The first coffee ever cultivated, Coffea arabica, originated in the forests of Ethiopia. According to one legend, a goatherd named Kaldi discovered his goats prancing about in the forest after they had consumed the glossy dark-green leaves of an unfamiliar shrub. Kaldi sampled the plant, experienced a new euphoria, and became the world's first ambassador of coffee.

From Ethiopia, coffee aficionados carried it across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula. Cultivators of the plant there prized it so much that they forbade export of the viable coffee bean. But during the 1600s, a Muslim pilgrim smuggled coffee from Mecca to India, allegedly by taping seven seeds to his stomach. By the end of the 1600s, the Dutch were cultivating coffee on Ceylon, Java, and other East Indian Islands. The Dutch presented King Louis XIV of France with the gift of a coffee plant in 1714. From Paris, coffee made a transatlantic voyage, and a New World plantation was established on the island of Martinique. According to one story, the seed escaped Martinique hidden in a bouquet of flowers given to a Brazilian official who had won over the French governor's wife. Her clandestine gift became the original source of much of the arabica coffee grown in Brazil and other Latin American countries today.