The Strange History of Coffee, or how magic beans rule the world

cup of coffee with coffee beans
Magic beans that rule the world! No, really – the only commodity more traded than coffee is oil.

If you hadn’t guessed by the title of this blog, I like coffee. I like coffee a lot. While I’m not generally a person who cares if she swims WITH the stream, in this instance it doesn’t distress me to know that I’m not alone. Let’s take a look at the strange history of coffee, and find out how these magic beans rule the world.

Who Discovered Coffee?

Well – we don’t actually know who discovered coffee. Legend, however, has it that a goat herder on the Ethiopian plateau is the one we should thank. This goatherd noticed that when his goats ate the beans from a particular bush, they were much more energetic than usual, to the point that they didn’t want to settle down to sleep. When he remarked on this to a local monk, the monk picked some of the beans and made a drink from them – and found he could stay awake during evening prayers.

In the strange history of coffee, it's said the bean's properties were discovered by goats.
Goat eating coffee beans – nothing like getting your caffeine right from the source.

While the above legend is amusing, what we DO know is that, by the 15th century, coffee was being cultivated and traded across the Arabian peninsula and beyond. In fact, a Turkish law allowed a wife to divorce her husband if he didn’t provide her with enough coffee to last the day. You tell him, sister!

Coffee Wasn’t Immediately a Hit in Europe

Considering the fact that you can find a coffee joint in just about every city, you might be surprised that in the strange history of coffee, this wasn’t always so. In fact, when coffee first hit Europe in the 1600’s, it was condemned by the clergy, who called it “the bitter invention of Satan”. However, when Pope Clement VIII, in an effort to settle the issue, tried the drink, he found he liked it. It’s nice to be in charge.

Coffee, however, did take off, and in 1680 the first coffeehouse was opened in Vienna. By the 18th century, the coffeehouse would become a staple in the social and business life of the Viennese people; Beethoven wrote in his journals of meeting friends in the cafes there. He also told of sugar and coffee being used to bribe his household staff, and he himself is rumored to have had a specific routine for making coffee. Ludwig considered 60 beans to make the perfect cup, and supposedly chose, roasted, and ground them himself. Since he once fired and rehired a housekeeper on the same day because he couldn’t figure out how to work his stove, there’s doubt on the story. It’s a good story, anyway, and I’m keeping it.

Engraving of Beethoven
You can’t say the man didn’t have his opinion.

Coffee in the Colonies

It’s rumored that Captain John Smith brought coffee to Jamestown. Again, that’s another story we can’t really prove, but it wasn’t coffee that was the preferred drink in the colonies. Tea was the tipple of choice for all classes of folk in the colonies; however, when King George III put that pesky tax on the beverage, that changed. From that point on, coffee was to be found on most tables, and a tax had forever changed the beverage habits of a country.

The Strange History of – Insurance??

Plague for Lloyd's Coffee House - strange history of coffee includes insurance?
Plaque that makes the original location of Lloyd’s Coffee House .

Once the Pope gave the A-OK to the bean water, coffee started to spread through Europe. The first coffeehouse in Italy opened in 1645 (before the one in Vienna), and seven years later one opened in England. In 1686, Edward Lloyd’s Coffeehouse opened in London, and over the years became a resounding success. It became such a haven for wealthy merchants, mariners, and insurance agents to gather and discuss business that in 1774 it was re-invented as the Society of Lloyd’s. You probably know it today as Lloyd’s Of London.

If you enjoyed this strange history of coffee, leave a comment, or drop me a line! You can also find us on Instagram and TikTok (check the side menu for the links!).

What I’m Drinking:

Laughing Man Dukale’s Blend – Laughing Man is Hugh Jackman’s coffee, and it’s named after the Ethopian coffee farmer who inspired him to start the company. It’s fairly traded, supports various educational and community programs around the world, and it’s a cup of coffee you can feel good about drinking. This particular blend is a medium roast, a little chocolatey, and nicely bold without being overwhelming.

Mug of the Day:

For Further Research:

Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World, by Mark Predergrast

Some of the links above may be affiliate links; if you chose to purchase any of the products above using the link, I get a little coffee money. It costs you nothing to use the link, and thank you if you do!

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