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The history of how coffee spread across the world is a story of a world changing.

It is a story of religion, slavery, smuggling, love, and community. Although

gaps remain, we can trace its journey with the help of both fact and legend.


Coffee was discovered at least 1,000 years ago.No one knows for sure, but many believe that theorigins of Arabica lie in South Sudan and Ethiopia, and that Robusta was born in West Africa. Even before the seeds were roasted, ground,and brewed to make the coffee we drink today,coffee cherries and leaves were used for their invigorating properties. Traveling herders in Africa mixed coffee seeds with fat and spices to create “energy bars” for the long periods of time spent away from their homes. The coffee leaves and cherry skin were also boiled to create an invigorating, caffeine-rich infusion. It is thought that coffee was carried to Yemen and Arabia by African slaves. In the 1400s, Sufis drank a tea made from coffee cherries called “quishr” or “Arabian wine” that helped them to stay awake during nightly prayers.

The news of its stimulating effects spread, and spaces opened where traders and scholars

could drink and interact freely, known as “schools for the wise.” Some people worried

that quishr was incompatible with religious beliefs, but these early cafés stayed open and increased coffee’s popularity. By the 1500s, Arabs had started to roast and grind

the cherry beans to create a coffee much like that we enjoy today, which spread to Turkey,

Egypt, and North Africa.


The first to trade coffee, the Arabs were so protective of their coffee that they boiled the

beans so that no one else could cultivate them. However, in the early 1600s, a Sufi smuggled

seeds from Yemen to India and a Dutch trader smuggled seedlings from Yemen and planted

them in Amsterdam. By the end of the 17th century, coffee had been planted in the Dutch

colonies, particularly throughout Indonesia.

The Caribbean and South American colonies planted coffee in the early 1700s. The Dutch

gave seedlings as a gift to the French, who took them to Haiti, Martinique, and French

Guiana. The Dutch planted their coffee in Suriname, and the British brought coffee

from Haiti to Jamaica. In 1727, the Portuguese sent a naval oicer from Brazil to French Guiana to bring back coffee seeds. Legend has it that he was denied, so

seduced the Governor’s wife, who smuggled them to him in a bouquet spiked with seedlings.

From South America and the Caribbean, coffee spread to Central America and Mexico. Toward the end of the 1800s, coffee seedlings were returned to colonies in Africa.

Today, coffee production has also spread to new areas of the world, particularly Asia.

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