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Fun Facts about Coffee

Coffee is one of the most well-known beverages throughout the world. And with good reason, as coffee has a rich tradition and history specific to many different parts of the world. From its use in ancient religious ceremonies to its association with rebellious political activity in Europe, coffee has come a long way.

Now, coffee and even coffee machines are a big part of the economic climate for many countries, and coffee itself has become a valuable commodity.In fact, it's been predicted that in 2010, more than 7 million tons of coffee will be produced around the world.

History of Coffee

Ancient Coffee

The history of coffee is an old one, but there is some confusion over where the beverage originated from. The earliest records indicate that coffee first appeared in the highlands of Ethiopia sometime in the 9th century. Legend has it that shepherds were the very first to observe the powers of caffeine stemming from coffee beans.

According to stories, some of their goats were the first to ingest wild coffee berries, and the animals appeared to have an increased energy level afterwards. The shepherds even claimed that their goats began to "dance around" after consuming coffee berries. 

Roasted coffee beans and espresso

From there, coffee spread through Egypt and Yemen before becoming quite trendy in Arabia during the 1200's. From there, coffee plants spread as traders crossed the continent.

During the rise of Islam, which prohibited the use of alcohol, coffee received a boost in popularity, becoming an acceptable drink of the religion and culture, despite not having the modern technology or coffee makers we all enjoy today.

Coffee was used as a substitute for wine in spiritual practices in areas where alcohol was forbidden. It was even called "qahwa," which is the ancient Arabic for wine.

It was from that term that the word coffee originated. By the 15 century, everyone throughout the Islamic world enjoyed coffee in some form and coffee houses could be found in every town.    

Arab pilgrims eventually brought coffee out of the Muslim world and into India. Legend has it that these first Arabian coffee seeds smuggled out of the country are the ancestors for much of the coffee that we enjoy today, and that even today, India still produces high quality coffee beans from these original Arabian coffee seeds.

Probably a bit of a stretch, but coffee trees have since become a standard crop in India. Sometime during the 17th century, coffee was imported into Europe where the real coffeemaker revolution started.

Europe and America

There was a strong coffee trade market between the Muslim world and Italy, as traders in North Africa, Egypt and the Middle East brought coffee beans along with other African goods to the region. It wasn't long before traders and merchants introduced coffee to the wealthy in Venice - for a hefty fee, of course. Soon after the drink spread to the rest of Europe, including England. Not long afterwards, coffee houses opened in the major cities across the continent, led by the Dutch. Soon, there were houses in London and Oxford as well.

By the start of the 18th century, coffee had gained a foothold into most of Europe. During this time, colonists from Europe brought the beverage with them to other tropical countries, in essence introducing other far-reaching parts of the world to coffee.

These tropical areas were a perfect spot for growing the coffee crop, which in turn would help to supply the growing European demand for coffee beans. The British East India Trading Company eventually specialized in providing coffee to England, while other manufacturing countries and companies raced to make newer and better coffee makers.

Roasted coffee beans on a full cup of coffeeInterestingly, once coffee finally spread to the original American colonies, it was not as popular or well-received as it had been in Europe. However, the demand quickly increased during the Revolutionary War, as tea became more and more difficult to obtain from British merchants.

Years later, Great Britain further increased demand for coffee in the Americas when they temporarily cut off access to team imports during the War of 1812. As brewing technologies advanced, so did the American taste for coffee, and by the Civil War, coffee had found itself ingrained in America's everyday life.   

Coffee as a Controlled Substance

Coffee has spent many years as a banned substance around the world:

  • Coffee was briefly prohibited to all Muslims, and leaders actually put the drink itself on trial in Mecca, where it was accused of being a heretical substance.
  • An edict from Sultan Murad IV in Ottoman Turkey prohibited coffee for all people of the nation.
  • Once it was accepted by all the Muslim religion, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians prohibited the drink, only rescinding in the early 1900's.
  • In fact, all Christians were prohibited from enjoying coffee, with some church leaders referring to the drink as the "bitter invention of Satan," until Pope Clement VIII declared his love for coffee and lifted the ban in 1600. 
  • Due to it's association with rebellious political activities in Europe, England banned the drink for a short period of time in 1675. The king of England at the time went so far as to claim coffee houses were places where people conspired against him.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints calls for complete coffee abstinence even today, which follows in accordance with the Mormon doctrine of health.

Other Fun Coffee Facts:

Cowboy Coffee -- According to legend, cowboys used to make coffee by putting ground coffee in a clean sock and dunking it in cold water. They'd then heat it over the campfire, and pour the liquid into tin cups when it was ready to drink.

Turkish Divorce -- Bridegrooms in Turkey were once required to make a binding promise to always provide their wives with fresh coffee. If they didn't, it was grounds for divorce!

Coffee Bath -- People in Japan, which is the third largest coffee consumer in the world, bathe in coffee grounds fermented with pineapple pulp in an attempt to improve their skin and reduce wrinkles.

Beethoven's Perfect Cup -- The great composer Beethoven was so particular about his coffee that he always counted exactly 60 beans for each cup when making his brew.

Royal Coffee -- French King Louis XV was rumored to spend more than 15 thousand dollars every year on coffee for his daughters. In the 1700's, a mere thousand dollars was an amount unheard of in most parts of France.

Coffee Revolt -- In 1785, a revolt broke out in Prussia because coffee was restricted to the nobility, the clergy and other high officials.

Civil War Shortage -- During the American Civil War, a coffee shortage led soldiers to roast sweet potatoes and Indian corn as potential substitutes.

Coffee Balls -- In its infancy, coffee was actually consumed as a food, with Ethiopian tribesmen mixing coffee berries with animal fat and rolling them into edible energy balls.

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