In the East, coffee gained its popularity on all social levels from the earliest times. Some ancient Arab legends contain descriptions of this mysterious drink – black and bitter – with strange tonic properties. However, coffee was brought to the West only three centuries ago. If the discovery of coffee and the practice of roasting its beans was accidental, the same can hardly be said of its name, which undoubtedly originated from a fruit-bearing plant growing in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa and producing coffee seeds.
That’s where coffee began its journey, reaching Yemen and gradually spreading in Arabia and Egypt, where it became a part of everyday life, both for common people and rulers.
In the 16th century, trade relations between East and West intensified, and the appearance of coffee was met with enthusiasm both in the Old and the New World. Nevertheless, it took about 200 years for this enthusiasm to be transformed into a stable and well-established trade. In fact, the Arab world’s monopoly on the production of coffee around the world lasted until 1690 – after another player, the Dutch merchants, entered the world arena. Until then, people of Yemen carefully guarded the secret of the valuable plant. Coffee began to spread further when Baba Budan, an Indian who was on a pilgrimage to Mecca, introduced a mysterious drink in Mysore, a Dutch colony in India. All this was due to his excellent machination: Baba Budan hid some coffee beans in his clothes. Since then, things were developing fast. Coffee trade lost its exclusivity for the Yemenites, and the privilege of growing coffee was shared with the Dutch, who, under the leadership of Nicholas Witten, landed on the banks of Mokka in Yemen and took possession of a valuable coffee plant. Despite the fact they only took one plant with them, this specimen allowed to achieve an outstanding goal: the creation of all kinds of plantations all over the world, existing to this day. The Dutch plots of land in the East Indies, and later the greenhouses of the Botanical Garden in Amsterdam, have become home to one of the world’s most favorite plants. This paved the way for a large-scale development of the culture of coffee cultivation in Batavia, on the island of Java, and then in the East Indies, Ceylon and Suriname. The Dutch ships of the East India Company rounded the Cape of Good Hope and brought their precious cargo to the port of Rotterdam. From there, within just a few years, a large European coffee market developed.
Around 1700, in the Mediterranean Sea – a “crossroads” of different worlds – a route was laid that brought coffee to Europe. From the East this valuable drink got to Venice, Naples, Marseille, Amsterdam, Hamburg, London and became a regular drink on the Old Continent.
For the coffee tree, 1723 was a historical date: this year the plant was brought to Central and South America as a result of colonization. It all started when the Frenchman Gabriel de Clieu, a captain and infantry lieutenant who served abroad, came to Paris and asked the gardeners of the Royal Gardens of Versailles to give him one of the four coffee trees grown there to plant it on the island of Martinique. In May, the captain sailed from Nantes, heading towards the Antilles, and had to watch the plant day and night, because its security was threatened by endless difficulties along the way. Upon arrival, Gabriel de Clieu planted the tree. It was only a few centimeters in height at that time, and twenty months later, he got a rich harvest. The beans were distributed among religious communities and local residents, who quickly realized the enormous economic importance of this product. Within just three years, the island was literally strewn with thousands of coffee trees that were brought not only to Guadeloupe and Santo Domingo, but also to other French colonies: Guyana, the Antilles, Costa Rica and even to the island of Bourbon, later renamed Réunion.
The success of the new plant on the island of Martinique was partly caused by the eruption of a volcano destroying the cocoa plantations. As a result, they were replaced by coffee trees. The harvest from this territory allowed France to maintain its leadership in the European market up to the pernicious prohibition imposed by Napoleon, when other producers took advantage of the situation.
In 1723, both the Dutch and the French successfully exported the plant: the first – to the colony on the island Java, the second – to the island of Martinique.
Nevertheless, Brazil remains the world’s largest producer of coffee at the moment – a true earthly paradise for coffee connoisseurs.
The appearance of coffee in Brazil was remarkable in itself.
It happened in 1727. The credit goes to the brilliant Brazilian lieutenant Francisco de Mello Palheta. The incident occurred at a diplomatic meeting with the governor of Cayenne Claude de Guillonet (Lord d’Orvilliers) aimed at resolving some disputes over the border with Guyana. At the dinner, organized by the governor, coffee and liqueurs were served, and Palheta asked the hosts for a few coffee beans to plant in his garden. Lord d’Orvilliers refused politely, but resolutely, since he had a strict order from the government prohibiting the export of even a single coffee bean. After the dinner, an attractive Brazilian lieutenant accompanied the governor’s wife to a walk. When they passed the coffee trees dotted with red fruits, the governor’s wife, charmed by the lieutenant’s attentions, collected a few berries and put them into the officer’s pocket, saying: “Take them. My husband was strictly ordered not to give them to anyone, but I am free to offer them to anyone I like”.
In his book “Vida Maravilhosa e Burlesca do Café” Teixera de Oliveira confirmed that Palheta’s real purpose in Cayenne was the acquisition of coffee beans to plant on his land, rather than resolution of border disputes. Some documents found in the Brazilian archives mention the trick as well: “Get access to any garden with coffee trees and, on the excuse of trying the fruit, take some of its beans”.
Within just a few decades, the plant spread all over the state of Paraná. Despite the huge size of this territory and the difficulties created by the French and the Dutch, monopolists at that time, the perseverance of the Brazilians was rewarded and, though there were ups and downs, Brazil is still the largest coffee producer in the world.
The first plantations appeared in 1727, in rather unfavorable climatic conditions of the northern Brazil, and therefore a decision was made to move the plantation first to Rio de Janeiro, and later – in the first half of the XIX century – to the states of São Paulo and Minas. In these states, conditions were perfect for new plantations, which quickly became the most important economic source of the country. Despite its African origin, coffee was spreading more and more in Central and South America. Its homecoming was relatively recent. After the end of the First World War, the legendary drink reappeared on the African continent, brought in by the British, who gave a new impetus to the cultivation of coffee in Central Africa, restoring the tradition of growing the plant that had been exported from this region all over the world.