How Was Coffee Discovered?

How Was Coffee Discovered?

Have you ever wondered how people survived without coffee? What led them to discover it and how, and what is the history behind it? Well, that wonderful drink you are holding on to, has a wondrous past, too. So, keep on reading to find out more. P. S. There are dancing goats, healers and monks involved!

The History of Coffee

The history of the discovery of coffee is anything but simple. It's a story spanning many centuries across the entire world after its humble beginning in Africa. While the coffee plant is native to the central and eastern parts of the continent, it was first consumed as a drink in Yemen in the 15th century. It got there through Somali traders and that's where the roasting, brewing, and consuming were first done as we do it today.  


There are many legends about the discovery of coffee, and while some of them are obviously fictional, there's one that we find very plausible. It says that the Oromo people living in modern-day Ethiopia's region of Kaffa were the first to notice the energizing effect of the coffee plant. What they would do is take some coffee and be able to walk for ages without feeling tired or hungry.

Another legend says that the Moroccan Sheikh al-Shadhili invented the coffee drink. He was traveling through Ethiopia and suddenly noticed that some birds were flying full of energy after eating some sort of berries. When he found out what those berries were, he tried them himself and also felt full of energy, and that's how he discovered coffee.

While the Oromo people legend seems like a very possible scenario about coffee's discovery, and so does the Sheikh al-Shadhili one, there are two more that we like. It's easy to tell that this was obviously not how coffee beans were discovered, but they're still fun to go through.

The Kaldi Coffee Origin Myth

The legend says that coffee Kaldi, a goat herder in Ethiopia discovered coffee around 850 AD. Kaldi noticed that his goats were eating some odd red berries that he hadn't tried before. After eating them, the usually lazy goats were full of energy and seemed to be dancing around. 

Fascinated by the effect that coffee had on his herd, he tried some himself and found that he felt more awake and alert. He took some coffee berries to the local monastery, where the monks were surprised to find that they could stay up all night praying after eating the berries. They began cultivating coffee plants, and coffee soon became a crucial part of religious ceremonies. Not long after, the word about the berries that let anyone stay up all night spread, and the rest is history. Nowadays, coffee is the second most widely spread beverage only after water and next to tea, the second most widely drunk hot beverage in history.

The Myth That Omar the Healer Discovered Coffee

Our favorite coffee origin myth is probably the one about Omar, the healer. He was a Yemeni living in the coastal city of Mocha, working as a healer. At some point, due to circumstances long forgotten, he was banished from the city. He found some unusual berries that he hadn't seen before on his way across the endless Yemeni flat-topped hills and rugged mountains. As he wasn't sure whether these beans were safe to consume, he thought it was best to boil them first. He then decided to drink the beverage he'd made, and something surprising happened. He felt refreshed and full of energy. Then the word about what we now know as coffee spread, and he was invited back into Mocha.

Origin of Coffee's Name

How coffee got its name is a question that has intrigued coffee lovers for centuries. There are many stories and theories about how coffee got its name, but the most likely explanation is that it is derived from the Arabic word for wine, “qahwah”. That would make sense because coffee was first introduced to Europe via the Arab world, and the drink was known as "the wine of Islam." Another theory suggests that coffee gets its name from the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, where coffee trees were first cultivated. In any case, coffee has been enjoyed by people all over the world for centuries.

It's fascinating to think of a world with no coffee and how at some point someone just stumbled upon a berry he'd never seen before. Let's now look into how it became so popular and spread across the entire world.

How Did Coffee Become so Popular?

Coffee became so widely spread for the same reason we're drinking it today - the fact that it helps energize and wake up. While the coffee beans were first discovered in Ethiopia, in the 1400s coffee spread everywhere around Yemen. In fact, as we already mentioned, it was probably Somali traders who began selling it in the Middle East, usually getting in through the port of Mocha.

This way, the Arabs were enjoying coffee on a daily basis, and it was often called the wine of Arabia. At some point, coffee houses showed up and were eventually known as "Schools of the Wise". They became not only a place where one could enjoy a cup of coffee but discuss ideas and learn new information, gradually becoming a social haven. So, it's safe to say that the habit of meeting friends at Starbucks began in the 15th century.

However, due to the high admiration of these coffee houses, Mecca declared coffee a forbidden beverage because of its mind-stimulating effect. The same also happened in Egypt and Ethiopia leading to a decline in the number of people who drank coffee as they were often persecuted. Eventually, though, riots broke out on the streets as many people wanted coffee to be treated as any other herbal plant. As a consequence, in no time, all went back to normal.

Due to the wide spread of coffee and the fact that Mocha was placed on important trade routes, the city became synonymous with the drink. While Mocha is no longer the main stop for coffee traders, it is still very often related to coffee. In addition, not only do we have a Mocha coffee drink, but the Moka pot was named after it.

When Did Coffee First Get Into Europe?

The first record of coffee being in Europe is from Venice in the 17th century, thanks to the constant trading with North Africa. In this process, Venetian merchants, who had tried coffee in their travels, decided it would sell in Europe, and it sure did. Not long after coffee was first imported into Europe, Pope Clement VIII baptized it, which meant that it was now easier to sell and buy coffee in Europe.

The first European coffee houses opened around the middle of the century, initially in Italy. Eventually, in 1652, Pasqua Rosee and Daniel Edwards (a merchant of Turkish goods) opened arguably the first coffee house in England, in Cornhill (a district of London), making it the first London coffee house. Just like in the Middle East, the word for coffee got around very fast, and within the next century, more than 3000 coffee houses appeared just in England.

Even though it took a bit longer to spread out, coffee was just as liked in France. First introduced by an ambassador of Mehmed IV in 1670, coffee became a big part of French everyday life in a matter of years. Vienna was one more coffee capital of Europe. It got its first coffee house in 1683 and was vital in helping the city withstand the Ottoman siege of the same year.

It didn't take long before more and more coffee houses appeared all across Europe, making it a major part of European culture. The process was very similar to what happened centuries prior in the Middle East. In fact, coffee got even bigger, and Finland is now the nation where the most coffee is consumed per capita, averaging between three and five cups per day.

Coffee Crossing The Atlantic and Spreading Around the World

The last step for coffee was the Americas. It was already widely drunk in Europe, but the coffee beans kept taking on the world and not long after made their way across the Atlantic Ocean.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Dutch made a big step in the spread of coffee. King Louis XIV of France was given a young coffee plant, which was a great gesture. Unfortunately, the Dutch climate is way too cold and rainy for coffee to be cultivated there, so that was done in a special greenhouse. The French knew that and made sure the plant was protected in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Paris.

Not long after, a French Navy captain named Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, who was stationed in Martinique, was visiting Paris. History doesn't say if he stole clippings from King Louis' plant or they were given to him. What matters is that this is how coffee made its way to the Caribbeans.

The journey took weeks, and de Clieu did his best to ensure the plant survived it. Due to the scarce water resources, he even had to go often thirsty himself. His efforts were well worth it, as even though de Clieu probably didn't know that, the small island had perfect conditions for growing coffee. They helped him set up the first coffee plantation, which made the spread of coffee both in the Americas and in Europe a lot easier.

Around three years after planting the first seed, the coffee beans spread to the neighboring islands of Saint Dominique and Guadalupe. The fact that the plant could be grown there made the islands more attractive, so both Europeans and locals spread coffee north and south. A few years later, in 1730, the English Governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes, bought coffee beans for the island. Within a short time, coffee was growing in the Blue Mountains, which turned out perfect for growing coffee.

How Did Brazil Become a Coffee Empire?

You probably know that Brazil produces a lot of coffee. It is actually the biggest coffee producer worldwide. It all set off when Francisco de Melo Palhet, a Brazilian colonel was sent to Guyana to settle a dispute between the Dutch and the French in 1727. That was only a reason to send him there, as he was actually there to get some coffee beans and bring them back to Brazil.

He first asked the French Governor for some coffee beans but when he disagreed, Francisco used his charms on his wife. As a result he managed to trick her into giving him a handful of coffee beans which he later took back to Brazil.

Nearly a century later, the production of coffee boomed. Brazil became one of the countries that produced the most coffee almost immediately. In 1852 it actually became the world's largest coffee producer, and in 1893 some of its seeds were taken back to East Africa to be cultivated there.

The Boston Tea Party Helped Spread Coffee to North America

In 1773 a group of patriots, many dressed as Native Americans, got aboard the English Tea Ships in the Boston harbor and threw all the tea into the ocean. They considered it a sign of rebellion against the English taxes on tea, which made drinking tea very anti-American. Naturally, coffee stepped in to replace it. The Boston tea party was the first step in making the US the leading importer of coffee in the world.

A surprising fact is that today coffee is also grown on American territory. In 1817 coffee berries were brought by Brazilians to the island of Hawaii. Even though it wasn't a part of America back then (it became a state in 1959), the plantation started. When Hawaii became the 50th state, Americans could finally enjoy their local-grown coffee.

How Did Coffee Variations Appear?

One of the things that made coffee so interesting was its variations. These variations came to be when people all over the world began adding condiments they already had around the house to their brew. Moreover, there are different ways to make coffee, and each country has its own unique way of preparing it. In the United States, for example, coffee is often made with cream and sugar. In Italy, coffee is often served with a sweet syrup called amaretto. And in India, coffee is often served with spices like cardamom and cinnamon.


The history of coffee is a rich and interesting one. It has traveled all over the world, been enjoyed by many different cultures, and has even played a role in political disputes. Coffee is a truly global beverage, and it doesn't look like its popularity is going to die down any time soon.

If you're looking for a way to make delicious Italian coffee, you should look into purchasing a Moka pot. What you need to know is that it's important to buy a high-quality one which you can find in our store.
Back to blog