Who Actually Discovered Coffee?

As one of the most popular drinks on the planet, it’s little surprise that many people enjoy drinking coffee. The rich eloquence in the taste and the unique and diverse properties of coffee makes it very easy indeed for people to enjoy. Who, though, actually discovered coffee?

The First Origin: Ethiopia

Coffee is a very interesting topic, with one of the reasons being that we are not 100% sure where it stems from. If you listen to the legends, though, it goes back to the 9th Century when an Ethiopian named Kaldi was out and about. He was a goat-herder and Kaldi worked every day in the wonderful world of nature, helping his goats through the day.

One afternoon, though, he noticed that his goats were very active, almost erratic. They seemed needlessly alert, and appeared to be quite hyper. Apparently, they’d been enjoying berries from the coffea Arabica tree; the source of most modern African coffee. Quickly, Kaldi wanted to know if these were the source of the madness in his goats – so he ate a handful himself. Immediately feeling a sense of stimulus and alertness, the excited Kaldi decided to turn to the local monastery, hoping they would be impressed by his finding.

Instead, they were denounced as evil; the work of the Devi himself. Seen as being uniquely negative due to their stimulating effects, they were dismissed and then thrown onto a fire in a bid to try rid the world of this evil. The legend has it that, at this point, the coffee beans inside the fruit began to burn and thus the roasted coffee aroma was put out into the sky.

Naturally, the smell immediately caught the attention of the religious minds. Rather than decry it as an evil, it was soon treated with the same kind of reverence and respect as tea. It then became a beverage that would be steeped into warm water ala tea leaves, and thus history was born.

Is this really the case, though? Like many legends, it’s right to raise eyebrows at some of the more outlandish suggestions.

The Other Origins

Indeed, there’s enough information and ideas from previous history to show that coffee might have been used long before the legend of Kaldi. Kaldi might go down as one of those wonderful original stories, but it’s apparently been used as a ground substance long before this particular century.

It would be mixed in with animal fat and with butter to try and use it for long journeys. The fat and the butter would give the body energy, while the power of the coffee would add a pleasing aroma and also provide an active level of alertness to the user.

For that reason, it was seen as a very powerful substance long before the use that Kaldi supposedly found from the bean. Indeed, there’s a long history of slavery in Sudan, with ample stories talking of the Sudanese slaves enjoying coffee beans as a snack to help them stay strong during what would often be a fraught and dangerous journey.

For that reason, it’s hard to know what the true origin is. What is more agreeable, though, is the story of how coffee came to be mass-cultivated and used in the manner that it is today. Indeed, coffee has been a major part of Arabic life for some time, with its origins easily found in the 14th Century in terms of being a regularly cultivated and traded product. Syria and Egypt were immense in their coffee production, as was Turkey.

Interestingly, it’s claimed that coffee could not be found anywhere outside of Arabia or Africa in the 1600s. A pilgrim named Bab Budan had brought coffee with him back to India in plant form. A Dutchman named Pieter van der Broeck also stole some coffee from Yemen, and took it to Amsterdam.

Before long, the Dutch Empire and its massive collection of colonies soon took over the European trade route for coffee.

The Coffee and the Dutch

At this stage, then, the Dutch became prime cultivators for the plant across the European continent and beyond. It wasn’t until the French joined them in their cultivation, moving to the Caribbean to take part, that coffee began to go global. At this point, the Spanish were also running around in Central America and the Portuguese were in Brazil; all of them cultivating and placing coffee as they went.

Before long, the drink was making its way all the way to America. This happened because British colonizers were landing on the continent, with many of them docking up in New York City and thus getting started with the use of coffee as a trade tool as much as anything else. Before long, then, the ambitious European expansionism of the years had seen coffee go from a legendary African and Arabian good to one of the most enjoyable products on the planet.

This made sure that coffee would very quickly secure itself as both a trade tool and a popular drink. The Dutch were arguably the first to decide to use coffee in this manner, with most other countries using it for enjoyment and engagement with the wider world, the Dutch sold it en masse.

Their ambitions to create a massive trade empire, with coffee front and centre of it, was well and truly underway. Backed by massive demands as the world was swept over by people looking to enjoy coffee, it soon became obvious that coffee was going to play a critical role in the world.

Whether fond by Kaldi or not, it became a drink of legend – with demand soaring and showing no signs of slowing down.

Coffee Today

Who truly knows the real history of coffee? It is impossible to verify. The immense passing of time and the total lack of trustworthy record keeping from the era means that we often need to go on nothing more than fairytales and stories such as those listed above.

What is true, though, is that coffee today is well and truly one of the most powerful forms of commodity around. Indeed, it has become an industry that is a major part of the American trade industry, with Brazil being the biggest coffee producer on the planet.

Add in the fact that coffee today is a $100bn+ industry, and it’s easy to see why it is one of the biggest industries on the planet. Over 25m people are employed in its development, and hundreds of brands local and global exist for you to pick from. Out of all the commodities in the world that has a genuine use for day-to-day individuals, there is no argument that coffee is among the most powerful of these products. We may never know how it came to be in its entirety, but we know one thing for sure: we couldn’t live without it today! 

Paul Mason

coffee blogger

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We’ll be more than happy to take a look at any comments, requests or queries that you may have. Thanks for your time, and we hope that your next cup of coffee that you enjoy is the best one that you’ve had, every time! 

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