The word “coffee” comes from the Arabic word “QAHWAH”, which was originally a drink extracted from some seeds that had stimulating effects on humans. Later on the word became “KAHWEH”, in Turkish, and then Caffè in Italian. Many affirm that the word “caffè” comes actually from Kaffa, which is the name of a region in South-West Ethiopia where the plant was widely spread.
No one knows exactly when coffee was discovered, its early history is confused, uncertain and linked to several legends. Its diffusion as a commercial item started at the end of the XIV century, when it was taken to Arabia from Abyssinia following the Ethiopic invasions and was cultivated in Yemen. Before then, the Ethiopians harvested the red fruits of the coffee (very similar to cherries) and would eat the sweet pulp of the ripe fruits, from which they would get a juice that was sometimes fermented to obtain alcoholic beverages. The Arabs were amongst the first to commercially grow coffee and to diffuse its consumption. In the XV Century the drink started to spread in the Middle East and subsequently in Europe and the Americas. In 1615 Venice, because of its commercial relationship with the East was the first Italian city to buy coffee beans, while in the Balkans the drink was very common in the XVI century.
This was the time in which Europe knew cocoa, tea and tobacco as well. During the medieval era and in the beginning of the modern one, coffee started to appear as a breakfast drink, because of its ability to stimulate mental activity it was possible to prolong the working hours. In 1616 coffee got to Europe from Yemen and was reproduced in the botanic garden in Amsterdam. In Holland, the East Indian Company started to cultivate coffee through the end of the XVII century in Guava, using seeds coming from Yemen. Later on, the coffee reached the isle of Martinique thanks to a young French official who brought a little plant with him from the botanic garden of France.
From this Island coffee was diffused in the West Indies and in the rest of Latin America. It was in this period that the Brazilian coffee empire was born, when a Brazilian official, during a trip in a French region, was given as a present, by the governor’s wife, a bunch of flowers that enveloped a little coffee plant.
Toward the mid XVII Century coffee started to be imported and consumed in England also. The first coffee shop was opened in Istanbul in 1554, and around 1650 a businessman named Jacob opened one in Oxford. In France the early coffee shops appeared around 1671.
In Italy the first coffee shop was opened in Venice in San Marco square in 1683. Coffee houses soon became meeting and grouping places, where businessmen, intellectuals and artists would often debate politics. Between the end of 1700 and the beginning of 1800 the coffee consumption exploded, reaching a peak of 90.000 tons, half of which came from Brazil.
The great competitiveness of the market, thanks to the dismantlement of monopolies, brought to a lowering in prices for the consumers, and the enormous demand for the product required the developing of new production areas.
So, in the beginning of the XIX century the Dutch expanded their plantations in Indonesia and toward the end of the 800s the English, the French and the Germans developed the production in their colonies
There are many legends regarding the origins of coffee. The most famous one tells that an Ethiopic shepherd named Kaldi, not seeing the goats he was watching coming back, went to look for them and found them hyperactive and full of energy. He was so curious to understand the behavior of the animals that he followed them, and noticed that they were attracted to eating some red berries from a bush and to chew on its leaves. The little shepherd picked some of the fruits and brought them to a monastery. The friars, as they did with other fruits, made an infuse out of the berries and when they drank it they actually found out they could keep awake during their prayer vigils. They called that energizing drink “qahwah” (which means: that which stimulates and keeps high) .
Another legend, instead, features Mohamed, who, as he was feeling sick, saw the archangel Gabriel who gave him a potion as black as the Black Rock of Mecca, which made him feel better.
Pellegrino Artusi (gastronome and literary critic during the mid-1800), affirmed that the best coffee was the one coming from Mocha, a city in Yemen, and that this was a hint to find out its place of origin.
Coffee is cultivated in all the inhabited continents except for Europe and North America. The plants require a temperature never higher than 37°C and never lower than 4°C. Such conditions are steadily possible only in tropical areas. At the center of the Geography there is Latin America, Brazil, in fact, is the main coffee producing country, with its 8 million square meters of plantations. The classification of Santos Coffee (name taken by the boarding port) is in fact dominant. The main world producers, after Brazil are Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia, followed by Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru’, Ethiopia and India in variable productivity order based on the yearly yield. South Central America holds almost 50% of the world production.