As legend has it, coffee’s story begins in the Ethiopian highlands, picked by the weathered hands of Kaldi the goatherd. While grazing his sheep near a particular type of tree, Kaldi noticed that his sheep became enlivened when they ate the bright red berries from the branches, causing them to lose sleep at night. As was considered duty, Kaldi reported this odd finding to the abbot of a local monastery, who conducted research on the berries. The abbot decided to make a tea, immediately finding the beverage allowed him to stay focused throughout the many hours of evening prayer.
Beyond legend, the earliest historical mention of coffee was in the 15th century, when monasteries in Yemen began to utilize coffee to aid in concentration during prayer. It was imported to Yemen from Ethiopia for cultivation. News spread quickly about the berries and drink, creating interest across the Arabian peninsula where importation and cultivation quickly took hold. By the sixteenth century, coffee had spread throughout the region, making its way to Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. In 1414, the new “wine” was known in Mecca, and by the 16th century, coffee was embraced by major cities throughout the region including Mocha, Cairo, Aleppo, Istanbul, and Baghdad.
As it became widely adapted, coffee became available in the many newly established public coffee houses. These coffee shops became centers of community activity, frequented by individuals interested in the arts, entertainment, politics, and intellectual advancements. People came to play chess, exchange information, and listen to music, gaining unparallelled popularity.
Coffee consumption and cultural influence continued to spread, making its way to Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Strong trade between the Republic of Venice (Italy) and ports in North Africa brought a good deal of African products to Europe. Coffee, and the cultural excitement that followed the beverage, was among these products. The shops that typically appeared in the wake of coffee’s trade success quickly gained ground in Europe, picking up the nickname “penny universities” because, for the price of a penny, one could buy a cup of coffee and participate in stimulating and educational conversation. The first coffee house in London had such a reputation, located in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill.
Despite coffee’s enormous popularity in Europe, it was not wholly accepted without controversy. Critics viewed the new and mysterious beverage as overly bitter, finding its stimulation odd when compared to their usual breakfast beverages of beer and wine. This cultural battle, similar to controversy surrounding the beverage in Ethiopia sometime before the 18th century, culminated around 1615 when local clergy in Venice condemned the beverage, eventually bringing the issue before the Pope. The Pope tried the caffeinated drink and adored it, immediately giving it papal approval. Soon enough, people found themselves drinking coffee and tea instead of beer and wine early in the day, improving their productivity and awareness. Coffee spread quickly throughout Europe, entering Austria through the spoils of war, England through East India Company trade, France through travelers and political ambassadors, and Germany through their northern ports.
Coffee followed Europeans to the Americas early in the 18th century where they began cultivation of coffee throughout Central and South America, including the Caribbean. It is said that the United States was introduced to coffee by Captain John Smith, the founder of the Colony of Virginia, in 1607 because of his travels throughout Turkey. That being said, the first American record of coffee was in New York in 1668, likely influenced by English colonization. At the time, tea was the most popular cultural beverage, in part because of the expense of coffee importation. But when King George levied a heavy tax on tea prior to the American Revolution, Americans quickly chose coffee as their patriotic beverage, leading to the heavy preference for coffee in America. During the revolution, many American leaders shared coffee during their hours of debate and conversation.
From the beginning, coffee has experienced enormous popularity and quick global growth. Since its discovery in the Ethiopian highlands, coffee roasting has enjoyed constant experimentation and development, over the period of hundreds of years creating the drink that millions of people enjoy daily. Canyon Coffee Roasters is proud to be a small part of this global tradition, working diligently to continue the perfection of coffee.