The History of Coffee
Coffee is much younger than tea or wine. Whereas their use goes back thousands of years, coffee, as a beverage, has been around for only a few hundred.
The coffee tree is indigenous to Africa. Although there are dozens of coffee plant species, the only one able to produce high-quality coffee is Arabica. Its origin is Ethiopia, where it still grows wild.
Originally, certain African tribes crushed coffee beans (really seeds, not beans at all!), mixed them with animal fat, and ate them to give them extra strength and endurance. The use of the dried fruit surrounding the “beans” came next, probably before 1000 AD. The husks were boiled in water and consumed as an herbal beverage, which is still consumed in Yemen.
Only around the 15th century did the beverage, as we know, it take hold. After being roasted, the beans were ground into the finest powder, boiled with water, and then imbibed. This method still exists and is called Turkish or Middle Eastern coffee. Coffeehouses and the consumption of coffee during religious practices quickly spread throughout the Middle East.
Once the pleasures of drinking roasted coffee were discovered, coffee was transplanted across the Red Sea, from Ethiopia to Yemen, the breadbasket of the Arabian Peninsula, and grown for the first time on a commercial scale. Yemen monopolized the coffee exporting business for many years. All coffee was shipped from its Red Sea port of Al Mukah (pronounced Ahl-mookáh). Europeans came to know this exotic new drink as originating from Al Mukah and gradually came to call the drink Mocha.
Today, Yemen produces only a fraction of the coffee it once did. High prices are paid for Mocha, since it is revered as an heirloom coffee by the world coffee trade, including US Specialty. It is described as having a uniquely exotic and pleasurable flavor. This mother of all coffees has an undeserved stature, however. I have never seen a well-crafted Yemeni coffee; it is, in fact, crafted with complete indifference, and its raggedy looks and raunchy flavor profile thoroughly reflect this sad reality. (This is Terroir™ heresy #1. Should a Yemen coffee come along that is well crafted, Terroir™ will make every effort to carry it.)
The Venetians introduced coffee to Europe in the early 1600s. It was sold for its revitalizing properties by street vendors and soon became a common drink.
The Europeans were quick to compete in the burgeoning coffee trade. It began when the Dutch smuggled coffee plants from Islamic India to the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java in the late 17th century. Naturally, the first coffee blend could only be Mocha-Java! Europeans seeded the world with coffee plants over the next two centuries (1700–1900).
Today, coffee is grown in Central and South America, mid to southern Africa, southern Asia and on many islands of the Pacific. Coffee is second only to oil in dollars transacted per year and grows on approximately 10% of the world’s land area. The coffee industry provides employment for over 25 million people. Much of the third world depends on the sale of coffee for its income.