HISTORY OF COFFEE: INTERNATIONAL COFFEE DAY
Yesterday, September 29, was National Coffee Day in the US and 16 other countries.
But tomorrow, October 1, is International Coffee Day, shared by the National Coffee Day in 12 countries.
Whether percolated, filtered, steeped in a French press, poured over, or made with high-pressure steam in an espresso maker — at 10 to 15 times the quantity of coffee-to-water as gravity-brewing — 90% of humans ingest this caffeinated beverage regularly. It is the most widely used psychoactive drug, capturing the imagination of people the world over.
History of Coffee Day
It became International Coffee Day first in Milan, Italy, at Expo 2015 back on October 1, 2015, following a decision by the International Coffee Organization the previous year. Expo 2015 was a World Expo focusing on “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” where the Italian companies Illy and Lavazza sponsored coffee.
However, other Coffee Day events had occurred in the decades preceding it, including one by The All Japan Coffee Association. In 2005, National Coffee Day first appeared in the US. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum held a press conference about International Coffee Day as part of the New Orleans Coffee Festival. China, by way of the International Coffee Organization, first celebrated in 1997, after which it became an annual event in April 2001.
So it isn’t easy to ascertain precisely when Coffee Day was born.
Coffee: Legal Addictive Stimulant
Tom Hanks, as the character Joe Fox in the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” talks about Fox Bookstores that sell
“cheap books and legal addictive stimulants.”
And while coffee is legal now and is provided for free at work offices and churches, it was not always permitted in the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, or Islam. But first, some history.
History of Coffee
The etymology of the word may give us clues. Originally the Arabic word qahwah was a noun for a type of wine; the verb form qaha meant “to lack hunger,” perhaps referring to coffee’s appetite-suppressing quality. Kaffa refers to a kingdom in medieval Ethiopia where the coffee plant may have been exported to Arabia. The feminine form of the Semitic qhh is qahwah which means “dark in color, dry, sour.”
The origin of coffee is shrouded in legend. We can track it back at least to the middle of the 9th century, but it’s hard to document. We know that in the early 15th century, Sufi monasteries in Yemen knew of it as an aid to concentration and to keep awake for nightly devotions, spreading to Mecca and Medina.
It spread north to the Middle East and Turkey by the end of the century. In 1570 there were more than 600 coffeehouses in Constantinople alone.
Coffee traveled east to Persia and South India and west to northern Africa. From there, it spread north to Italy, the Balkans, the rest of Europe, and Southeast Asia. The Dutch shipped it from Europe to the East Indies and the New World, in Central and Southern America.
In Islamic lands, particularly in Mecca, it was forbidden in 1511 for its stimulating effect by conservative, orthodox imams at a theological court there. But by 1524, the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I issued a fatwa (legal decision) that removed it from the haram (forbidden) list and allowed drinking coffee as halal (legally permissible).
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church banned it before the 18th century but turned to widespread consumption in the 1880s because Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia drank it.
Coffee in Europe
Coffeehouses in Austria go back to the Battle of Vienna in 1683, where the Ottoman Turks were defeated in their march west into Europe. The spoils of that defeat were coffee beans. Sugar and milk were added to the coffee brew. One style of drink, made from foamed milk and a glass of water, is called melange… shades of Dune!
But coffee had arrived in Europe over a century earlier in Hungary as part of the Battle of Mohács in 1526 against the Turks. It quickly moved to Vienna within a year. It was popularized across the Hapsburg Empire, including cities like Trieste, Austria.
Trivia: “Cappuccino” came from the Viennese Kapuziner coffee, but was developed in and spread across Italian-speaking parts of the northern Italian empire. The name comes from the color of the habits worn by Capuchin friars.
In England, the first coffeehouse opened in Cornhill, London, coffee having arrived no later than the 16th century. There were thousands of coffeehouses in London at their peak, one for every 200 Londoners.
Perhaps the most famous coffeehouse was Queen’s Lane Coffee House, which Cirques Jobson, a Levantine Jew from Syria, opened in 1654 in Oxford and is still running today,
However, they moved to the current location on the north side of the High Street in 1970.
Curiously, I was in Oxford recently and looked directly across the street. On the south side of the High Street is an upscale coffee house that more modestly claims, according to Samuel Pepys’ Diary, they’re the first coffee house in England, with a date of 1650.
Back then, coffee cost a penny, but the information there through newspapers, books, magazines, and conversation – was free. Coffeehouses were often referred to as “penny universities.”
In France, coffee beans came via the ambassador from Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire in 1669. The first continuous coffeehouse, where they even mixed coffee with chocolate, was Café Procope, established in Paris in 1686, as I’ve discussed here.
The 19th-century French historian and author Jules Michelet wrote:
“Coffee, the sober drink, the mighty nourishment of the brain, which unlike other spirits, heightens purity and lucidity; coffee, which clears the clouds of the imagination and their gloomy weight; which illumines the reality of things suddenly with the flash of truth.”
Coffee in the Americas
Coffee first came to the Caribbean in Martinique in 1720. From plantations there, it spread to Haiti, Mexico, and other Caribbean islands.
It spread to South American countries like Brazil and French Guiana. Brazil became the world’s largest producer of coffee beans by the mid-19th century. It spread as well to Central America, including Guatemala and Costa Rica.
In Boston, the social center of New England, the 1773 “Tea Party” caused tea drinking to become unpatriotic, and coffee drinking soared. Coffee had been available from the first licensee of coffee, Dorothy Jones, since 1670. Coffee thirty years earlier was in New Amsterdam (New York City.) The famous London Coffee House opened in 1689 but was renamed The American Coffee House with the arrival of the American Revolution in the 1770s.
Coffeehouses: “Dens of Dissent”
During the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, these early English coffeehouses became gathering places for deep religious and political discussions among the populace. This practice became so familiar and potentially subversive that King Charles II of England attempted to crush coffeehouses in 1675. But the king’s war against coffee lasted only 11 days because the public openly ignored his ban. He canceled it two weeks before it was to go into effect “out of princely consideration and royal compassion.”
Café Procope in Paris, mentioned above, hosted not only the artistic and literary community like Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Balzac — it was the birthplace of the Encyclopédie, conceived initially by Denis Diderot — but back in the 18th century, such revolutionaries as the French Robespierre, the American Ben Franklin, and a young Napoleon Bonaparte.
Initially, Boston coffeehouses were
“generally meeting places of those who were conservative in their views regarding church and state, being friends of the ruling administration. Such persons were terms ‘Courtiers’ by their adversaries, the Dissenters and Republicans.”
But the Boston coffeehouse and tavern, the Green Dragon, built in 1701, was known as the “Headquarters of the Revolution” because of the meetings in the basement. Members of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons, including Paul Revere, bought the tavern in 1764, and the Sons of Liberty began meeting there. The Masons met on the first floor. The coffeehouse was also a meeting space for business, politics, theatre, concerts, exhibitions, and other secular activities. Some even suggest that parts of the Boston Tea Party were planned there.
According to Daniel Webster, this tavern figured in practically all the important national affairs from 1697 to 1832.
Coffee: “Devil’s Drink”
A popular story, perhaps legendary, told by coffee lovers is that Pope Clement VIII was pressured by his advisers in 1600 to denounce coffee for its association with Islam and its curious effect on drinkers. They called coffee a “bitter invention of Satan.” They claimed, “the drink would corrupt their congregations with its great tasting bedevilment.”
But Clement needed to investigate this Italian addiction further. After tasting a hot cup o’ joe, he reportedly commented
“Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”
He then blessed coffee beans and suggested that it would be better for people to drink than alcohol.
Coffee: It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
The first espresso coffeehouse on the West Coast of the U.S., Caffe Trieste, has been a San Francisco landmark since 1956. I recently visited it, where musicians have been performing for years, especially since the Bohemian (Beatnik) days of North Beach, the predominantly Italian neighborhood in San Francisco.
Coffee: By Any Other Name
Mocha is a city in Yemen and is also the name for coffee (espresso) and chocolate. It’s my favorite delivery method for caffeine.
Developed by James Gosling and others at SunLabs, it was initially called “Oak” after a tree outside the Labs. I was a product manager at Sun back in the mid-90s, and I called my fellow product manager, Kim Polese, who managed Java, and asked her why the name changed from Oak to Java. She told me
“We wanted something that captured the idea of energy and movement.”
In Praise of Coffee
During the early part of the 1730s, Johann Sebastian Bach composed in Leipzig his Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, known as the “Coffee Cantata,” where a young lady extols the virtues of the new fashion, coffee drinking, to her disapproving father:
Oh! How sweet coffee does taste,
Better than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscat wine.
Coffee, coffee, I’ve got to have it,
And if someone wants to perk me up,
Oh, just give me a cup of coffee!
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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