"The Wise Gardener!"
The Sensual Pulse of the Tropics!

The History of Coffee...
A Chronological Compendium Presented

by Community Coffee of Louisiana!


thewisegardener.com proudly re-prints an article from Community Coffee, on the growing of coffee AND coffee's growth in popularity, over the centuries!  Paul, "The Wise Gardener!" couldn't have said it any better!

The Discovery of Coffee

The legendary story of coffee begins in the Ethiopian highlands around 800 A.D. A goat herder, named Kaldi, observed his herd's interest in eating berries of a certain tree whereupon they would become excited and spirited for periods of time. He noticed that after eating the berries his goats did not want to rest or sleep at night.  Kaldi probably experimented with the berries himself - only to find that he too shared in the goats’ revelry.

Word of this discovery spread to a local monastery. It was there that monks experimented with drinks made from the berries. This ‘brew’ kept them alert and able to continue their writing and prayer long into the night. This was the beginning of the spread of coffee around the world.


Early Cultivation in Arabia

The cultivation and trade of coffee began on the Arabian peninsula.  During the 15th and early 16th centuries coffee was being grown, harvested and traded for consumption throughout Egypt, Syria and Turkey. Yemen was the primary source for coffees during this time and the Arabians eagerly guarded and protected their increasingly valuable plant.

Coffee Reaches Indonesia

Soon, however, the plants were transported and successfully cultivated by the Dutch on the Indonesian island of Java and later to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes. Through trade and exchange by various European colonies, greenhouses and botanical gardens in Austria and Holland were soon speckled with this exotic plant species. The Dutch proved very successful with this new crop, producing and shipping coffee more cheaply than their Arabian counterparts to the coffee-craving Europeans.

The Gift that Changed the World

The journey of coffee across the globe to the Americas can be traced back to the Dutch and their island plantations in Indonesia. The popularity of coffee in Europe during the 18th century made it a valuable tool for barter and gifting. Wanting to please the king of France, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented King Louis XIV with a single coffee tree as a gift. The king planted the tree in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris where the heat and humidity replicated the Yemen climate and the tree flourished.

Across the Ocean to the Americas

Cultivation of coffee in the Americas began during the 1720’s when a French naval officer named Gabriel de Clieu transported a single seedling from the King’s Royal Botanical Garden to the island colony of Martinique. Though terrible storms destroyed most of the cargo and nearly sank the ship, de Clieu protected the vulnerable plant and delivered it safely. Little did he know that this seedling would become the rootstock for all of the coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America.

A Romantic Exchange and Brazil

Today Brazil is the largest exporter of coffee in the world. But the journey of coffee to this country was nearly as remarkable as that of de Clieu to Martinique. The French showed little interest in sharing this valuable crop with other colonial powers in the Americas. In 1727, Brazilian Francisco de Mello Palheta approached the Governor of French Guiana about obtaining seedlings and was flatly refused. But the Governor’s wife was taken by the handsome Brazilian, and as a going away gift gave him a bouquet of flowers with coffee seeds hidden within. When the seeds arrived in Brazil they were nurtured and flourished.

The Birth of Coffeehouses

The social qualities of coffee were quickly evident and it became a drink for many in public places.  The original “coffee houses” in the Near East were similar to those today - a gathering place for conversation, entertainment and the exchange of ideas among intellectuals.  By the 17th century, word of the beverage had traveled across the European continent.  With increasing demand and the popularity of coffeehouses in England, France, Germany and other countries, coffee became a permanent part of the landscape and daily life. In fact, by the middle of the 17th century, London alone sported between 300 to 2,000 coffeehouses.  Coffee was not immune to controversy during these times, however.

During the 13th to 17th centuries a person drinking coffee, or violating coffeehouse restrictions, in the Turkish Ottoman Empire (Turkey) could suffer punishment of severe beatings or even put to death. When coffee made its way to Italy during the 17th century it was labeled an invention of Satan and condemned by many local clergy. This label was forever lifted when Pope Clement VII tried the beverage for himself, liked it and gave it his approval.


Coffeehouses in New Orleans

The history of coffee and coffeehouses in New Orleans dates back over 200 years. The earliest coffeehouses, or ‘exchanges’ as they were called, were located on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter.  Here businessmen, such as bankers and importers, would meet to share information and ideas to further economic development of the fast-growing city on the Mississippi River.  By the 1840’s, its port was the 4th largest in the world.   Located at the gateway to the Caribbean, New Orleans was the closest port of trade for coffee to enter the newly formed United States. Development of coffeehouses in the Crescent City was a natural outgrowth of the coffee trade.  By the late 1850’s the city directory of New Orleans listed over 500 coffeehouses!
 


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