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The history and origins of coffee, a drink loved throughout the world

The history and origins of coffee, a drink loved throughout the world

Who knows who it was to first see the red berries of the coffee plant, and imagine that it could be transformed into an energizing and e curative drink, appreciated in every corner of the world.

The origins of coffee are surrounded in mystery and, finding out about them can be absolutely fascinating.

This is why, by retracing documents and legends, we have decided to tell you all about the history of coffee and its origins.

The origins and history of coffee: from Ethiopia to the rest of the world 

The coffee plant, in all likelihood, is originally Ethiopian and, more specifically, it was the Oromo people who were the first to discover the properties of its berries around the 8th century A.D. It is no small coincidence that the province where this first insight occurred is called Kaffa…

However, it was with the Ethiopian invasions in Yemen – between the XIII and XIV century  – that the  history of coffee underwent a radical transformation: if, it was actually the inhabitants of Abyssinia who dried and roasted the coffee berries in order to eat them with butter and salt, it was the Arabs who were the first to transform them into a drink. 

The Main Arab legends 

How this actually happened is still buried in the various legends. Indeed there are many more or less reliable and well-established stories regarding the origins of coffee.

There are tales of a black and bitter drink, capable of giving people energy, used by Arab warriors to give them courage during their toughest battles.

While others maintain that it was the famous doctor, philosopher, mathematician and physicist  Avicenna who “invented” coffee: apparently giving it to his patients as a medicine as early as the year 1000.

Yet another version of the story of coffee and its origins gives all credit for this discovery to an anonymous Yemeni shepherd who, in around 1400 (or in another version, around 500 A.D.), observed his goats happily crunching these mysterious berries.

After having gorged themselves on these delicious treats, the animals suddenly became hyperactive and restless.

Worried by this behavior, he told this story to some monks, who studying and reflecting on this event, understood the potential of the coffee plant. 

The history of coffee in Europe

The spread of coffee throughout Europe took place via two distinct channels, one, linked to international trade and the other, instead, as the result of a war. The very first “Bottega del Caffè” was opened  1640 in Venice, the heart of the exchange market between the East and the West, by virtue of the flourishing activities of its port.

The first sacks of coffee beans were brought by the botanist and doctor Prospero Alpino directly, from Turkey and, in just a few years, the enthusiasm for this exotic drink conquered the Venetians.

At that time it was considered as a product only for elite society, rather expensive and sold only at the Chemist’s: the nutritional values of coffee were the main features of a booklet circulated in 1716 among the alleyways of Venice.

Another crucial date for the distribution of coffee in Europe is 1683, the year of the second siege of Vienna by the Turks  and the final expulsion of the Ottomans. In the hurry to withdraw, it is said that the invaders left behind some sacks of mysterious dark beans.

Only a Polish man by the name of Kolschitzky recognized them for what they were; he had lived for a while in Ottoman territory and so he realized that he had found a highly precious reserve of coffee. Thus, once the war was over, he opened a shop in Vienna where he sold bitter coffee, but also a version mixed with milk and honey, conquering the palates of the Viennese. 

From Vienna and Venice, coffee soon became widespread throughout the whole of Europe, first as a drink for intellectuals for the duration of the 1700s, when some of the most famous intellectual cafés  were established.  And from these European countries, the coffee growing culture spread to other areas. In fact the Dutch exported it to Batavia and Java, the French to the island of Martinique and the Antilles, while the English, Portuguese and Spanish exported to Asia and Latin America. And right there, in Brazil, it found its ideal climate for prosperous plantations; an almost perfect balance which makes it, to this day, the number one coffee producing area in the world. 

Why is coffee … called coffee?

Even the etymology of the word ‘coffee’  was, not surprisingly, affected by the history of the drink. The name, actually derives from the word “qahwah” which in turn comes from the verb “qaha” which, in Arabic, means “lack of hunger”. This term was used, generally, for drinks with anaesthetizing powers such as coffee, but also wine.

An alternative interpretation says that “qahwah”, originally came from the Arabic “quwwa” which means power and energy, while according to other scholars the origins of the name come directly from Kaffa, the name of the region in Ethiopia where the coffee plants originally spontaneously grew. 

In any case, it is known that “qahwah” was used to refer to the drink, from which the word  “kahve” derived, which is the Turkish-Ottoman word for coffee. And from that came caffè, coffee, Koffie, Kaffee, café and all the other European versions of which the common etymological root is very clear. Have you ever noticed that ?

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