C O F F E E   T H R O U G H  T H E  A G E S

Coffee is one of the most popular hot beverages in our culture. Since its discovery, it has had a decisive influence on the economic, political and social structures of whole countries. Whether it is celebrated in style, gulped down on the run, or picked up as a takeaway on the way to work: coffee was always, and remains, part of our culture.

9th century

The history of coffee begins close to the Garden of Eden. Early signs lead to Ethiopia, to the Abyssinian highlands and to Kenya.

There are quite a few versions of the discovery of this black gold. The best-known and oldest of these legends dates from the 9th century in Arabia and tells of the goatherd, Khaldi.

Khaldi was looking after goats in the Yemeni highlands. Every day he led the herd to new pastures. One day, after the goats had been munching on a certain shrub with red berries, they began jumping about more than they had ever done before.

The abbot of a nearby monastery, who heard about this, had some berries collected from the bushes and made into an infusion for his Order. Sure enough, it had the same effect on the monks, who were able to keep praying through the night without becoming tired. Soon they couldn't do without the drink and began to put aside stores of the berries. During the rainy season they hung twigs full of berries over an open fire to dry. Once, one of the twigs fell into the fire unseen, the beans were charred and gave off an aromatic fragrance. Attracted by the scent, the monks saved the blistered beans from the fire, ground them up and then prepared their usual infusion. They quickly noticed that the taste of this drink was far more delicious, and that the invigorating effects remained. The secret of coffee beans had been discovered!

14th century

Name and development
The first centuries of the history of coffee remain rather clouded. Not until the 14th century is coffee mentioned in contemporary accounts, when its cultivation in the terraced gardens of Yemen is reported. It was here that coffee was planted regularly for the first time. Coffee probably arrived in this region with Ethiopian warriors who carried the red berries with them as provisions for their marches. Finally, coffee spread from the port of Aden in southern Yemen to Mecca, the holy city of Islam.
Even then, Yemen was an important centre of the Arab world which every good Muslim should visit at least once during his lifetime. This is where the first coffee houses developed, where travellers from all corners of the earth learned to appreciate coffee. The word 'coffee' also originated from this region, stemming from the Arabic-Turkish description of a stimulating drink: 'kahwe'.

16th century

This 'stimulating' effect caused influential religious leaders to forbid the drinking of coffee in 1511, because it had similarly damaging effects to alcohol. Within a very short time this led to the burning of all coffee stores and a ban on sales. But the actual reason for the ban was less the stimulating effect of coffee than the growing number of coffee houses, which were suspected of being the breeding ground for free political thinking. The spread of coffee was not to be stopped that easily, however. Mecca was the hub of many trading routes, so it was only a question of time until the beans also appeared in the big trading cities of Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo. The Yemeni port city of Al-Mukha, a flourishing Red Sea coast trading centre between the Middle East and India, became the main coffee shipping location. It is from here that the strong coffee of the Orient takes its name: mocha.
To make sure that they maintained their world monopoly on coffee, the Yemeni rulers prohibited the export of coffee plants. Only roasted or boiled coffee beans, which were no use for planting, could leave the country. Theft of the plants was heavily punished. This explains why, for a very long time, no country outside Yemen was able to cultivate coffee.

17th century

It was not until 1618 that a Dutch merchant succeeded in smuggling out some of these desirable coffee plants.

Soon after, botanists in the Dutch colony of Java, today part of Indonesia, grew the first seedlings into trees with surprising success. The fine volcanic soil and the humid island climate suited the coffee trees excellently, and the world's first overseas coffee plantation was created.
The first coffee beans were brought to Europe by the Dutch East India Company during the 17th century. Gradually, the other colonial powers also began to experiment with coffee cultivation in their colonies, the British in Jamaica and Africa, the Portuguese in Brazil, and the French in the Windward Islands and Guyana. Coffee arrived in Germany at about the same time and the first German coffee house opened in 1673 in Bremen. Four years later, a second one was established in Hamburg; the beverage quickly spread from the maritime trade centres throughout the whole of Germany.

When coffee houses are mentioned, one usually thinks of Vienna. There was a dramatic beginning to the development of a coffee culture in the Austrian capital: in 1683, the city was besieged by the Turks and was only liberated by a townsman disguised as a Turk. He smuggled himself across the frontier to plead for help from Lorraine. Together they succeeded in driving away the Turks. They left behind 500 sacks of raw coffee beans. That's how coffee came to Vienna!
Initially the Viennese did not really take to the bitter Turkish mocha. Resourceful coffee house owners refined it by adding cream and honey, and dubbed the drink 'Vienna melange'. Once the Viennese began to offer confectionery with the coffee, the coffee houses became really popular. It is said that the Empress Elisabeth was addicted to the sweet accompaniments to coffee - she probably wasn't the only one. Vienna's coffee-house culture remains unique in the world today.

18th century

Coffee-house culture flourished in Germany, too. It became a growing habit to meet over coffee and biscuits. Musicians often gave small public concerts in coffee

houses. One of the conductors of musical performances of this type was Johann Sebastian Bach. His famous Coffee Cantata was first performed in a coffee house in 1732.
The Prussian state was as strict with the desirable beans as Yemeni rulers had been hundreds of years before: the import and roasting of coffee was a made a state monopoly. Smugglers thought up the most absurd tricks to bring it across the border. They are said, for example, to have carried the coffee across the border in coffins, pretending that they contained relatives who had died of leprosy. Out of fear of the disease, Customs officers kept their distance and let the coffins past, along with three to four hundredweight of coffee.

19th century

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the colonial powers continually expanded coffee cultivation in Africa and South America. Today, the so-called coffee plantation belt extends right around the globe between the latitudes 23 north and 25 south. After crude oil, coffee is the second most important product in global trading. Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia and Kenya are just a few of around 50 coffee-exporting countries. The world's annual harvest adds up to around six million tonnes of raw coffee beans, of which around five million tonnes are for export. One hundred million people live directly or indirectly from the cultivation and processing of coffee.

The history of coffee is a history of success. Charting its course is a global voyage and has shown to what ends people are prepared to go in order to get their hands on this stimulating drink. During the years of huge inflation in Germany in the 1920s, the price of a pound of coffee rose to three billion marks. In the second world war, import restrictions paralysed the coffee market completely. It was just such deprivations, however, that helped to make coffee the symbol of freedom and enjoyment that it is today!