Coffee Trivia

In the 1700’s coffee found its way to the Americas by means of French naval officer Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu who transplanted a seedling to the Caribbean Island of Martinique. This one plant became the predecessor of over 19 million trees on the island within 50 years. It was from this humble beginning that the coffee plant found its way to the rest of the tropical regions of South and Central America and it is accepted as common truth that all coffee production plants in the Americas are descended from this one smuggled tree.

Coffee was introduced to North America by Captain John Smith who helped to found the colony of Virginia at Jamestown in 1607. Growing quickly in popularity, coffee, no doubt, helped fuel the revolution. In 1773, Americans revolted against King George’s Tea Tax and the newly formed Continental Congress declared coffee the official national beverage.

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Coffee maintained its popularity despite the prohibitions, arrests, and even executions. Unable to stop the coffee drinkers, the rulers decided to profit from them. Coffee became legal again and was taxed heavily. However, in order to maintain their control over coffee, transportation of anything other than roasted or boiled beans was forbidden – these forms of the coffee bean not able to propagate new plants.

It took a 17th century Sufi holy man from India named Baba Budan to liberate the much loved beans. After a pilgrimage to Mecca where he was introduced to coffee, Baba smuggled some beans back to India where he started a farm in the mountains near Mysore. This nefarious act gained Baba reverence by both Muslims and Hindus. His shrine is located at Baba Budangiri, India.

And so it was, with the holiest of motives, that Baba Budan set sail for India with seven seeds of the Arabian qahwah tree girded tightly about his waist beneath his seamless white ritual garment.
-Sankar Iye, Forgotten Fakir and His Unforgettable Drink

Initially, coffee was brewed from green, unroasted coffee beans to yield a tea-like beverage. The processing methods were further refined as coffee spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula and later through the Ottoman Empire to Turkey. The modern coffee drink was invented at the end of 15th century, when roasting and crushing the coffee beans before extracting them with hot water grew in acceptance. Because this method of making coffee first became popular in Turkey, the travelers, traders, and pilgrims who were introduced to this beverage referred to it as “Turkish Coffee.”


The world’s first known coffee shop, Kiva Han, opened in Constantinople in 1475, followed by numerous others that opened across Arabia and Turkey. As coffee became widely popular, religious Moslems were insulted that their sacramental drink was being shared by secular sippers and placed a ban on coffee houses. The Sheikh Ul-Islam issued a proclamation to the effect that drinking coffee “is not religiously permissible.”

Eventually, even the secular leaders were threatened by the power of coffee. The leaders of the Ottoman Empire saw it as a threat to their rule. They noticed that gathering together in coffee fueled conversation stimulated people to discuss important issues, such as the suitability of the rulers. They feared that unpopular political philosophies, social unrest, and possibly revolution were brewing in these coffee cabals. In 1656, the Ottoman Grand Vizier Koprulu established laws that shut down the coffee houses and outlawed coffee drinking all together. If a person broke this law, they were beaten with a club called a ‘cudgel.’ The second time they were caught they were sewn up in a leather bag and thrown into the nearest river to drown.

One of the most interesting facts in the history of coffee drinks is that wherever it has been introduced it has spelled revolution. It has been the world’s most radical drink in that its function has always been to make people think. And when the people begin to think they become dangerous to tyrants and to the foes of liberty of thoughts and action.

-William Ukers; from his seminal book, All about Coffee

Legend has it that sometime late in the first millennium, an Abyssinian goatherd named Kaldi noticed a discerned up-tempo to the frolic in his herd as they grazed on the berries of a certain bush. Not wanting his herd to get away from him, adventurous Kaldi sampled the ruby red berries and soon discovered that he too had added a certain hop to his step. Word of the stimulant properties of the local berries spread and, much as Yemeni laborers chewed khat leaves, and Andean messengers coca leaf, the local native tribes fueled up on protein rich coffee and animal fat balls for an early African highland version of a power bar.

The beans made their way across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula where many authorities believe that actual cultivation of coffee trees began. Word of the fruit with a punch spread and Sufi mystics and monks, used to nodding off under candle light while in meditation and prayer, realized they could rip through their recitations with renewed determination once they had indulged in the ruby red delights. The wise men decided that it was indeed sacred medicine and coffee became a ceremonial drink for the Sufi mystics.

The extraordinary history of coffee is filled with delight, devotion, intolerance, and intrigue. Exactly where and when coffee was first cultivated is debated, but botanical evidence confirms that Coffea Arabica originated on the plateaus of central Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), several thousand feet above sea level. Coffee trees still grow wild there in the shade of the canopies of the highland forests.

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