History of Coffee
ca. 600–1000
For a quick pick-me-up, the Galla tribe of Ethiopia eats balls of crushed raw coffee beans mixed with fruit and animal fat.
According to Turkish law, a woman who does not get her daily quota of coffee from her husband has grounds for divorce, instead.
Pope Clement VIII supposedly baptizes coffee, making it fit for Christians to drink, rather than condemning it as an infidel threat, as his advisers recommend.
While some claim that it has already come to Canada, Captain John Smith, founder of the colony of Virginia at Jamestown, is credited with introducing coffee to North America.
British poet Sir George Sandys notes that the Turks sit “chatting most of the day” over their coffee, which is “blacke as soote, and tasting not much unlike it.”
The first of many coffeehouses in England opens. Called “penny universities,” men gather to share news and gossip over one-cent cups of coffee. To be sure they’re waited on, patrons toss coins into boxes marked “To Insure Prompt Service”—the original “TIPS.”
Soliman Aga, Turkish ambassador to France, gives elaborate parties, inspiring a craze in all things Turkish and inducing the upper classes to loll around in dressing gowns drinking coffee.
Dorothy Jones of Boston becomes the first licensed coffee trader in America.
In London, where women are not allowed in coffeehouses, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee complains that “the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called Coffee . . . has . . . Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind gallants.”
In Vienna, Franz Georg Kolschitzky recognizes piles of mysterious “dry black fodder” left by fleeing Turkish troops as coffee beans. He claims the abandoned sacks and sets up central Europe’s first coffeehouse.
In London, ship owners and maritime insurance brokers gather to do business at Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House—which ultimately becomes the now-famous Lloyd’s of London, the largest insurance brokerage in the world.
ca. 1700
Coffee and tea begin to sober alcohol-soaked Europe and America, where beer has been the breakfast of choice.
The world’s first modern style greenhouse is built to protect a single delicate coffee plant given as a gift to Louis XIV of France. Lovingly tended, it becomes the parent stock of most of the coffee grown in Latin America today.
Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” premieres at Zimmerman’s Coffee House in Leipzig. The operetta tells of a fashionable girl who insists on drinking coffee despite her father’s objections. “If I can’t drink my bowl of coffee three times a day,” she sings, “then in my torment I will shrivel like a piece of roast goat.”
ca. 1750
In Europe, handles become popular and are added to traditional drinking bowls, creating a more practical vessel.
Alarmed, Frederick the Great of Germany writes: "It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the like amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. My people must drink beer.”
The only major successful slave revolt in history takes place when slaves rise up against harsh conditions on coffee plantations in Haiti.
As war looms between France and Spain, European coffee buyers glut the market, fearing shipping lanes will close. When no war materializes, many commit suicide, ruined by the miscalculation.
ca. 1830
French writer Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) consumes crushed coffee beans mixed with a bit of water and writes: “Everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick march into motion . . . for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water.”
ca. 1861–1865
Coffee is so important to U.S. Civil War soldiers that some guns (Sharps carbines) are designed to hold coffee grinders in their buttstocks.
“The Indians had come to sell us fresh meat. Father traded them sugar and coffee. It was hard for the Indians to get these things and they were crazy for them.”
—Watkins family narrative, the only known account of the Crow Wagon Train near Fort Laramie, Wyoming
Austin and Reuben Hills buy a retail coffee shop in San Francisco, beginning the Hills Brothers coffee empire. By 1900, they lead the industry by packing their product in newfangled vacuum cans, making it possible to buy coffee at grocery stores instead of going to neighborhood roasters.
Brothers Max, Mannie, and Eddie join forces to form M. J. Brandenstein & Co., selling tea, coffee, and spices in San Francisco. The firm soon becomes famous for its coffee, and changes its name to MJB to minimize sibling rivalry and disguise the family’s German-Jewish roots.
In Chicago, Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato invents the first soluble "instant coffee.”
German coffee importer Ludwig Roselius gives a batch of ruined coffee beans to researchers who develop the first effective decaffeination process and create the first decaf, called “Sanka.”
Coffee sales soar in the U.S. as Prohibition goes into effect.
In Italy, Achilles Gaggia perfects his machine for making cappuccino (espresso topped with steamed milk or cream), named for its color, which is similar to a Capuchin friar’s habit.
A Pan American Coffee Bureau marketing campaign popularizes the notion of having “coffee breaks.”
The Sherri Cup Company introduces a paper coffee cup with a Greek “amphora” design. The blue and white cup becomes so much a symbol of life in New York City that its image ultimately decorates the cover of the Manhattan phone book, along with a picture of a bagel.
Struggling young actor Carlos Sanchez dons fake moustache, sombrero, and poncho, befriends a mule named Lana, and takes the part of fictional coffee farmer Juan Valdez (first played by New Yorker Jose Duval), making “100 percent Colombian coffee” famous around the world.
In an effort to avoid fruitless trips to get coffee, computer geeks at Cambridge University in England write a computer program that captures successive images of the now-famous “Trojan Room coffeepot,” creating the first Webcam in Internet history and the most famous coffeepot in the world.
Tea is the most popular drink on the planet, but Americans prefer coffee, importing more than any other country in the world.