Aug 12, 2013
Like most teachers, I drink a lot of coffee. I’m not as into it as one teacher I know who has his own roaster and grinder in his room, but I do need a cup or two of Joe to get me going in the morning. What’s the real skinny on this bitter bean? How was it first discovered and how has it changed the world?
Coffee was first reported over a millennium ago in Ethiopia. The story goes that back in the 9th century, there was a goatherd tending his flock. One day he noticed that his goats were acting all hyper and bouncing around. Upon further inspection, the goatherd discovered that his goats were eating these strange red berries. Being the inquisitive type, the boy decided to try a couple.
The result was not dissimilar to a ten-year old consuming a 5-lbs bag of sugar. The goatherd was sent into the world’s first coffee overload and was reported as having started spontaneous dancing and experiencing delusions.
Over time, the pit of the coffee fruit was dried, ground, and used to make a thick liquid with the viscosity of tar. Islamic clerics living around the Red Sea and on the Arabian Peninsula would drink several cups, especially at night, in order to stay awake during meditation. Coffee houses were also established in the Middle East, sort of like bars and taverns in Europe. Islamic scholars and clerics would meet here to discuss all manner of intellectual and philosophical topics. This is a tradition that would be introduced in Europe.
. . . But how did coffee get to Europe in the first place?
I’m glad you asked! Between 700 and 1700, Islamic armies would try to invade Europe from time to time. In the late 1600s, the Ottoman Turks controlled most of Southeastern Europe and wanted more. In 1683, the Sultan Mehmet IV decided that he wanted to take a swing at Vienna, capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Long story short, the sultan’s armies were beaten back. Among the supplies that the invaders left behind were hundreds of sacks of coffee. One man, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, won the rights to all of it and opened Vienna’s first and Europe’s third coffee house. The Viennese found the drink way too bitter until a Capuchin friar, Marco d’Aviano, added milk and honey.
By the mid-15th century, Venetian traders, who, along with the other Italian Maritime Republics, had extensive trade ties to Anatolia and the Levant, had their first tastes of coffee. Sensing a money-maker, they brought it back to Europe. Over the next 50 years, coffee received many mixed reactions. Many Christians were concerned that the suppliers of the drink were Muslims. In 1600, a group of Catholic Bishops in Rome asked Pope Clement VIII to ban coffee throughout Christendom. The Pontiff said, ‘Now let’s not be too hasty. Let’s study this matter a bit.’ And asked for a cup, and after sipping it for a while and giving ponder, declared that it was '. . . so delicious that it would be a pity to allow the Infidels to have exclusive use of it.' Pope Clement VIII decided that if this were, in fact, the 'Devil's Brew,' the Church would deprive him of it, and he bestowed a papal blessing on the coffee bean.
Coffee had been an exclusive export of the Muslim empires. For years, Europeans had tried to use trade, diplomacy, and larceny to retrieve a coffee plant from the Middle East. Understandably, the Arabians didn't want to give up their big cash crop. The Dutch, however, succeeded in paying off the right people, and late one night in 1616, they took a bunch of saplings and sailed back to Europe. They raised them in greenhouses, and then, in 1658, began growing them in their colonies at Malabar in India, Batavia in Java, and Suriname in South America. The Dutch quickly overtook the Ottomans & Arabians as the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.
To Be Continued. . .
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