Food history: coffee

This piece needs to begin with the acknowledgement of the extensive timeline of the history of coffee, of which I could not begin to cover the entirety of here. There is in fact an entire book on the history of coffee, which is on my to-read list.

Therefore, I have decided to do something a little bit different with this Food History post.


In in the interest of simplifying things, I am going to run down the major events in coffee’s long, prosperous life, in a sort of list form.

Do bear in mind that this will only be a collection of snapshots in the history, and it is inevitably a few photographs short of the full photo album.

First, five fun coffee facts from Business Insider and the Buzz Feed:

  • Coffee beans are the pit of a berry, making them technically a fruit.
  • Over 2 million cups of coffee are consumed around the world every 5 minutes.
  • Fifty-four percent of coffee drinkers say it makes them feel more like their self.
  • New York City drinks 7 times the amount of coffee of other cities.
  • Sixty-five percent of coffee drinkers have a cup within the first hour of waking up.

And now, where it all began:

Legend has it that coffee was discovered sometime prior to the 1400s, by an Ethiopian goat herder. He noticed that the goats were eating berries from coffee trees and getting quite energized. They in fact appeared to be dancing.

Coffee was probably utilized by nomads for thousands of years in Ethiopia, where coffee trees grew wildly, and still do. However, it wasn’t until the 1400s that people began roasting the seeds.

Arabs were the first to both grow and cultivate coffee, and they attempted to keep a monopoly on the crop. But, the Dutch succeeded in smuggling a coffee plant into Europe in 1616. From there, coffee’s popularity traveled across Europe. In the mid 1600s, coffee made its way to New Amsterdam (New York).

As Europeans colonized parts of the world, they often enslaved people in order to grow it. (This was not mentioned on the National Coffee Association’s page on the history of the crop.)

My favorite part of coffee’s history I discovered: Although having been in American colonies for quite some time, coffee did not become popular with residents until the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

Indeed, the epic throwing of tea into the harbor as a protestation against its heavy tax, was the turning point in pre-America wherein colonists’ preference for tea over coffee made a drastic switch. Funnily enough, even today tea appears to be more popular in England than America, while Americans maintain their strong preference for coffee.

Coffee has only continued to grow in popularity not only in the United States, but all over the world. The 1900s saw the invention of instant coffee, the coffee filter, and the modern day espresso machine, to name a few.

As alluded to before, we have not begun to cover the extent of coffee’s effect on the entire planet. Specifically, coffee has influenced the rise of business and has significantly impacted the economy  in ways I cannot even begin to yet comprehend.

In more recent years, as with many other food and drink items, the health benefits of coffee – or lack thereof – has been highly debated among scientists and food enthusiasts.

Nevertheless, I think coffee will keep its rank as one of the most popular beverages in the world, right after beer and wine, staying ahead ahead of tea and soft drinks.