Barista Research: The History of Coffee

Barista Badge, Step 1

Coffee plays an integral part in many morning routines around the world. It wakes us up, gives us energy, and warms the soul. But coffee is more than just a morning beverage! It provides people with the opportunity to meet, discuss issues of the day, and to join together.

Coffee has a very long and interesting history. Coffee has been coveted, smuggled, and banned. It has inspired riots and helped create nations. Join us as we travel the world to find out how coffee landed in our kitchens, cafes, and drive-throughs!

This post is part of our Barista Badge. You can learn more about the badge and how you can earn it in the gray box below.

Earn the Barista Badge

If you are interested in earning the Barista Badge yourself, you can see the Journal Badge Guide, or “recipe” for the badge here. Each Badge Guide contains three steps to be completed in order to earn the badge. These steps can be done on your own, but we encourage you to grab a few friends and learn together!

Step 1 is always focused on research. Look up the topic online, watch videos to learn a skill, or visit your local library.  You can read about the resources and fascinating facts we found below.

The History of Coffee

How Coffee Grows

Image result for vintage photograph coffee bush

Before beginning with the history of coffee, I wanted to learn more about how coffee grows. Coffee begins as a fruit grown in warm tropical climates. Coffee beans (the pit of the fruit) grow on a low bushes and come in two varieties: red or green. I was amazed to learn that coffee is the world’s second largest commodity after crude oil!

But how did coffee come to be so popular? Where was coffee discovered? Read on to discover the legend of how humans stumbled upon coffee and how it spread throughout the world.

The Discovery of Coffee: The Legend

Coffee originated in Ethiopia. According to the website HomeGrounds, coffee was discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi in 700 AD. Legend has it that he realized that his goats were acting strangely and dancing about after consuming some red berries. Kaldi took these red berries to a Monk who either delighted or disdained them (depending on who is telling the tale). Soon after, the pit of these berries were ground and boiled to produce coffee!

Coffee Timeline

Photo by Michael Block on
  • 700 AD- Coffee discovered in Ethiopia
  • 15th Century- Coffee made it’s way north to Yemen. Known as the “wine of Araby,” coffee became popular in Egypt, Persia and Turkey. Coffee houses opened all over Arabia and were known as “Schools of the Wise” and became the center of social activity.
  • Early 1500’s- Courts in Mecca, Cairo, Egypt, and Ethiopia banned coffee due to its stimulating effects. Riots broke out in several places and eventually these bans were lifted.
  • 1570- Coffee arrives in Venice.
  • 1615- Pope Clement baptized coffee and declared it a Christian beverage.
  • 1600’s- Coffee houses pop up all over England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland. They become a place of intellectual conversation and political debate.
  • 1670- Despite Yemen’s tight control on who could purchase coffee beans, Baba Budan smuggled fertile beans to India and began to farm coffee.
  • 1683- Austria’s first coffee house opened and was called The Blue Bottle. Here the practice of adding milk and sugar to coffee was popularized.
  • 1704- Coffee smuggled by the Dutch began growing in Java. Indonesia coffee is still called Java today!
  • 1714- The Mayor of Amsterdam gifted King Louis of France a young coffee plant. This plant was sent to the greenhouses in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Paris. Clippings of this plant were sent to the Caribbean (which had ideal growing conditions). These plants spread to become coffee plantations all through the Caribbean and Central and South America.
  • 1727- A Brazilian Colonel named Francisco de Melo Palheta seduced a French Governor’s wife to persuade her to secretly give him coffee plant clippings to bring back to Brazil. These clippings started the largest coffee empire in the world!

Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world.

a map of coffee history around the world

  • 1773- The Boston Tea Party occurs. Tea becomes unpatriotic and coffee quickly replaces it as the American beverage of choice.
  • 1817- Coffee seedlings introduced to Hawaii.
  • 19th Century- Coffee becomes a global phenomenon.
  • 1818- The percolator was invented in Paris.
  • 1864- The first modern roaster was invented by Jabez Burns of New York.
  • 1865- The first American patent for the percolator by James H. Nason.
  • 1871- John Arbuckle invented a machine to package coffee and became the largest importer of coffee in the world.
  • 1886- Maxwell House founded and named after the Maxwell House Hotel.
  • 1901- The first espresso machine was invented in Italy. This machine produces coffee under pressure very quickly and allowed the inventor’s employees to get back to work faster.
  • 1908- Melitta Bentz, a German woman, invented the paper coffee filter. It was made from her son’s school work!
  • 1920’s- Prohibition in the US causes coffee sales to rise dramatically!
  • 1942- Instant coffee became popular with soldiers and civilians.
  • 1966- Peet’s Coffee opens in California. Alfred Peet and friends eventually open a coffee shop in Seattle called Starbucks in 1971. The shop sold beans but not brewed coffee.
  • 1987- Howard Schultz purchases Starbucks and combines their roasting techniques with the Italian cafe concept. The Starbucks model becomes a huge success.

The United States is the leading importer of coffee and buys more coffee than any other county.

As you can see, coffee has a long and interesting history. Coffee culture is alive and well today. Coffee remains popular not just with home brewers but also in retail and specialty coffee shops. Coffee shops are destinations and just like in the 15th century, they are places to learn and grow and have conversations with friends.

Did you know: Decaffeinated coffee is made via a chemical process that removes the caffeine from the bean. Coca-Cola often purchases the caffeine that has been removed.
Image result for vintage photograph coffee

Coffee Podcasts and Videos

This Stuff you Missed in History Class podcast titled Coffee: The World’s Drug of Choice is highly entertaining and informative. The podcast discusses the history of coffee and other interesting facts like how the age of enlightenment coincides with coffee replacing beer and wine consumption and how the “coffee break” was invented in the 1950’s.

Check out this History of Coffee in 5 Minutes or Less video on YouTube.

This video discusses the rise of Starbucks.

Join us for part 2 of the Barista Badge as we continue our research about coffee. We will look into coffee tools, terminology and techniques for home brewing!

We want to hear from you! How do you drink your coffee? Where is your favorite coffee shop and what makes it special? Do you know any interesting coffee fun facts? Message us on Instagram or Facebook or drop us a line here.

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