  25. In later editions Dufour casts doubt on the identity of Rhazes’ bunchum, which is shared by Edward Forbes Robinson, The Early History of Coffee Houses in England (London, 1893), noted by Ukers 1922:
  26. The 19th-century orientalist Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy edited the first two chapters of al-Jaziri’s manuscript and included it in the second edition of his Chrestomathie Arabe (Paris, 1826, 3 vols.). Antoine Galland’s De l’origine et du progrès du Café (1699) was recently reissued (Paris: Editions La Bibliothèque, 1992).
  27. “Maltese history through a sweet tooth”tenzo.fr. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  28. William Harrison Ukers, All About Coffee :2.
  29. Wood, Alfred C (2013). A History of the Levant Company. Routledge. p. 203.
  30. “History of Coffee”Nestlé Professional. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
  31. ^ Cowan, Brian William (2005). The Social Life of Coffee: The emergence of the British Coffee house. New Haven Conn: Yale University Press..
  32. Wild, Anthony. Coffee A Dark History. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110.
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  46. (1) Adams, John (6 July 1774). “John Adams to Abigail Adams”. The Adams Papers: Digital Editions: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 1. Massachusetts Historical Society. Archived from the original on 26 February 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2014. I believe I forgot to tell you one Anecdote: When I first came to this House it was late in the Afternoon, and I had ridden 35 miles at least. ‘Madam’ said I to Mrs. Huston, ‘is it lawfull for a weary Traveller to refresh himself with a Dish of Tea provided it has been honestly smuggled, or paid no Duties?’
    ‘No sir, said she, we have renounced all Tea in this Place. I cant make Tea, but I’le make you Coffee.’ Accordingly I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced. I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better.
    (2) Stone, William L. (1867). “Continuation of Mrs. General Riedesel’s Adventures”. Mrs. General Riedesel: Letters and Journals relating to the War of Independence and the Capture of the Troops at Saratoga (Translated from the Original German). Albany: Joel Munsell. p. 147. She then became more gentle, and offered me bread and milk. I made tea for ourselves. The woman eyed us longingly, for the Americans love it very much; but they had resolved to drink it no longer, as the famous duty on the tea had occasioned the war. At Google Books. Note: Fredricka Charlotte Riedesel was the wife of General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, commander of all German and Indian troops in General John Burgoyne’s Saratoga campaign and American prisoner of war during the American Revolution.
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  72. The story appeared in J.J.C. Goube, Histoire du duché de Normandie (1815, vol. III:191), of which a translated excerpt was contributed to The Gentleman’s Magazine (February 1840:136) “Generosity of M. Desclieux – The Coffee-tree at Martinique”. The date of this event is variously reported: in Goube it is 1726.
  73. “Des Clieux’s cutting was the ancestor of all the coffee trees of Martinique, the West Indies, Brazil and Colombia, and some of them went back across the Atlantic to become a source of income to the African colonies that have now gained their independence” (Toussaint-Samat 2008:531).
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