Myths & Legends
history of coffee is as rich as the brew itself. It was once considered
so precious by the Arabs that its export out of
was forbidden under sentence of death. It was however finally brought
to the attention of Pope Clement VIII in Rome. His Cardinals called
it "the devil's brew". The Pope tried it and decided to "bless" the
beverage rather than ban it, claiming "it is so delicious
it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it." Since
then, Italy has become home to the world's greatest master blenders,
brewers and coffee machine makers.
Early Legends - Caffa
An Ethiopian version says the uplifting effect of coffee beans
was first noticed by a sheep herder from Caffa named
Kaldi. He noted his sheep became hyperactive after eating
the red "cherries" from plant. A curious fellow,
he tried a few himself, and was soon found himself as "pepped
as his sheep. The local monks scolded
him for "partaking
of the devil's fruit." But they soon discovered the
virtue of the fruit from the shiny green plant could help them
prayers, and began drinking it in earnest!
legend says the first name for coffee was "mocha." An
Arab was banished to the desert with his followers to die of
starvation. In desperation, he and his friends boiled and ate the
this unknown plant. Not only did the brew save them, but
their survival was taken as a religious sign by residents of
nearby town, Mocha.
While the coffee plant grew naturally in Ethiopia, once
transplanted to Arabia it became a closely guarded monopoly. The
Arabs kept it a secret for centuries. Turkey was
the first country to adopt it as a popular drink, often adding
spices such as clove, cinnamon, cardamom and anise to the brew.
The first coffeehouse was opened in Istanbul in 1475.
It wasn't until the 1600s that coffee was introduced
to countries beyond Arabia. Transportation of the
outside Moslem countries was still strictly forbidden. The
actual spread of coffee was started illegally by an Arab named
who smuggled beans to some mountains near Mysore, India, and started
a coffee plantation. It wasn't long
before coffee found its way to Europe.
The Chronology of Coffee
800-850 A.D.: Ethiopia:
The uplifting effect of coffee beans was first noticed by a sheep
named Kaldi. His sheep became hyperactive after eating
the red berries from the plant. He tried them himself. Coptic
monks took to it, saying it helped them stay awake during
1000 A.D.: Arab
traders begin cultivating the plant for the
first time on plantations. They also began to boil
the beans, creating a drink they call "qahwa" - literally,
that which prevents sleep.
1453: Coffee is
introduced to Constantinople by Ottoman Turks. The world's first
Kiva Han, opens there in 1475. Turkish
law makes it legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he fails
to provide her with her daily quota of coffee.
1511: Khair Beg, the
corrupt governor of Mecca, tries to ban coffee for fear that its
influence might foster opposition to his rule.
The Sultan sends word that coffee is sacred and has the governor
1600: Coffee, introduced
to the West by Italian traders, gets attention in high places. In
Italy, Pope Clement VIII is urged by his advisers
to consider the favorite drink of the Ottoman Empire as part of the
infidel threat. However, he decides to "baptize" it instead,
making it an acceptable Christian beverage.
1607: Captain John Smith helps to found the colony of Virginia at
Jamestown. It's believed that he introduced coffee to North America.
1645: First coffeehouse
opens in Italy.
1652: First coffeehouse opens in England. Coffee houses multiply
and become such popular forums for learned and not so learned - discussion
that they are dubbed "penny universities" (a penny being
the price of a cup of coffee).
1668: Coffee replaces beer as New York's City's favorite breakfast
1668: Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse opens in England and is frequented
by merchants and maritime insurance agents. Eventually it becomes
Lloyd's of London, the best-known insurance company in the world.
1672: First coffeehouse opens in Paris.
1675: The Turkish Army surrounds Vienna. Franz Georg Kolschitzky,
a Viennese who had lived in Turkey, slips through the enemy lines
to lead relief forces to the city. The fleeing Turks leave behind
sacks of "dry black fodder" that Kolschitzky recognizes
as coffee. He claims it as his reward and opens central Europe's
first coffee house. He also establishes the habit of refining the
brew by filtering out the grounds, sweetening it, and adding a dash
1690: With a coffee plant smuggled out of the Arab port of Mocha,
the Dutch become the first to transport and cultivate coffee commercially,
in Ceylon and in their East Indian colony - Java, source of the brew's
1713: The Dutch unwittingly provide Louis XIV of France with a coffee
bush whose descendants will produce entire Western coffee industry
when in 1723 French naval officer Gabriel Mathieu do Clieu steals
a seedling and transports it to Martinique. Within 50 years and official
survey records 19 million coffee trees on Martinique. Eventually,
90 percent of the world's coffee spreads from this plant.
1721: First coffee house opens in Berlin.
1727: The Brazilian coffee industry gets its start when Lieutenant
colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta is sent by government to arbitrate
a border dispute between the French and the Dutch colonies in Guiana.
Not only does he settle the dispute, but also strikes up a secret
liaison with the wife of French Guiana's governor. Although France
guarded its New World coffee plantations to prevent cultivation from
spreading, the lady said good-bye to Palheta with a bouquet in which
she hid cuttings and fertile seeds of coffee.
1732: Johann Sebastian
Bach composes his Kaffee-Kantate. Partly an ode to coffee and partly
a stab at the movement in Germany to prevent
women from drinking coffee (it was thought to make them sterile),
the cantata includes the aria, "Ah! How sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than Muscatel wine!
I must have my coffee."
1773: The Boston Tea Party makes drinking coffee a patriotic duty
1775: Prussia's Frederick the Great tries to block inports of green
coffee, as Prussia's wealth is drained. Public outcry changes his
1886: Former wholesale grocer Joel Cheek names his popular coffee
blend "Maxwell House," after the hotel in Nashville, TN
where it's served.
Early 1900's: In Germany,
afternoon coffee becomes a standard occasion. The derogatory term "Kaffee
Klatsch" is coined to describe
women's gossip at these affairs.
1901: The first soluble "instant" coffee is invented by
Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato of Chicago.
1903: The origins of
decaffeinated coffee begin with German coffee importer Ludwig Roselius
who turns a batch of ruined coffee beans
to researchers. They perfect the process of removing
caffeine from the beans without destroying the flavor. He markets
it under the brand name "Sanka."
1906: George Constant
Washington, an English chemist living in Guatemala, notices a powdery
condensation forming on the spout of his silver
coffee carafe. After experimentation, he creates the first mass-produced
instant coffee. His brand is called Red E Coffee.
1907: In less than a
century Brazil accounted for 97% of the world's coffee harvest.
1938: Having been asked by Brazil to help find a solution to their
coffee surpluses, the Nestlé company invents freeze-dried coffee.
Nestlé develops Néscafe and introduces it in Switzerland.
1946: In Italy, Achilles
Gaggia perfects his espresso machine. Cappuccino is named for its
resemblance to the color of the robes of the monks
of the Capuchin order.