Coffee History: Coffee's Spread Across the Globe

Coffee History: Coffee's Spread Across the Globe

By Joaquim Salgueiro, Co-Founder at BICA

My fellow coffee enthusiasts, I hope you enjoyed our journey through the birth of coffee and the enchanting tale of Kaldi. Today, we embark on the next chapter in coffee's fascinating history as we explore its spread across the globe, from the Arabian Peninsula and the vibrant coffee houses of the Ottoman Empire to the shores of Europe and the Americas.

The Arabian Peninsula: The First Cultivation and Trade

As we learned in our previous installment, coffee originated in the highlands of Ethiopia. From there, it made its way to the Arabian Peninsula, where it was first cultivated and traded. The 15th-century city of Mocha, located in present-day Yemen, played a crucial role in the early coffee trade.

Mocha became a bustling hub for coffee commerce, with the beans from the region prized for their distinctive flavor. Mocha beans, still a term used today, are known for their smooth, chocolatey taste. The port city was perfectly positioned for the flourishing trade, as it provided access to merchants and traders from Europe, Asia, and Africa.

As coffee's popularity soared, so too did the demand for its cultivation. The people of the Arabian Peninsula developed intricate irrigation systems to support the growth of coffee plants, allowing them to thrive in the arid climate. The knowledge and techniques developed during this time laid the groundwork for modern coffee cultivation.

The Ottoman Empire: Coffee Houses and Intellectual Discussions

The spread of coffee throughout the Arabian Peninsula led to the rise of coffee houses, known as qahveh khaneh. As I mentioned briefly in the previous post, these establishments served as social hubs where people could gather to discuss religion, politics, and literature.

In the Ottoman Empire, coffee houses became particularly influential, playing a significant role in shaping the society of the time. These spaces offered more than just a place to enjoy a cup of coffee; they were venues for intellectual discussions, art, and even political intrigue.

It wasn't uncommon for poets, scholars, and musicians to gather at coffee houses, creating a vibrant atmosphere of creativity and innovation. These establishments were so essential to the social fabric of the time that they were referred to as the "Schools of the Wise."

The European Encounter: Controversy and the Pope's Approval

As coffee's popularity continued to grow, it eventually found its way to Europe via Venetian traders in the 17th century. Europe's first coffee house opened in Venice in 1645, and soon, other major cities followed suit, with coffee houses popping up in London, Paris, and Vienna.

The introduction of coffee to Europe, however, was not without controversy. In some circles, coffee was viewed with suspicion and even labeled as the "bitter invention of Satan." The drink faced opposition from conservative elements within the Catholic Church, who believed that the stimulating effects of coffee were the work of the devil. This controversy reached its peak when Pope Clement VIII was asked to weigh in on the matter.

As the story goes, the Pope, after tasting the beverage himself, declared that coffee was so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it solely to the "infidels" (referring to Muslims). With the Pope's approval, the opposition to coffee dissipated, and its popularity soared throughout Europe.

The Dutch Connection: Coffee in the Americas and the Birth of Plantations

The Dutch played a significant role in the expansion of coffee beyond Europe. In the 17th century, Dutch traders managed to smuggle coffee plants out of the Arabian 

Peninsula, breaking the monopoly on coffee cultivation held by the Arabs. They first planted coffee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and later in their colonies in Southeast Asia, particularly in Java, which remains a renowned coffee-producing region to this day.

The Dutch didn't stop there. In the early 18th century, they introduced coffee to their South American colony of Suriname, sparking the beginning of coffee plantations in the Americas. From Suriname, coffee cultivation spread to French Guiana, and eventually to Brazil, which would go on to become the world's largest coffee producer.

The cultivation of coffee in the Americas was a game-changer for the industry. The favorable climate and vast expanses of land allowed for the large-scale production of coffee, transforming it into a global commodity. The coffee plantations, however, were not without their dark side. Slave labor was widely used in the cultivation of coffee, leading to immense suffering and exploitation.

Over time, the demand for coffee and the growth of plantations played a crucial role in shaping the economies and societies of the Americas. Coffee became a driving force in the development of infrastructure, including the expansion of railways and ports. The cultivation of coffee also played a part in shaping the political landscape, with coffee barons wielding significant influence in countries like Brazil and Colombia.

In this installment, we have seen how coffee spread from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe and the Americas, touching the lives of countless people along the way. The humble coffee bean has left an indelible mark on history, transforming societies and shaping the world we know today.

As we continue our journey through the captivating history of coffee, we'll explore how the British East India Company popularized tea, the introduction of coffee to Brazil, the invention of espresso machines, and the growth of coffee chains like Starbucks. Stay tuned, and join me as we delve deeper into the rich, aromatic world of coffee!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.