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The History of Coffee – A Complete Guide Through Time

Do you love coffee? Same here!

Scott here! Kieran and I are two massive coffee fans. With the aim of figuring out how to make the perfect cup of bean juice we are going to start from absolute zero and take take you along our journey! If all else fails we’ll be happy with a cup that’s just above average.

As it stands, I do have a few coffee gadgets at home. Most aren’t even used though. I almost always just fire up a drip machine to make a brew. It’s so easy. It makes a good coffee but I know, from visiting some extremely hipster coffee shops, that it can get so much better.

When deciding where to start with going zero to hero with coffee I decided it would be best to start right at the beginning. Who ever had the idea to take the seeds of a little fruit, roast it, grind it up, and stew the flavour and goodness out of it to make a drink?

The First Coffee

There are lots of stories of how people first discovered coffee. The first is one I certainly heard before.

The first origin-story goes that a 9th century goat herder, named Kaldi, noticed his goats were eating the fruits from a plant and were acting pretty energetic. The goat herder tried the little berries himself and found himself very awake, full of energy, and just generally jazzed.

He took the berries to a monk. I suppose they were friends? The monk didn’t like them so threw them in a fire. When the beans in the fruit started to roast it made a nice smell. Other monks checked it out. They then had the brainwave to grind them up and dissolve them in water. Ta dah!

It probably didn’t go that way and many think this is just a story.

Another famous story says that a Moroccoan mystic was travelling to Ethiopia. He watched birds eating coffee berries from the plants and were very spritely. When he tried the berries, he felt the same!

One story, possibly more rooted in history is of a gentleman named Omar, who was a disciple of Sheikh Abul Hasan ash-Shadhill. Omar was banished from Mecca. Starving in the desert, he tried eating some berries from a shrub. He thought they were bitter, so he tried to roast them to improve their favour. That made them hard, so he tried to boil them in water to soften them.

He drank his coffee and felt great! When word of the miracle drink he had created reached Mecca he was supposedly invited back and sainted.

Historians seem to agree that coffee was born around about the 15th century.

By 1414 the musty bean was known to Mecca. By the early 1500s it had made its way to Egypt Egypt and most of North Africa. By around 1550, there were coffee shops in Cairo, Istanbul, and Aleppo. By the 16th century, it had spread throughout the middle east, it had made it to Italy, and the Dutch were even transporting the coffee plants to the East Indes!

In a historical sense, coffee became very popular very quickly.

You can’t Trust A Coffee

It has been both banned by many religious groups and incorporated into religious practices!

It was met with suspicion and prejudice by many. Often called The Devil’s Cup and even thought to be sinful.

Well, if coffee is sinful, call me a sinner!

Coffee was banned in Mecca in 1511. This was the first coffee ban known in history. Although by the time the ban was brought in, there were already coffee shops everywhere. Everyone already loved the dark brew! So the ban only lasted some months before it was proptly undone.

The Catholic Church once considered a cup of joe to be a bitter Devil’s drink. This was until Pope Clement VIII was asked by his clergy to denounce coffee. He wanted to try a mug before making any decisions on it. After taking a sip, he loved it!

Around the year 1600 Pope Clement VIII famously said, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it!”.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that coffee then became pretty popular amoung The Catholic Church.

Historical Nuggets

We know that coffee originated from Ethiopia but after that it’s a bit of a mish-mash. It takes a bit of reading between the lines.

The first person in history was a Persian doctor named Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya El Razi. He was often called Razi, or Rhazes, for short. Razi wrote over 200 books on all kind of subjects from medicine to astronomy.

Razi called it bunchum. He wrote, “Bunchum is hot and dry and very good for the stomach”. Razi lived between the years 850 to 922. This alone tells us people have been guzzling the dark nectar for well over 1000 years!

The first known European to mention coffee in historical literature was a German physician-botanist named Leonhard Rauwolf in 1573. In 1591, the first known historical description of the coffee plant was made by a Venetian physician-botanist named Prospero Alphini.

In 1583 Leonhard Rauwolf also wrote about coffee becoming avaliable in England. The first of many coffee shops was opened in St Micheal’s Alley, Cornhill, London.

These same historical figures were medical practicioners. As you might be wondering, yes, coffee was recommended by some doctors as a medical remedy. It was prescribed for “nervous disorders”. It would certainly make me shake more!

So from Razi writing about coffee, it took about half a millunium to find it’s way from The Middle East into Europe! That might have been held up by that suspicion The Catholic Church had over coffee up until around that time?

Coffee In America

The majestic bean was first brought over to The Americas by Captain John Smith, the founder of Virginia, in 1607. Coffee didn’t surge in popularity like you might imagine. The more popular drinks of the time was tea, cider, and ale.

By the mid-1700s most teverns sold coffee, but it was still not hugely popular. It wasn’t until the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when a shipment of british tea was dumped in the Boston harbor, that drinking tea was unpatriotic.

It was then time for coffee to shine!

Coffee In Italy

This brings us to Italy. Coffee is a massive part of Italian culture.

They are quite possibly the home of modern coffee. Italy is a nation known for fantastic coffee. If there is ever a nationality associated with coffee marketing, then nine times out of ten, it is marketed as something like a rich Italian roast.

Like most European nations, coffee became massively popular in Italy around the 16th century. Likely thanks to Pope Clement VIII.

The first Italian coffeehouse opened in 1645!

1901 was the year an Italian inventor changed coffee forever. In that year he patented the espresso machine. Up until that time coffee in Italy was made similar to any other nation; add hot water and filter the grounds somehow. At this time, the industrial revolution was in full swing and people wanted coffee fast. Express.

The First espresso machine will have produced a coffee much more similar to a failter coffee by todays standards. It pushed water through coffee with 1.5 Bars of pressure at about 140°C (284°F). Nothing compared to todays mighty 9 Bars of pressure at 200°F.

The Espresso

The espresso is now considered the purest form of the drink and a fine art to do right!

In Italy, typically there are some variations on the espresso.

  • Liscio. This is the standard espresso.
  • Ristretto. Espresso with half as much water.
  • Lungo. Espresso with twice as much water.
  • Macchiato. Italian for “marked”. Espresso with a little bit of foamed milk.
  • Coretto. An espresso with some grappa, a type of brandy.
  • Cappuchino. Espresso with steamed milk.

A latte is a glass of milk.
That’s a typical Italian coffee menu.

Today, as we all know, a coffee menu in a place like Starbucks have options that go on forever. Each option having at least one shot of espresso.

While the espresso is pretty much the modern definition of coffee, it took a long time to get the idea to force hot water through ground roasted beans at high pressure. It took a little over a millenium for anyone to get that idea.

While the beginnings of coffee have a few different stories, it was certainly very present and popular throughout history. From just a funny little plant in Ethiopia to the mass produced mammoth it is today coffee has a great story behind it and an even greater taste.


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