Coffee widely produced on the Ethiopian plateau can trace its history back centuries to the ancient coffee forests. Legend is that Kaldi, the goat herder, first discovered the power of these beloved beans.

The narrative continues that Kaldi found coffee after discovering that his goats were so energetic after eating the berries from a particular tree that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi revealed his observations to the local monastery’s abbot. He made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him awake during the long hours of evening prayer. With the other monks at the monastery, the abbot shared his discovery, and knowledge of the empowering berries began to spread. As word traveled east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, a journey began to carry these beans across the globe.

The Arabian Peninsula

The production and trade of coffee started in the Arabian Peninsula. Coffee was developed in the Yemeni region of Arabia in the 15th century. It was kenned in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey in the 16th century.

Coffee was enjoyed in homes and in the many qahveh khaneh-called public coffee houses that began appearing in towns in the Middle East. The popularity of coffee houses was unequaled, and for all sorts of social activity, people loved it.

The visitors not only drank coffee and engaged in conversation but also listened to music, watched musicians, played chess, and kept the news up to date. Coffee houses soon became such an essential hub for knowledge exchange that “Schools of the Wise” were sometimes referred to as them. With thousands of wanderers from all over the world visiting Mecca’s holy city every year, awareness of this “wine of Araby” started to spread. 

Coffee Comes to Europe

Tales of an exotic dark black drink were carried back by European travelers. Coffee had made its move to Europe by the 17th century and was becoming popular throughout the continent.

Some people responded with suspicion or fear of this new beverage, calling it the “bitter invention of Satan.” When it arrived at Venice in 1615, the local clergy denounced coffee. The dispute was so considerable that they begged Pope Clement VIII to interfere. Before making a decision, he wanted to taste the beverage for himself and found the drink satisfying that he gave it priestly recognition.

Amid this debate, coffee houses in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany, and Holland rapidly became centers of social interaction and communication. “Penny universities” originated in England, so-called because one could buy a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation for the price of a penny.


Coffee started to replace beer and wine with the ordinary breakfast drinks of the time. Those who sipped coffee instead of alcohol started the day alert and stimulated. The quality of their work was greatly enhanced, quite unexpectedly.

There were over 300 cafes in London by the mid-17th century, many of which gained like-minded guests, including traders, shippers, brokers, and artists.

The New World

From these specialized coffee houses, many businesses developed. For example, at Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House, Lloyd’s of London came into existence. Coffee was introduced to New Amsterdam in the mid-1600s, later called New York by the British.

While coffee houses soon began to appear, until 1773, when the colonists revolted against a hefty tax on tea levied by King George III, tea continued to be the preferred drink in the New World.

“Coffee – the favorite drink of the civilized world,” said Thomas Jefferson

Plantations Around the World

There was fierce competition to grow coffee outside of Arabia as demand for the beverage continued to spread.

In the late half of the 17th century, the Dutch eventually obtained seedlings. Their first attempts to plant them in India failed. Still, with their efforts in Batavia, on the island of Java, what is now Indonesia, they were successful.

The plants thrived, and the Dutch soon had a prosperous and increasing coffee trade. They then spread the production of coffee trees to the Sumatra and Celebes islands.

Coming to the Americas

In 1714, Mayor of Amsterdam bestowed King Louis XIV of France with a young coffee plant as gift. In the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris, the King ordered it to be cultivated. In 1723, Gabriel de Clieu, a young marine officer, took a seedling from the King’s plant. He managed to safely transport it to Martinique after a difficult trip, loaded with horrendous weather, a saboteur who tried to kill the seedling, and a pirate attack. When planted, not only did the seedlings flourish, but they are credited with spreading over 18 million coffee trees over the next 50 years on the island of Martinique. This seedling was the parent of all coffee trees in the Caribbean, South and Central America, is even more impressive.

Francisco de Mello Palheta, sent by the emperor to French Guiana to get coffee seedlings, owes his life to the legendary Brazilian coffee. The French were unwilling to share, but the wife of the French Governor, captivated by his good looks, gave him a considerable bouquet before he left. There were enough coffee seeds hidden inside to launch what is now a billion-dollar industry.

Coffee seeds began to be brought to new lands by missionaries and explorers, merchants, and colonists, and coffee trees were planted worldwide. In magnificent tropical forests and rugged mountain highlands, plantations were created. Some crops have flourished. Others have been short-lived. The coffee economies were developed by new nations. Fortunes have been made and have been lost. Coffee became one of the world’s most profitable export crops by the end of the 18th century. Coffee is the world’s most wanted commodity, after crude oil.