It’s got to be one of the best origin stories around. Forget radioactive spiders, give us over-caffeinated mountain goats and a confused, and probably frustrated, farmer any day of the week.
Okay, so bear with us because this article is going to be a crash course in the history of coffee, spanning from around the 9th century to right now with what’s in your cup. If you haven’t yet, you might like to immerse yourself by getting a brew on the go.
Coffee’s origin story is intertwined with the lush, green landscapes of Ethiopia.
For centuries, Ethiopian farmers have grown coffee beans in the highlands, meticulously cultivating the plants and perfecting the roasting process to create the bright, almost fruity brew we know today.
Above: an artist’s impression of the farmer and his over-caffeinated goats.
Legend has it that sometime in the 9th century, a curious goat herder discovered the power of coffee when he noticed that his flock became particularly lively after munching on the berries. After regaling the monks at the local monastery with his tale, one of the monks decided to create a brew from the berries and was apparently able to stay up all night praying. Was he praying for more berries or to get to sleep?
Out of Africa and into Asia and the Middle East…
From Ethiopia, we follow the spice trade routes into Asia and the Middle East where coffee was quickly embraced. The popularity of coffee soon spread to other regions in the 1600s, including Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until much later that Brazil and Colombia joined the fray as commercialisation of coffee really took hold.
It wasn't until the late 16th century that coffee made its way to Europe and the New World. Once it arrived, it quickly became one of the most popular beverages, sparking an explosion in coffee trade and cultivation. For Europeans, the exotic flavour and stimulating effects of coffee were like nothing they had ever experienced before. You can almost imagine the leaders of industry rubbing their white-gloved hands together at the prospect of making their labour force even more productive.
Fast forward to the present day, and Asia is now home to some of the most innovative and experimental coffee scenes in the world, with Japan, Korea, and Singapore at the forefront of the specialty coffee movement.
As coffee evolves, so does our taste for it…
In recent years, we have seen a shift in the way people approach coffee. Gone are the days where simply grabbing a cup of joe on the go was enough. Instead, there is now a modern appreciation for specialty coffees and their origins. From the flavors and aromas to the stories of the small-scale farmers who grew the beans, there is an understanding that there is so much more to coffee than just a caffeine boost. As a result, more and more coffee shops are popping up, offering unique blends and single-origin roasts. It's not just about the end product anymore, but rather the entire journey from seed to sip.
From ancient Ethiopia to modern day cafes and specialty coffee, the history of what’s come to be in your cup traces an adventurous path of discovery, exploration, colonialism and adaptation. But those are stories for another time – or blog.