The story of coffee has its beginnings in Ethiopia, the original home of the coffee plant ( Coffee Arabica ) which still grows wild in the forest of the mountains. Kaffa Region is the birthplace of coffee, located south-west of the capital Addis Abeba; the region is an ideal agricultural area growing apart from coffee, maize, teff (Ethiopia’s staple food) and many other cash crops.


The most popular origin story starts with Kaldi, an Abyssinian goat herder, who lived around AD 800. One day he observed his goats acting quite strange. They were dancing, and this wasn’t normal. Kaldi discovered that they were eating red berries and concluded that this fruit was the cause of this odd behaviour.

After stumbling upon this magic fruit, he shared his findings with a monk. “Devils work!” exclaimed the Monk, and hurled the berries in the fire.Within minutes the monastery filled with the heavenly aroma of roasted coffee beans. The beans were raked from the fire and crushed to extinguish the embers. The Monk ordered the grains to be placed in the ewer and covered with hot water to preserve their goodness. That night the monks sat up drinking the rich and fragrant brew, ecstatic to find something that would help them stay awake all night as they prayed. 

Another thing we know for sure is where it went next. Coffee made its way north, across the red sea into Yemen in the 15th Century by Sudanese slaves who chewed the berries on route to help them survive the journey. The port at which the beans first arrived was called Mocha.

Due to coffee’s growing popularity and the shipment of coffee from the port city, Mocha became synonymous with coffee.Mocha is one of the more confusing terms in the coffee world. The coffee we call Mocha (also spelt Moka, Moca, or Mocca) today is grown as it has been for hundreds of years in the mountains of Yemen.

Complicating the situation are coffees that closely resemble Yemen in cup character and appearance from eastern Ethiopia, near the town of Harrar. These dry-processed Ethiopia Harrar coffees often are sold under the name Mocha or Moka. Still another possibility for confusion derives from the occasional chocolate tones of Yemen Mocha, which caused some enthusiast to tag the name onto drinks that combine hot chocolate and coffee.


Coffee was grown in Yemen and became well known in Egypt, Persia and Turkey. There’s a reason why the drink spread quickly from there. After the Ottoman Turks occupied Yemen in 1436, coffee’s popularity spread with the empire. And, writes Pendergrast, by the end of the fifteenth century, Muslim pilgrims introduced coffee throughout the Islamic world.

It was known as the “wine of Araby.” The beverage started to become a little too popular as coffee houses began to open up all around Arabia. These coffee houses were known as “Schools of the Wise”. These were the places you went to share and hear information.They became the epicentre of social activity.

From the Arabian Peninsula, coffee travelled to the East. The Arabs are credited with first bringing coffee to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as early as 1505. Fertile coffee beans, the berries with their husks unbroken, were first introduced into South-West India by one Baba Budan on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 17th century. 

By 1517 coffee had reached Constantinople, following the conquest of Egypt by Salim I, and in Damascus by 1530. Coffee houses opened in Constantinople in 1554, and their advent provoked religiously inspired riots that temporarily closed them. But they survived their critics, and their luxurious interiors became a regular rendezvous for those engaged in radical political thought and dissent.

Venetian traders had introduced coffee to Europe by 1615, a few years later than tea which had appeared in 1610. Again, its introduction aroused controversy in Italy when some clerics, like the mullahs of Mecca, suggested it should be excommunicated as it was the Devils work. However, Pope Clement VIII (1592- 1605) enjoyed it so much that he declared that coffee should be baptized to make it a real Christian drink. The first coffee house opened in Venice in 1683. The famous Venice’s Cafe Florian in the Piazza San Marco, established in 1720, is the oldest surviving coffee house in Europe. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, coffee houses increased in Europe. Nothing like the coffee houses or café had ever existed before, the novelty of a place to enjoy a relatively inexpensive and stimulating beverage in a pleasant company established a social habit that has endured for over 400 years. 

The first coffee house in England was opened in Oxford, not London, by a man called Jacob in 1650. A coffee club established near all Souls College eventually becoming the Royal Society. London’s first coffee house was in St. Michaels Alley and opened in 1652. And the most famous name in the world of insurance, Lloyds of London, began life as a coffee house in Tower Street, founded by Edward Lloyd in 1688 who used to prepare lists of ships that his clients had insured. With the rapid growth in popularity of coffee houses, by the 17th century, the European powers were competing with each other to establish coffee plantations in their respective colonies. In 1616 the Dutch gained a head start by taking a coffee plant from Mocha to the Netherlands, and they began large scale cultivation in Sri Lanka in1658. In 1699 cuttings were successfully transplanted from Malabar to Java. Samples of Java coffee plants were sent to Amsterdam in 1706, were seedlings were grown in botanical gardens and distributed to horticulturists throughout Europe. A few years later, in 1718, the Dutch transplanted the coffee to Surinam and soon after the plant became widely established in South America, which was to become the coffee centre of the world. In 1878 the story of coffees journey around the world came full circle when the British laid the foundations of Kenya’s coffee industry by introducing plants to British East Africa right next to neighbouring Ethiopia, where coffee had first been discovered a 1,000 years before. Today Ethiopia is Africa’s major exporter of Arabica beans, the quality coffee of the world, and the variety that originated in Ethiopia, is still the only variety grown there. 

Coffea Arabica, which was identified by the botanist Linnaeus in 1753, is one of the two dominant species, and presently accounts around 70 per cent of the world’s coffee. 


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