There are several legends related to the discovery of coffee. It is uncertain, how the first plants reached the near-eastern region from Ethiopia, but it is a fact that this black drink was sent to its world conquering journey by the Islamic culture.
According to some researchers, the ‘dry fig’ that Abigail gave David in the Old Testament could be the coffee bean. Others say that coffee – the ‘black drink’ of Spartans – is from the time of the Trojan War. Nevertheless, the elixir appearing in Homer’s Odyssey, which brings oblivion to troubles, also could be the coffee.
The legend says that Archangel Gabriel cured Prophet Muhammad to Allah’s command, and he got the strength of forty men.
According to a myth, the discovery of coffee is related to Dervish Omar, who was a healer in Mocha, but was exiled. He was hiding in the desert without food and drink, when a songbird led him to strange berries that he boiled, ate and became refreshed. He also cured his follower patients with this drink, and that brought him his master’s forgiveness finally and he could return home in honour. Later, he became Mocha’s patron saint.
According to another myth, an Ethiopian shepherd Kaldi discovered the stimulant effect of coffee in 300 BC. He noticed that his goats were much livelier after grazing the red berries. As his animals behaved strangely, he asked for advice from the nearby monks, who also tasted the berries and found out that the symptoms they first considered poisoning were actually due to the stimulating impact of the berries.
Some records say that an Arabic doctor called Phazes (852-932) used the refreshing plant ‘quawa’ (coffee) as a medicine, and he mentioned it first in his work Al-Haiwi (The Continent). But around 1000, Avicenna – one of the greatest Muslim philosophers in the Middle Ages – also used coffee as a medicine.
It seems certain that coffee was first used for its stimulant effect in the Near East. Its name must have come from the Ethiopian region Kaffa, from where merchants of Jemen took it and made it well-known everywhere in the world. Probably, Arabic people were also the first growers, but it is not completely clear, because the coffee drinking habit appeared in a very short period in most near eastern countries and no written evidence remained.
Before coffee became important in everyday life, it had received an important religious role – in addition, coffee drinking was only a part of religious ceremonies in the beginning. But imams could not hinder that the habit of having the stimulating liquid spread outside the walls of mosques as well. The fact that the Islamic religion forbids wine consuming could contribute to that, and coffee filled this void primely. This is how it could receive the name ‘wine of Islam’.
As the popularity of coffee grew, the first cafés appeared in the Near East, first in Persia and Egypt, and then in Turkey.
Turkey became familiar with the coffee consuming habit due to its conquests. They took a liking to it so much that the first cafés were opened in Istanbul as early as in 1554. They became so fashionable that many people spent their whole days in them. The wealthy Turkish households even had their own coffee-making servants.
‘Coffee should be baptized, because it is a real Christian drink.’ (Pope Clement VIII)
The first European records on the coffee plant are from the 16th century, taken from Arabic healers’ books, but the coffee drink and its effect was unknown for them.
It meant rather a botanical curiosity, as a potential herb. Coffee beans first reached Europe around 1624, owing to Venetian merchants, and later Dutch merchants entered the shipping competition too. The number of Turkish cafés in Europe increased due to the growing amount of shipments, which helped this odd black bitter but stimulating drink naturalize in Europe. Its colour did not do good to its popularity in the beginning – it was called the ‘devil’s drink’ – but the Church approved of its consuming finally, owing to Pope Clement VIII, who enjoyed drinking it as well. This time, only gentle-born people could afford the luxury and joy of coffee consuming. Until the end of the 17th century, coffee growing was controlled by the near eastern countries, but by this time, they could not satisfy the demands of Europe, thus the Dutch started considering growing coffee. After acquiring their first coffee seedling – that they stole from a botanical garden in Mocha according to a story -, they tried creating a plantation on Ceylon first, but without success. Finally, they managed to do it on Java and naturalized coffee there at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. They donated one of the seedlings they grew there to the Sun King (Louis XIV of France), not forefeeling that with this, they created their own rival on the coffee growing market.
In Hungary, coffee consuming became well-known as an inevitable part of Ottoman meals during the occupation. As the Hungarian phrase says it: ‘There is still black soup to be served’ – which comes from the end of the 1680s, meaning ‘worse is yet to come’.
Besides colonizers, monks and Catholic missioners also had important role in spreading coffee consuming. Coffee arrived in America via French, Dutch and Spanish mediation, thus there were active plantations in Central and South America around 1726. This success started the coffee growing in India, which resulted that the Near East lost its monopoly on the market for good. France took over this role. A borderline debate in 1727 between French and Dutch Guyanas contributed to Brazil’s becoming a coffee world power, during which they managed to acquire the first coffee seedling. In this period, exporting the plant was punished by death sentence. According to a legend, the ruler of Brazil, who was invited to be the conciliator, entrusted a handsome officer to seduce the wife of the governor of French Guyana. The young man received the coveted seedling hidden in a bunch of flowers from the woman.
Owing to the extended coffee cultivation and the boom of the industrial revolution, coffee became affordable for the great public. Due to the competition, its price diminished so much that more and more people could buy it. The appearance and spreading of the European-style and literary coffee houses also contributed to that.
Coffee growing increased until it reached an over-production in the 1930s, and thanks to this, the instant coffee was born. Then, the Brazilian government asked Nestlé to find a way to utilize the coffee of over-production, with a technology that allows storing coffee for a long time in good quality. This is how coffee became an inevitable accessory of weekdays and the most frequently consumed drink after water.
Five interesting facts about coffee:
The first European café called La Bottega del Caffé was opened in Venice in 1624.
The first Hungarian café was opened almost a hundred years later in 1714.
On the Turk-populated island Ada Kaleh, which belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, then to Hungary and later to Romania, there were several traditional Turkish cafés – from the 1600s to its inundation in 1972 -, where aromatic and strong coffee was roasted and boiled in hot sand.
Not only the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, but also the French Revolution and the American Civil War broke out at coffee-houses.
The substitute coffee is not a new invention; it has existed since the 18th century. They started to consume it because coffee beans were unaffordable for many, but they did not want to give up enjoying coffee drinking. Nowadays, substitute coffee is popular due to its beneficial effects.