A Short History of the World's Best Bean
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world today, but few people know how that came to be. Perhaps it's not surprising, since many coffee drinkers don't know where the beans that made their own favorite blend came from. However, if you're aiming to be a true coffee connoisseur, or you just want to know more about the exciting journey from wild plant to morning pick-me-up, it's time to learn a bit more about the origin of this beautiful bean.
Berries and Beans
The legend of Kaldi is a good place to start, although there may be as much myth as there is information to it. According to the National Coffee Association U.S.A., Kaldi is said to have been a goatherd living in Ethiopia. After his goats ate a particular type of berry, they would become too excited to sleep, instead clattering happily around the hills. Eating the berries himself, Kaldi too was energized and alert. Little did he know that these red berries contained caffeine-packed coffee beans inside. Kaldi brought some of the berries with him and when he next stopped at a local monastery, he reported his discovery to the abbot. Lacking a good coffee machine, the monks tried boiling the berries to make into a drink that quickly became popular throughout the region, and eventually the world.
No one knows whether Kaldi ever actually existed, but there are some elements of truth to the story. The coffee plant originated in Africa, and it's from there that coffee was first distributed. Nomadic tribes ate the coffee berry long before anyone ever documented turning it into a beverage. Although the coffee fruit and bean were used to make a number of different drinks, according to PBS, the coffee that people still drink today came about in the 13th century. Muslims in the Arabia Peninsula reportedly first used the drink to help them stay awake during long prayer sessions.
Coffee may have been grown exclusively in Africa and Arabia until as late as the 1600s. Although people in the region loved the beverage, they wanted to stay in control of its production, so exporting it was banned. However, the ban was broken when a Dutch traveler smuggled a plant out of the continent, according to the International Coffee Organization. By 1616, coffee was grown in greenhouses in the Netherlands, with other European coffee growers following soon.
Stamp of Approval
Before Europeans began to grow coffee, however, they already enjoyed drinking it. When the beverage first appeared in Venice, it was met with suspicion by the church, which reportedly called it the work of the devil. In order to get the drink banned, clergy members asked Pope Clement VIII to issue a decree restricting it. Fortunately, the Pope first wanted to try the offending beverage for himself, and was so impressed that he instead gave it formal approval.
The drink of Patriots
When coffee made its way to the young country of America, it was embraced for a much different reason. In 1773, the Boston Tea Party occurred, with colonists dumping shiploads of tea into the river in protest of their British rulers. What began as an act of rebellion opened the doors for another stimulating drink to take tea's place. According to NPR, the event led John Adams to declare that drinking tea was unpatriotic, an attitude that was evidently shared by many. Americans largely traded their leaves in for beans, and coffee took over as the drink of choice for the New World.
In just a few centuries, coffee rose from a humble wild plant to the second-most valuable legal commodity in the world, according to PBS. Only oil is worth more, but with an estimated 2 billion cups pumped out by coffee makers each day, coffee may fuel the modern world just as much.