Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world only behind oil, and over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. Its discovery is filled with mystery and lore.
The most common legend is that coffee was discovered in 9th century Ethiopia by a goat herder named Kaldi. The story goes that Kaldi observed his goats having so much energy after eating the red coffee berries, they appeared to be dancing. Kaldi tried the fruit himself and had a similar reaction.
He took the berries to the local Monastery and told the head monk about his findings. The head monk thought they must be evil and threw them into the fire. A short time later the cooked beans smelled so delicious that the other monks put them in water, and the brew kept them up all night with a renewed energy.
Coffee beans were brought to Yemen where they were cultivated on plantations to create a satisfying drink by boiling them in water. The port in Yemen was called Mocha, and so coffee there became synonymous with Mocha (which is still often used today). It became so popular that it spread to Egypt, Persia, Turkey, and soon all over the Middle East.
Coffee was temporarily banned in much of the middle east in the early 1500s for religious and political reasons. As coffee houses sprang up, people would gather and discuss religion and politics. Leaders feared their own power would diminish, so they forbade this great drink. It was short lived however, because the citizens refused to give up this fantastic elixir.
In the early 1600s, the Dutch founded the first European-owned coffee estate in Sri Lanka, and then Java (still synonymous with coffee) in 1696. The French began growing coffee in the Caribbean, followed by the Spanish in Central America and the Portuguese in Brazil. Coffee houses sprang up in Italy and France, and then later across much of Europe where they became incredibly popular.
Coffee reached the New World during the early 18th century, but didn’t become popular in America until the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Then the colonists, protesting England’s tax on tea, made it their patriotic duty to drink coffee instead. The Civil War and other conflicts that followed also helped increase coffee consumption, as soldiers relied on the caffeine for a boost of energy.
In 1818, a Parisian metalsmith invented the percolator, which is still used today. James Nason patented a version, which became the first American percolator. This brought rise to more coffee consumption, and in 1871 John and Charles Arbuckle invented a machine that weighed, filled, sealed and labeled roasted coffee into one pound paper packages for sale across the country.
Soon after, Joel Cheek started a new roasting company, and named his coffee blend after the famed Maxwell House Hotel. Seven presidents stayed at this hotel including Theodore Roosevelt who is believed to have coined the phrase “good to the last drop”.
The early 1900s brought Hills Brothers, and their new vacuum-sealed can that kept coffee fresh by removing air that can quickly degrade roasted coffee. Shortly after, Melitta Bentz patented the first coffee filter, and a new wave of drip coffee followed.
There is much debate over who invented instant coffee, but it was mass produced for the first time in 1909 by George Washington (not our first president), and quickly became a staple for our military troops. Technologies have changed over the years, and today, instant coffee sales worldwide are estimated at $ 36 billion.
The 1970s brought us into a new generation of coffee known as The Second Wave. The focus on coffee was a cultural change and the way people thought about coffee. Coffee shops and bistros popped up, and coffee-based drinks like cappuccinos, lattes, and espressos came into vogue. With much emphasis on profits over quality beans - and without regard to the farmers who produced them - the second wave left the door open to a higher level of coffee appreciation and responsible sourcing which would rise in the third wave.
The early 2000s sparked the next generation known as The Third Wave. The focus shifted from coffee culture to producing outstanding coffee. Instead of buying cheap beans and over roasting them, the third wave roasters created special profiles to extract distinctive flavor notes exclusive to the regions where the beans are grown. These extracted flavors are unique to small-batch roasting.
Third wave roasters source sustainably-grown beans and pay the farmers a fair price so they too can live better lives.