The bean originates from Ethiopia, but the real first-ever evidence of grounding and brewing comes from Yemen.
Coffee is one of the most beloved drinks in the world. It’s the second most consumed beverage in the world, besides water. In the US alone, they consume around 450 million cups of coffee per day. The drink has a booming global industry that is estimated at around US$471 billion.
But where did this little bean and drink come from? Surprisingly coffee is actually not that old yet, compared to how long humans have been on the planet. So let’s find out the path of this bean and how it got discovered, banned, and transported over the world.
Where did coffee originate?
The bean has a huge story behind its origin. The plant comes from Ethiopia, Africa, that’s what we are sure about. After its slow start there it quickly became popular in West Europe and East Asia.
But how was coffee discovered exactly? There are 2 main stories going around and people tend to believe the first one more than the other one, so let’s have a look.
How was coffee discovered? – The goat herder and his dancing goats
The first story sets place where the plant comes from, Ethiopia. Around 850 AD, in the region of Kaffa (Where eventually the name Coffee comes from). A goat herder named “Kaldi” noticed his goats “dancing” and being very active after eating red berries. As brave as the man was, he ate the berries himself and noticed their effects.
He wanted to share this with the others present at the time, so he took the berries to the head monk in a nearby monastery. The monk rejected his offer and threw the beans in a fire. The result was a rich aroma that captivated the monk.
After the fire was stoked, they picked up the roasted coffee beans that were left among the embers, ground them, and produced the first-ever cup of coffee in the world.
How was coffee discovered? – The banned man with healing powers
The second story is pretty short. They believe a man in Yemen named “Sheikh Omar”, who was famous for his healing powers, was banished for unknown reasons to a cave in the desert. He was so hungry and desperate that he ate the red berries from a nearby bush but was not too fond of the bitter flavor.
Trying to make the most out of his meal, he ended up roasting the beans, ground them up, and boiled them in water. He ended up producing an energizing liquid that sustained him for days. When the others from the community found out about his magical liquid he was invited back.
We’re not sure which story is true, people tend to believe the first one more than the other. We’re sure that the plant comes from Ethiopia, but the real first evidence of roasting and brewing was discovered in Yemen.
How the bean went around the globe
In the 15th century, coffee was consumed by Muslim communities around Yemen. Specifically, the Sufis, because it helped them stay up for long religious ceremonies. Merchants from Ethiopia brought the coffee they consumed.
Yemen started growing coffee and then it began getting popular in Egypt, Persia, and Turkey. From there the so-known “Coffee Houses” became very popular in Arabia. They became the center of social activity.
What is rather interesting is that in the early 1500s the court at Mecca declared coffee to get banned due to its stimulating effects. A similar thing happened in Egypt, Ethiopia & Cairo.
Riots broke out in the Arab streets and so the ban was lifted. So you could say that coffee did not have the easiest way to the world.
During the 1600s, the beverage started quickly spreading to Europe. The Netherlands was the first country to open coffee plantations in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) in the early 1600s. The Dutch East India Company began importing coffee from then Java & Ceylon in 1711. Pretty soon after this, other European countries followed.
In the 1700s the French took it to the Caribbean, the same time as the Portuguese introduced it to Brazil.
By the late 19th century, the Spanish had taken it to Central and South America. There’s no surprise that nowadays coffees from these regions are considered to be among the best in the world.
The most common coffee beans
The most common coffee beans are Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. They are all located in the so-known “The Coffee Bean Belt”, a region located between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer that have the ideal climate and temperature for coffee to succeed. According to the International Coffee Organization, 20 billion pounds of coffee are produced in The Coffee Bean Belt every year. That’s almost 55 million pounds per day!
Arabica is the most common coffee bean, as historians believe it was the first-ever coffee to be produced as it comes from Ethiopia. 60% of the coffee consumed worldwide is Arabica. It’s mostly grown in Latin America and is known for its sweet, fruity, and acidic taste. However, Arabica plants need a total of 7 years before they’re matured and can be harvested.
The second most common type of coffee bean is Robusta. This is the one you’ll see in supermarkets and your local grocery store. They’re grown in Africa and Indonesia and are common for their high caffeine content, making them perfect for Espressos. But that makes the flavor of the beans also more bitter.
Liberica & Excelsa
Liberica and Excelsa are grown in southeast Asia, and therefore make up a very small percentage of the coffee consumed in the world. This also makes them more expensive than Arabica and Robusta beans.
Coffee has a huge history and today it is the second most traded commodity in the world, next to oil. There’s no denying that the bean comes from Ethiopia, and was then brought to Yemen where they ended up grounding and brewing the beans into the world’s first coffee.
The drink became very popular once Yemen started growing its own beans. From there it became almost a necessity for every country. Coffee houses became the main social activity and let’s not forget that the bean almost got banned for its stimulating effects. Luckily the Arabs saved us from that!
I personally think it’s beautiful how it started and where the drink had to go through. How it was loved from the start and rapidly became a huge success. I don’t think we can imagine a world without coffee these days, there’s literally a coffee-related drink for everyone.