Blog Guest Contributor: Marianne (Author of Second Chances)

The intoxicating aroma of freshly brewed coffee instantly brings memories of family and friends, gathered around the kitchen table, sharing late night secrets and trying to solve the world’s problems.  How much do you know about the origins of coffee and the role it plays in our lives?

Modest beginnings

The story of the coffee bean is quite a fascinating one.  This humble bean travelled the globe for many centuries.  It’s been smuggled out of countries, stolen from royalty and most importantly perhaps, it also changed entire nations and their economies.

Isn’t it extraordinary how such a small bean, taken from trees in Ethiopia, would become one of the largest traded commodities in the world?  Ever wondered where this humble bean has its origins and how the coffee journey started?

Legend speaks of a goat herder in Ethiopia who noticed how excited the goats got after eating a certain red berry and so he tried it for himself.  He related his experience to a monk (who thought it was devils work) and who threw the berries in the fire.  The result was a pleasing aroma and the world’s first roasted coffee was born.

Sailing the Seven Seas

The beans made their way to Yemen in the 15th century.  The very first shipment of coffee beans arrived at a port called Mocha and the link with coffee was established immediately.  The popularity of the bean quickly grew and soon coffee houses (known as ‘Schools of the wise’) were established where the brew was enjoyed and new information was shared.

The humble coffee bean spread to India, Indonesia, Italy and the rest of Europe.  The beans were imported from Yemen, established back then as the coffee centre of the world.  A visiting Sufi from India, Baba Budan smuggled some beans from Mecca while on pilgrimage, and so began the coffee cultivation in India.  

In the late 1600’s friends of the Dutch Govender of Java, Indonesia living in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) sent coffee seedlings to the Dutch Governor as a gift.  After some failed attempts, they finally managed to harvest coffee and so Java also became a household term.


Photo credit

In 1570 the coffee bean arrived in Venice, Italy and rapidly grew in popularity.  Pope Clement banned the drink as ‘satanic’ in 1615.  After close inspection he too succumbed to the glory of the loved beverage, baptized it and named it a Christian drink.

Boston Tea Party

In the year 1773 a group of US patriots, dressed as Native Americans, snuck aboard English tea ships anchored in the Boston harbour.  They dumped all the tea into the sea as rebellion against the British tax on tea.  The event was dubbed the Boston Tea Party due to the presence of the tea in the water.  Tea became unpatriotic and coffee became the American beverage of choice.  The USA is the leading importer of coffee in the world (2018:  US$ 5.7 billion per annum, amounting to 18,5% of the total world coffee imports).

A Star(bucks) is born

In 1971 Alfred Peet, a Dutch American and owner of ‘Peet’s Coffee’, shared his extensive coffee and roasting knowledge with a couple of friends.  Over the Christmas season of that year they joined Peet’s staff, learning the ropes to possibly open their own coffee shop franchise.  The first store opened in Seattle using Peet’s roasted beans.  The store was called Starbucks®.  The company did not sell brewed coffee at that time, only roasted beans.

A drip coffee maker salesman, Howard Schultz, joined Starbucks in 1982 and convinced the owners to serve the actual beverage.  He wanted to emulate the Italian experience of coffee shops, but the owners refused.  Howard resigned in 1987, purchased Starbucks® for $3.8 million and combined the roasting techniques with the Italian concept of the street corner cafés.  As matter of interest, in 2017 the net revenue of Starbucks was $22.4 billion with an estimated market cap of $84 billion.

A long-lasting effect

Next time when you take a seat in your favourite coffee shop and sip on your latte or cappuccino, give silent thanks to Kavi, the goat herder who first discovered the coffee bean. You never know when the humble but spunky small coffee bean will find another way to shake things up a little.

Java Jive: