Coffee Bean History – Its Origin And How It Was Discovered

Consider yourself a coffee expert and think you know everything there is to know about its origins? In this article, we explore coffee bean history.

Do you consider yourself a coffee expert and think you know everything there is to know about the world’s coffee bean history?

That might be the case, but there are plenty of people who love coffee but know very little about it, like the origin of the coffee farm, the plant, the taste blend, and how the drink itself was first identified.

If you’ve always wondered how we got from bean to the perfect cup of coffee, here are a few of the highlights of the history of coffee.

1. The Origins of the Coffee Bean

Coffee being brewed on a stove.
Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Coffee originated in Ethiopia. Many believe the story of coffee began when a goat herder noticed his goats acting oddly. He said they were dancing and determined it happened after they ate red berries.

He considered the berries a magic fruit and shared them with his monk friend who said the berries helped him maintain prayer vigils all through the night.

Some believe that same monk tried to burn the beans in a fire only to learn that they created a delicious aroma when roasting over the open flames. You might be interested in reading about what single-origin coffee means.

2. The Wine of Araby

After it was discovered in Ethiopia, coffee beans made their way to the Middle East, around the 15th century. The beans entered the area through the port of Mocha and subsequently plants were cultivated in Yemen, Persia, Turkey, and Egypt.

It wasn’t called “coffee” yet though, and instead went by the name “Wine of Araby.”

People went to coffee shops to share information and sip coffee, but in the 1500s, a court decided the beverage was too stimulating. This seemed to be the general consensus throughout the area and coffee was temporarily banned.

It was the ensuing rioting in the streets that eventually got coffee back into the hands of the people again. However, it wasn’t until the next century that coffee made its way into Europe.

3. Java

The Dutch were the first to embrace coffee and they began growing it. Unfortunately, a number of natural disasters interfered with their first attempts at cultivation, but by the early 1700s, they were importing coffee from Indonesia.

They called it Java. It was around this time that coffee began to be grown in other areas, too, including Sumatra.

Around 1570, coffee arrived in Venice and was instantly popular. That should come as no surprise to those who love a good cup of espresso and understand how much the Italians do too.

The pope was skeptical at first of coffee, but after trying it, he decided it was a “Christian beverage.”

4. Western Expansion

For a 100 or so years around this time period, coffee houses began to pop up all over Europe, in countries including France, Germany, Austria, Holland, and England. These shops were similar to the original ones in Arabia, where people went to meet up with others and talk about important issues of the day, including politics.

The English called them “penny universities.” Some businesses even got their starts in coffee shops and in some cases, the shops themselves turned into businesses that had nothing to do with coffee.

One of these cafes, known as the Oxford Coffee Club, eventually became The Royal Society which is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.

In the 1700’s coffee’s popularity grew significantly

These coffee shops didn’t make everyone happy though. Women found that their husbands would spend far too much time away from home engaged in discussions and drinking coffee.

They eventually launched the Women’s Petition Against Coffee in an effort to ban coffee and ensure their husbands stayed home.

During this time, around the early 1700s, coffee made its way across the Atlantic Ocean. There is debate over whether the beans made their way via theft or a gift, but they ultimately arrived in Martinique and became part of a coffee plantation there.

Within a very short time, there was coffee being grown in Guadalupe and St. Dominque too. The same plants were spread throughout South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, many of which are still important places on the coffee map today.

Brazil, too, eventually entered the coffee fray and remains one of the go-to locations for harvesting world-class beans. The country was once home to the largest coffee empire on the planet (it wasn’t always Starbucks) and today is the world’s biggest producer of coffee beans.

5. Conquering Northern America

Eventually, coffee came to North America and the United States. It should surprise nobody to learn that the Boston Tea Party and subsequent revolution were a big part of how coffee became so popular in the new country.

The ramifications of the world’s most famous tea party (that wasn’t much of a party at all) lasted long after the last leaves were left floating in the harbor. Tea became extremely unpatriotic and was quickly replaced by coffee as the preferred caffeinated beverage of the colonists.

Despite resolving the grievances it had with its former mother country, Americans continued to love coffee and do so still today. It is the leading importer of coffee and even grows a little of its own in Hawaii.

Furthermore the United States was the breeding ground of modern coffee roasting and preparation as we know it today.

6. Global Domination

Coffee in a cup showing water, brewed coffee and instant coffee granules.
Enter instant coffee

Coffee was a popular beverage the world over by the 1800s. Maxwell House, one of the world’s best-known instant coffee brands, launched in 1886, making it possible to “brew” a cup of coffee by only adding hot water to the grounds.

Prohibition in the United States during the 1920s also helped coffee gain its footing as a beloved beverage throughout the country. People couldn’t enjoy alcohol, so they turned to coffee, for the buzz and the joy of drinking.

In the mid-1920s, the Science Newsletter declared coffee had health benefits, and then there was no turning back. People loved it, were addicted to caffeine, and had reason to believe it was boosting their health.

Coffee Bean History – The Final Word

That brings us to the mid-20th century when famous coffee companies like Peet’s and Starbucks came into existence. It was a coffee revolution and we’re still seeing the ramifications of it today.

Coffee is a far cry from what it once was. The beverage they were drinking in Ethiopia is likely far different than today’s half-caff soy milk latte with whip, but the origins are the same and the drink is as beloved today as it ever was.