The History of Coffee
The history of coffee is intriguing and shorter than that of its sister beverages, tea, and hot chocolate. Native to Africa and Ethiopia specifically, the plant grows in equatorial and tropical climates. According to a long-standing myth, around 850 CE an Ethiopian goatherd called Kaldi noticed his goats jumping about and full of energy after munching on a particular plant. He tried the coffee fruit himself and felt the effects, inadvertently discovering what would become the world's favourite beverage.
Regardless of whether or not this legend is true, we know that coffee officially emerged on the world scene some 800 years ago in Yemen. When some Sufi mystics began to roast the seeds and use coffee to replace wine in their religious ceremonies, brewing knowledge quickly spread throughout the Islamic world. Coffee-houses in their traditional sense existed as early as the 15th century, and men gathered there to discuss politics and write poetry. In fact, the governor of Mecca once shut his city's coffee-houses down, due to the rebellious political ideas that were born in their walls.
Coffee began to go international with the conquests of the Ottoman Empire, who spread the beverage throughout its lands. With Muslim prohibition of alcohol, coffee spread like wildfire, earning itself the nickname "Wine of Arabia." Several years later, the European colonial machine got its hands on coffee beans and the beverage spread even further across the globe. Coffee-houses hit Venice in 1645, England in 1650, France in 1672, and the New World (Boston, specifically) in 1676.
With the spread and unprecedented demand for this hot beverage, European colonialists pushed for increased production in many regions of the world - Africa, Oceania, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. It is in these areas in which coffee's history begins to be stained with slavery. In pursuit of the product, colonial interests imposed quotas on the coffee-producing native populations, often leaving them enough time to produce only coffee. These inhumane conditions left them vulnerable to starvation.
While propped up by unjust working conditions in many parts of the world, coffee simultaneously represented and undermined the political establishment. Just like their predecessors in the Arab world, cafés in Europe played a large role in politics and innovation. Historical creations from the London Stock Exchange to the French Revolution were born and played out in the coffee shops of Europe.
While espresso is sometimes considered synonymous with European coffee tradition, it is a relatively recent innovation. Its name comes from the espresso machine's ability to produce coffee at "express speeds", or very rapidly. Invented around the turn of the 20th century in Italy, espresso-based drinks were served in cafés throughout Europe by the 1930s though they were only adopted by American markers recently.
Today, boasting more than 10 billion coffee plants, Brazil holds the crown for the world's biggest coffee producer. Vietnam comes in second, followed by Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. All in all, over 50 countries produce coffee, fuelling addiction to this drink that took the world by storm.
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