Coffee has a long and distinguished history, full of fanciful stories, acts of greed, thievery, daring and danger. The story you hear, of course depends on whom you ask.
Kaldi and the Goats
According to legend, the stimulant properties of the fruit of the Coffea arabica tree were first discovered by a goatherder named Kaldi. Whether Kaldi was from Ethiopia or Yemen is up for discussion, but citizens of each country claim Kaldi as their own. As previously mentioned, Kaldi was a goatherder, and one day Kaldi’s goats failed to return home. He went out to look for his goats, and eventually found them dancing next to a green bush with red berries. Now Kaldi was a very dependable, sober man, and Kaldi’s goats were likewise sober-minded goats, but when Kaldi tasted of the fruit of the tree to see what was up with his herd, he soon began dancing right along side his goats. After awhile, a monk happened along, sleepy after morning prayers. He curiously observed Kaldi and his goats dancing, and decided to take some of the berries back to the monastery. There he subjected the berries to some scientific testing, and before long all the monks were wide awake for morning prayers!
What We Know
Although the story of Kaldi is fanciful, the true story of coffee’s rise to prominence and its spread around the world is no less spectacular. Again, whether coffee was originally cultivated in Yemen or Ethiopia is up for discussion. What we do know is that it first gained popularity on a broad scale in Yemen.
As Coffee gained in popularity, the Arabic people forbade coffee cultivation to spread to outside regions. Any coffee that left the region had to be boiled or parched before being shipped. In 1650, however, the Arabic hold on this strong beverage was broken, when Baba Budan successfully transported fertile coffee beans to Indonesia. According to legend, Baba was a Moslem pilgrim, who taped 7 fertile beans to his belly and thus was successful in spreading coffee to India, where it was successfully cultivated. From India coffee beans were brought to Europe, where multiple attempts to cultivate them failed due to inappropriate climate conditions.
The spread of coffee around the world continued in the late 18th Century, when the Dutch brought coffee beans to what is now Sri Lanka, and Java, and it was successfully cultivated there.
In 1715 the Dutch, who owed a favor to Louis XIV of France, procured a coffee tree and brought it to France, where it was housed in the first-ever greenhouse built in Europe. From there, several sprouts were stolen by Chavelier Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, who transported them across the Atlantic Ocean to Martinique, in the Caribbean. En route, he endured an attack by a possible spy, bad weather, lack of water and an attack by pirates, before finally reaching his destination with one live sprout (in spite of having given part of his own water ration to the sprouts during the voyage). From this lone tree came most of the coffee trees now growing in Central and South America.
Next coffee beans were taken to the island of Reunion, where, through a combination of spontaneous mutation and natural selection, a new variant, or cultivar, was produced, called var. Bourbon. This tree grew slightly smaller beans, and was later transported back to Central and South America, and today grows some of the best coffees in the world.
Finally, in 1893, coffee seeds from Brazil were transported to Kenya and what is now Tanzania, only a few hundred miles from its original home in Ethiopia, completing a circumnavigation of the globe that took over 400 years.