Monday, December 25, 2017

Convoluted History of Coffee Bean - from Pope Baptizing the Islamic Drink & Other Events

Let us take a look at the history of coffee bean and some of the significant events that paved the way for coffee to be the third most consumed beverage in the world, after water and tea (based on the 2016 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations).

history of coffee bean

NOTE: There are sites that claimed coffee to be the most consumed beverage but in all of these sites, there is no link to its source or reference. My statement is based on the report by FAO of the United Nations and I believed this is a correct statistic. The same site will also state that coffee is the 'second most valuable exported commodity after oil'.  References to the United Nation's statistics show wheat, flour, sugar and even soybeans beat out raw coffee.

Now that we have cleared this matter and before we go to the timeline, let's summarised some of the reasons that lead coffee to be one of the popular beverages worldwide.

  • The social and religious acceptance of the main religions during coffee's key times in history.
  • In countries where alcohol is prohibited, coffee and not tea was the alternative!
  • Coffee started as a medicinal drink for the elite and later became a favorite stimulant for the masses.
  • Coffee came to Europe through shorter trade routes than those for tea.
  • In 1926, the prestigious Science Newsletter reported that coffee has several health benefits. Since then, more studies were conducted and published that gave rise to further increase in coffee consumptions.  
  • And lastly, the series of unique historical events that paved the way for coffee to become one of the popular global beverages and some of these events are in this 'History of the Coffee Bean Timeline & Infographic'.

Read on and enjoy its convoluted history over many cups of coffee!

Coffee History Timeline

history of the coffee bean

800 AD - How Coffee was Discovered

We do not know when and by whom coffee was discovered but according to folklore, an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi discovered the joys of coffee when his goats ate the coffee berries and became energetic. The word spread and soon coffee became an integral part of Ethiopian culture.

1000 & 1100 - Coffee Spreads to Arab Countries and Beyond

When the Ethiopians invaded and ruled Yemen, they set up coffee plantations and coffee spread through trade with the Arabs across the narrow band of the Red Sea.

At first, the Sufi monks of Yemen adopted coffee as a drink that would allow them to stay awake for midnight prayers more easily. It was also used as medicine and soon slipped into everyday use by the people.

As the drink gained in popularity, Muslim pilgrims introduced coffee throughout the Islamic world in Persia, Egypt, Turkey and North Africa making it a lucrative trade item. It later spreads to Europe, India and beyond.

1475 - 1st Coffee Shop in Istanbul

Different historians differ on the exact date but all agreed that the world's first coffee shop opens in Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. It became a center for social interaction for entertainment, conversation, reading and playing chess.

Coffee became an important part of Turkish culture that a law was passed making it legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he fails to provide her with her daily coffee quota!

1600 - Pope Clement VIII Makes Coffee a Christian Beverage

Coffee enters Europe but Pope Clement VIII was advised to ban the 'Islamic drink'. He instead baptized it making coffee a truly Christian beverage. Over the next fifty years, Europeans were to discover the social as well as medicinal benefits of the Arabian drink. Soon coffee was sold on Italian streets and Venice's first coffeehouse opened in 1683. The word cafe became synonymous with relaxed companionship and tasty food.

1607 - Coffee Enters the New World

The history of the coffee bean did not end in Europe but traveled across the Atlantic to the New World when Captain John Smith, founder of the Virginia colony at Jamestown and the same Captain John Smith in the Pocahontas story, introduced coffee to other settlers of Jamestown. But they were slow to accept it due to their preference for tea, hard cider, and ale.

1650 - First Coffeehouse Opened in England

The first coffeehouse opened near Oxford University, England and two years later the first coffeehouse in London was opened. Mostly patronized by students, tradesmen and the elite but only men. Women were not welcome, which later resulted in protest and legal sanctions by the women group.

The word 'TIPS' was coined in an English coffee house that means 'To Insure Prompt Service' was placed beside a jar on the counter.

1668 - Coffee Replaced Beer 

Coffee replaced beer as New York City's favorite breakfast drink and from that point on has been Americans favorite time of day to drink coffee where 65% of all coffee is taken during breakfast, 30% between meals, and the remaining 5% with other meals.

1683 - Start of White Coffee

The Turkish army threatens to invade Europe and camped outside Vienna for a prolonged siege. With the help of a young Pole, Franz Kolschitzky who had lived in Istanbul for a few years and spoke Turkish, and disguised as a Turkish Army, he gathered vital and strategic information.

They were finally defeated by the Austrians and the fleeing Turks left behind amongst other things, sacks of coffee. Franz claimed it as his reward and was granted permission to open the first Viennese coffee house. The Turkish coffee brew did not go down well with the locals so he decides to filter the coffee, add cream and honey and it soon became popular with the Viennese.

Within a few decades, coffee became the city's favorite drink and Vienna was filled with coffee houses.

1714 - France Embraced Coffee

King Louis XIV of France was presented with a coffee tree by the Dutch and under the care of the Royal botanist, the plant grew. Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a French naval Office who was on leave from his station in Martinique, managed to steal a cutting and brought it back to Martinique. This little sprout became the progenitor of the millions of coffee trees in Martinique and was the coffee tree stock throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America.

It was also at King Louis XIV's court that sugar was used as an additive.

1711 - Java Coffee in Europe

The Dutch East India Company brought 'Java Coffee' from its controlled island of Java to Amsterdam
and later became one of the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.

1727 - First Coffee Plantation in Brazil

The first coffee plantation in Brazil after Lt. Col. Francisco de Melo Palhera cunningly obtained seeds from French Guiana but cultivation took off only almost 100 years later in 1822.  It also leads to the spread of coffee to Central America.

1773 - Boston Tea Party

boston tea party, history of coffee
Boston Tea Party by Nathaniel Currier 

When King George of England wanted to raise money from tea and other exports to North America, protest against this unrepresented tax broke out. Large consignments of tea to Boston was tossed overboard. From that moment on, drinking coffee was a patriotic duty in America.

1822 - First Espresso Machine

With rising coffee consumption in Europe and the New World, a Frenchman named Louis Bernard Rabaut tried forcing hot water through the coffee grounds as a method to brew coffee creating what we now know as Espresso Machine.

1852 - Brazil is World's Largest Coffee Producer

It took Brazil almost 100 years from the day coffee seed was brought to the country before plantation cultivation took off and another 30 years later before Brazil took the honor to become the world's largest coffee producer. Amazing!

1864 - Start of Commercially Roasted Coffee

With the success of the New Yorker Jabez Burns' coffee roaster, the machine that doesn't have to move away from the fire to discharge the roasted coffee, and the Philadelphian Arbuckle Brother's marketing breakthrough in selling pre-roasted coffee in a paper bag, commercially roasted coffee grew in popularity.

1900 - Invention of Instant Coffee

satori kato invented instant coffee
Satori Kato

Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato invented the first soluble blend of coffee which we now know as instant coffee and premiers it at the Pan-American Exposition.

1905 - First commercial Espresso Machine

Despite the numerous designs for an espresso machine, the patent was granted to Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy in 1884.

Luigi Bezzera improved on the design and had it patented on April 28, 1903. This was bought by Desiderio Pavoni and after slight modifications to the design, he mass-produced espresso machines commercially (one a day) in Milan.

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1971 - Starbucks Takes Off

The history of the coffee bean is incomplete without the Starbucks inclusion. Like it or not, Starbucks played a major role in the coffee shop and coffee franchise growth not only in America but worldwide.

The first Starbucks opened in Seattle but initially sold only roasted whole coffee beans. In 1987, Starbucks opened its first locations outside Seattle in Vancouver and Chicago. By 1989, Starbucks has 46 stores across the Northwest and Midwest. Tokyo was the first Starbucks location outside North America, opened in 1996.

Since then, Starbucks has seen an expansion on a large scale and is at all four corners of the globe. In 2017, there were 27,339 Starbucks stores around the world.

Present Day - Coffee is now the Top Three Beverages after Tea and Water

Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries worldwide with 6,000 different species of the coffee plant split into 25 major types. But world coffee production is split between Arabica (Coffee Arabica) at 60% and Robusta (Coffee Canephora) at 40%.

This has helped coffee to be one of the world's most popular beverage with more than 453 billion cups consumed each year. Brazil continues to maintain her position as the world’s largest exporter of coffee and has held this title for more than 150 years.

Your Contribution?

With coffee and specialty snack shop industry expected to grow further, what is your contribution to the history of the coffee bean and its growth?


  1. Interesting list of events that you curated. I am surprised of the 'Islamic Drink' label given to coffee by some of these people

  2. Hi, I guess during that period of time, the wars that were raging between the Moors and the Christians could have sparked that idea since coffee came from the region where Islam was dominant.

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