Coffee is one of the world’s most valuable traded natural commodities, second only to oil.
The prized bean is believed to have originally evolved in the wild in East Africa, but global exploration introduced it to many different cultures. Today, coffee is cultivated in more than seventy countries in an area known as ‘the bean belt’.
Although the precise origins of the consumption of coffee remain uncertain, it was likely first discovered in Ethiopia. It is thought that at some point before 1000 ce Ethiopian tribes began to grind the coffee fruits containing the coffee seeds or beans and mix them with an animal fat, making a kind of energy bar to sustain them on hunting trips or long journeys. Some nomadic tribes continue to consumer these bars even today.
The earliest evidence of human cultivation of the coffee plant has been traced back to the fifteenth century in Yemen. As with accounts of the discovery of coffee, just how it travelled to the Arabian Peninsula is largely a matter of conjecture.
Whatever the precise course of events, fifteenth century Sufi monks imbibed coffee as a beverage to help keep them awake during their nighttime prayers. It wasn’t long before the drink became popular with the rest of population, particularly the Muslims, who for religious reasons were barred from consuming intoxicating beverages.
Coffeehouses known as ‘kaveh kanes’, multiplied throughout the Arab world, becoming communal hubs for socialising, education and general merriment. Coffee became known as the ‘Arabian wine’ or ‘wine of Araby’, and tales of this dark, bitter, stimulating beverage returned home with the thousands of pilgrims who visited Mecca every year. Venetia traders first introduced coffee to Europe in 1615, probably bringing the beans from the Middle East into Venice, where coffee soon became fashionable beverage.
By the 1650’s, it was sold on the streets of Venice by lemonade vendors, along with liquor and chocolate, and the first European coffeehouse was opened there in the mid-1600’s. Believed to have medicinal benefits, coffee was claimed to cure drunkenness, gout, small pox and nausea, among other ailments.
PS: little interesting fact: Coffee was introduced to Turkey in late fifteenth century and became such a popular beverage that Turkish law stated that a woman could divorce her husband if he did not provide her with a daily quota of coffee.