Mommy, where does coffee come from?

in Coffee History, Coffees of the World

Check out my profile of the Ueshida Coffee Company (UCC) in Kona Hawaii.  It was more than just an excellent tour of a coffee farm in one of the coffee world’s most esteemed places.  It was a lesson in where coffee comes from.

While it was a great lesson from the UCC, there is more to the origin of coffee than this.  For example, it’s not everybody that realizes that all coffee originates from Ethiopia and Yemen.


The tale goes that farmers couldn’t figure out what was getting their goats so excited.  They called them “dancing goats” and realized it was because they were eating what we know today as the coffee cherry.  The farmers consulted with Sufi mystics to get advice.  These mystics found a beverage made with the leaves and cherries of this tree kept them alert for hours of prayer, but not didn’t intoxicate them.  Coffee was born, and our first example of people using it to carry out their long duties while staying alert.

For centuries, Arabia controlled the trade of coffee.  They would only sell it roasted or else treated in water so that it wasn’t fertile and couldn’t be planted elsewhere.  Coffee was largely made available to the world through the Mokha Port in Yemen (identified below).  Rumor has it that a pilgrim from mecca and a Dutch importer separately smuggled raw coffee beans to India and Amsterdam respectively, and Arabia could not stop experimental growing in regions around the world.  The coffee cat was out of the bag.

In the 17th century, it found its way to Europe and led to the popularity of coffee houses.  The drink was advertised as a way to sharpen the senses, rather than dull them like alcohol does.  This appealed to the studious, and coffee houses became meeting places for academics and the educated of all types.

Strangely, the biggest detractor to the growth of coffee were women who were employed in ale houses and noticed the drop in business.  In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was drafted, warning men that coffee would make them “as barren as the desert out of which this unlucky berry has been imported”.  The best part is that by this point, there were prostitutes in the coffee houses so if the men couldn’t perform at home because they’d just come back from a coffee house, they’d tell the wives it was the coffee affecting them.  Supposedly, this is how the rumor began that coffee leads to impotence!

Coffee did not successfully grow just anywhere that farmers tried to plant it, but today, is grown in 70 different countries whose climate meets growing requirements.   Today, it is the world’s second most traded commodity after oil!  My opinion (maybe somebody’s said it before): ironic that oil and coffee are the world’s two most traded commodities, one fuels our technology, the other fuels our people.

For fans of the movie Bucket List, the most expensive coffee in the world comes from the excretion of the Asian palm civet, a small feline animal that loves to eat coffee cherries.  The civet’s system does not completely digest the cherry but apparently, adds a musky flavor that is a perfect complement to coffee.  It just means cleaning up after the civets and unfortunately, I assume the guy who has that job does not see very much of the price that this coffee fetches.  I don’t even want to know who discovered this coffee and why.

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