Aug 18, 2013
Up until the 1710s, and even after for a while, most of Europe’s coffee was shipped either from Alexandria or from the port of Mocha in what is today Yemen. As I said last week, however, the Dutch plantnapped some saplings and cuttings from the Ottomans in 1616 and started growing coffee across the empire they established over the next 80 years.
In 1714, Gerrit Hooft, the Mayor of Amsterdam, gifted a coffee sapling to Louis XIV, King of France, who planted it in the Royal Botanical Gardens (les Jardin royal des Plantes). Over the next ten years the sapling grew, and King Louis was very protective of it. In 1723, Commander Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a French Naval officer who was stationed in Martinique and on leave in Paris, decided to take a stroll through the Royal Gardens. He saw the coffee tree and realizes that the Caribbean would be a smashing place to grow coffee. He asked the king for some cuttings and was promptly shot down.
That didn’t deter Gabriel though. He hung around the Court and acted as the perfect, charming court guest – drinking wine, enjoying the king’s hospitality, spending time with the good-looking and ‘friendly’ women of the Court, and waiting for just the right moment. One night it arrived. Gabriel climbed over the garden walls, clipped off a few cuttings, and high-tailed it back to his ship which set sail forthwith back to Martinique.
de Clieu protected and nursed his sprout all the way back to Martinique, and when he arrived, grew it secretly behind other plants to make sure it wasn’t discovered. Within two years the first harvest was ready, and in three years coffee plantations began to spring up all over the French Caribbean.
A few years later, the French & Dutch were having a border dispute between their respective Guianas, located on South America’s Northern coast. Brazil, a Portuguese colony, sent Francisco de Melo Palheta to referee the two and come to an agreement. He was successful, and in return, asked the French governor for a couple of coffee seedlings as a payment for his services. The governor firmly denied Francisco’s request. Not one to be discouraged Francisco hatched another scheme. The governor guarded his coffee jealously, but not so much his wife. During a banquet, the suave Brazilian paid more than a little attention to the governor’s wife and did quite a little more than just danced with her.
As Francisco left the next morning, the governor’s wife gave him a bouquet of flowers as a parting gift. Hidden inside? A collection of coffee seedlings, from which grew the world’s largest coffee empire.
Coffee is the most popular drink in the United States. It wasn’t always this way, though. Being colonies of Britain, tea was all the rage in the 1600s and most of the 1700s. When Britain started taxing tea, however, Americans began to stop drinking it and instead switched to coffee. This taste for coffee grew during the War of 1812 when the British cut off all access to American tea imports.
The late 1700s and the first half of the 1800s saw coffee houses in Europe and the US develop into meeting places. In the States and England, it was where the financial elite would meet and trade stocks & futures and make deals. In Europe, the intellectuals would meet there to plan the overthrow of monarchies.
After the start of the Industrial Age, cafés were replaced by cafeterias as workers downed a quick cup of coffee on the go to fuel their new, industry-centered schedules. Temperance societies began to promote coffee and coffeehouses as an alternative to alcohol and bars. Even in U.S. Navy started to see this as a temperate alternative. In 1914, Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy, ended the traditional wine ration aboard ships and replaced it with coffee.
The military’s involvement with coffee didn’t end there, though. In the 1930s, coffee growers had asked Nestle for help in figuring out what to do with all the waste products from their roasting process. In 1938 Nestle provided the answer: Instant Coffee. Instant coffee went to war with American G.I.s and fueled the Allied victory.
The era of coffee being tended by farmers and agriculturists had officially ended. Now this drink that funded empires and fueled revolutions became the domain of chemists and scientists.
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