After oil, coffee is the world’s most traded commodity. Though its true origins remain unknown, it seems to have originated in Ethiopia where the fossil remains of a group of Australopithecus afarensis, mankind’s oldest known ancestor, were unearthed by paleontologists. According to folklore, an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi discovered the stuff when his goats ate the berries and allegedly became so frisky that they “danced.” The following day, realizing that the goats hadn’t been poisoned, he decided to partake.

Its use with the Ethiopians were many. They brewed the leaves and berries and drank it as a tea, they ground the beans and mixed them with animal fat for a quick energy snack. They made wine out of the fermented pulp, made a sweet beverage called qishr out of lightly roasted husks of the coffee cherry, a drink now known as kisher. It was maybe around the 16th century that someone roasted and ground the beans, making an infusion resulting in what we know as the beverage, coffee.

Within the Arab world, coffee houses — known as qahveh khaneh — sprung up. As the drink increased in popularity, coffee gained a reputation for being a “trouble-making brew” and in 1511, coffee houses of Mecca were forcibly closed. Like wine, they were outlawed by the Koran, and it remained that way until the Cairo sultan heard about the news and reversed the ban.

Pope Clement VIII at one point tasted the beverage and allegedly said, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a Christian beverage.”

So, what was/is the allure with coffee? One is that it provides an energy boost. Then there’s the camaraderie of the coffee houses which allowed people to get together for conversation, entertainment and business, inspiring agreements and poetry. Coffee houses provided the starving artist a place to expose his work or make business contacts. Writers and actors also benefited from these surroundings because it offered the opportunity for them to meet people who might help them produce their art. These same coffee houses provided a living for fortune-tellers, who claimed to read coffee grounds. So important was the stuff, that in Turkey, lack of sufficient coffee was grounds for a woman to seek a divorce!

Coffee reached Germany in the 1670s, and by 1721 coffee houses were in most German cities. Federick the Great found the stuff too popular and in 1777 issued a manifesto for beer.  Fast forward four years and he forbade coffee roasting except in official government establishment, forcing the poor to resort coffee substitutes such as roast chicory root, dried fig, barley, wheat, or corn. As you can imagine, some were still able to get their hands on real coffee beans but were put out of business by government spies called “coffee smellers” once sniffed out.

It’s unknown when coffee was first brought to America, but it gained popularity with the Boston Tea Party, when switching to coffee from tea was the thing to do in order to show patriotism (sort of like the short stint with Freedom Fries). One of the oldest coffee houses in the United States is the Green Dragon in Boston, a coffee house tavern which also served ale, beer and tea.

In 1714, the Dutch gave a coffee plant to the French. Nine years later, Gabriel-Mathieu de Clieu introduced coffee cultivation to the French colony of Martinique.

In 1727, Brazilian government official Francisco de Melo Palheta introduced them to Brazil by planting them in his home territory of Para, from which coffee spread southward. It’s worth noting that the intense labor required to grow, harvest and process coffee came from slave labor.

As for my favorite local coffee house, that honor goes to Harold’s in Northwood Village. Reasons are many but to name a few, their involvement with the local community, their support of local art, the many and varied events taking place, and for serving my favorite ginger plum tea.

DID YOU KNOW? During its long history, coffee houses have gone by various names:

  • Schools of Wisdom’ (A meeting places of men of arts and literature), then
  • ‘Penny Universities’ in England (They became popular forums for the learned and the not-so-learned to discuss all manner of topics including politics and current affairs and a penny was the price of a cup of coffee)
  • ‘Seminaries of Sedition’ in England (A view held by the authorities who saw them as anti-social and ordered them closed in 1675 due to The Women’s Petition Against Coffee. From 1663 the coffee house in England had to be licensed.)  and
  • ‘KaffeeKlatsch’ in Germany (The derogatory term originally coined to describe a women’s gossip session at afternoon coffee. It has since been broadened to mean relaxed conversation in general)


  • Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic, 2010. Print.
  • Avey, Tori. “The Caffeinated History of Coffee.” PBS. PBS, 08 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.
  • Grynwich, Stephanie, and Allison Neal. “Compelling Facts.” Coffee House Culture in 18th Century London. University of Michigan, 2003. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.
  • Baskerville, Peter. “The World’s Most Historic Coffee Houses.”, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.