Much like the globally traded commodities of spices, sugar, silk and tea, coffee has a long and storied history that leads into the modern day. How coffee became something that fuels much of today’s daily activity supposedly began in the ancient coffee forests of modern-day Ethiopia.
Kaldi, a goat herder, noticed that his usually timid goats were especially active and rambunctious after eating the berries of a particular tree. After trying the energizing berries himself, he took some to a local monastery, where the monks apparently had trouble staying awake during prayers. The monks created a beverage out of the ‘magic’ berries by fire-roasting, crushing, and finally steeping them in hot water. The rest, as they say, is history. Although this particular legend is hard to prove true, all across the Near East, people were discovering the benefits of this unique beverage. By the 15th century, Arabian coffeehouses had become known as “Schools of the Wise” as they were the center of community, arts, society, and knowledge.
When processed coffee arrived in 17th century Europe on Arabian trade caravans, its popularity quickly spread. Coffee rapidly replaced beer and wine as the typical breakfast drink, as people and their employers realized that productivity and morale greatly improved after consumption- perhaps the early birth of the modern office coffee service? Hundreds of coffeehouses and specialty coffee businesses that still exist today popped up seemingly overnight. After gaining a strong economic and social foothold in metropolitan Europe, nouveau coffee capitalists fiercely sought to grow their wealth in the tropical colonies of the New World and Asia.
Another legendary coffee character, Baba Budan, is considered the catalyst for global coffee production. Until the 1600s, it is believed that coffee did not grow outside of Africa and Arabia. Knowing that coffee was an economic gold mine for those that grew it, Arabian coffee traders and farmers ensured that beans could not be replanted for growth (and profit) elsewhere by boiling or parching them. Baba Budan, after making the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, continued on his travels with fertile coffee beans hidden in his luggage. It is unclear where these fertile beans ended up, but the next place that coffee is thought to have been planted was in the Dutch colony of Java.
As the beans spread across the globe, entire economies were built on coffee cultivation and trade. Today, coffee is the second most sought-after commodity after crude oil. Still, many “coffee belt” nations’ national economies depend on coffee production and the technologies that strive to make the process more efficient, environmentally friendly, and profitable for all.