HISTORYFrom legend to fact

The history of coffee is partially linked to slavery. In this tale, botanics, politics, economy and morals are all closely interrelated. Full of truth and legend, tragedies and comedies, the history of coffee is an epic story.

The beginnings, Khaldi, the Ethiopian shepherd

The birthplace of coffee is believed to be Ethiopia. According to legend, Khaldi, a young shepherd, discovered coffee.  Khaldi was intrigued by the behaviour of his goats: when they chomped on the red berries of a certain bush, they jumped and gambolled in a very strange manner… He discussed the matter with the prior of the neighbouring convent. The prior decided to boil these berries as a decoction. This brew kept the monks awake during their many hours of prayers. And so it was!

As for roasting…. This technique was discovered by two monks, Sciadli and Aydrus. One rainy afternoon, they were returning with their coffee harvest… completely soaked! They put the beans under the chimney to dry and went to pray. When they returned, the beans were not only dry, but roasted! A delicious odour floated in the air. They then henceforth roasted the beans before decoction. This happened in the East, in Yemen to be precise.

Coffee conquers the world

Coffee conquered the world in the 15th century. While travelling to Mecca, Muslim pilgrims brought coffee to Yemen and all of Arabia. The only area to produce coffee until the 17th century. Towards 1690, Dutch sailors brought the first Moka coffee plants to Ceylon and then India.  The same occurred for all Dutch colonies in Asia. They then carried plants from the island of Java to Europe.

Coffee trees were grown in greenhouses, at the botanical garden in Amsterdam. Plants were offered to Louis XIV as a gift. He entrusted the plants to the botanists of the King's garden, now the "Jardin des Plantes". Captain Gabriel de Clieu, introduced coffee trees to the Antilles colonies. France now obtains its coffee supplies from the Antilles. Coffee growing then spread in Latin America where, until the end of the 19th century, slaves did the work.

The first coffee lovers

In the mid-16th century, it was already the custom to drink coffee in Egypt, Syria, Persia and Turkey. Coffee shops appeared in Medina, Cairo, Bagdad, Alexandria, Damas and Istanbul. In 1555, two Syrians, Shems and Hekeem, opened the first coffee shop in Istanbul. In just a few years, the town boasted several hundred. At the same time, the Turkish warriors of Suleiman the Magnificent advertised their drink in the Balkans, in Central Europe, in North Africa and in Spain.

Coffee reaches Europe

1615. Coffee reached Europe for the first time, in Venice to be precise. Until this time, the drink was simply a curiosity, brought back from the East by travellers. Or a drug, available from apothecaries. 1644: coffee reached Marseille by boat from Alexandria. Ten years later, the first public coffee shop opened. In 1669, the ambassador of the Ottoman empire in Paris, Suleiman Aga, arrived with the famous drink. The coffee won over the court of Louis XIV.

Vienna, coffee and croissants

1683. The Turkish army once again descended on Vienna. The town waved a white flag. A young Polish lad, Franz Goerg Kolschitzky, who had lived in Istanbul for ten years and spoke Turkish, offered to cross the enemy lines. He informed the Christian army, camped nearby, of the weak points in the Turkish lines. Mission accomplished: The Archiduke of Lorraine headed the Turkish army off. They abandoned their weapons and provisions when fleeing, leaving five hundred bags of coffee behind. Kolschitzky was a hero and awarded a medal. He was offered Austrian nationality, the five hundred bags of coffee and the authorisation to open a coffee shop: the Zur Blauen Flasche (To the blue bottle). He prepared the coffee just like in Istanbul. However, the Viennese citizens were not fond of decoction. Kolschitzky decided to filter the coffee, add a touch of cream and a spoon of honey. This drink was an immediate hit. He decided to provide newspapers for his customers and create a relaxed atmosphere. He asked the pastry chef to create a cake: the cake was created in a croissant shape in memory of the victory over the Turkish army and their moon crescent flag. The Kippfel, the croissant shaped pastry was here to stay!

Coffee and Lloyd’s

1685, London. Edward Lloyd opened a coffee shop. His son transferred the shop to 16, Lombard Street, near to the Stock Exchange. Ship makers, sailors, stock market brokers and lawyers all rapidly became regulars. Some even used the coffee shop address as their own!

In 1696, he launched the Lloyd's journal, distributing information for the marines, and maritime trading. His coffee shop turned into a sales room for cargos or ships. War booty was shared out on-site. In the main room, a weather station included barometers, anemometers and rain gauges. A library housed a collection of maps from around the world. The Lloyds register sat opposite the entrance: the left page included the black list of shipwrecks, catastrophes, and the right page included the list of ships having arrived safely.

In 1678, an agreement transformed the coffee house into a post office. The world of the marines and international trade could send and receive mail here. Edward Lloyd was involved in the business negotiated under his roof. The coffee house has now disappeared, but Lloyd's is now the largest insurance and re-insurance company in the world.

The Boston Tea Party

King George III approved the Stamp Act to improve England's finances. This heavy tax weighed on products imported to Europe by American colonies. The colonies rebelled and boycotted English goods. On 16 December 1773, the inhabitants of Boston decided to throw all of the tea stored in the warehouses of the customs' authorities off the docks of the port. This is known as the Boston Tea Party, and started the war of independence…. And the replacement of tea with coffee in the American lifestyle.

The Colombian surprise

In the 19th century, Colombian leaders attempted to encourage coffee growing. However, coffee trees only give their first harvest after five years, and farmers have no means of surviving in the meantime. Francisco Romero, priest in the village of Salazar, had an idea: after confession, he did not oblige his flock to pray, but to plant three or four coffee trees as penitence! The archbishop made this practice widespread. Colombia owes the abundance of its harvests to the sins of its ancestors...!

The coffee of the century

Coffee is a key economic ingredient. 15 thousand million dollars change hands each year. Coffee is the leading agricultural food product ahead of wheat, sugar or cocoa, and the second raw material sold in the world, after oil.

1.5 thousand million cups of coffee are drunk in the world each day. Two out of three inhabitants drink coffee, most of which live in Europe, particularly north Europe. The colder and tougher the climate, the more coffee people drink. On the other hand, less coffee is drunk the closer you travel to the equator. With the exception of Brazil, where 50% of production is sold on the domestic market, coffee producing countries export almost all of their production.