Even though coffee was first introduced to Europe in 1615 by Venetian traders, it took another two centuries for the bean to begin cultivation outside of Arab lands.
Up until early seventeenth century, the Arab nations had quite the monopoly on coffee. At that time, coffee was widely known as “Arabian wine” or “wine of Araby”.
In order to closely guard its cultivation, it was a common practice for Arabs to boil or lightly roast coffee seeds before they were exported. This was done in order to render the seeds infertile.
Despite these efforts, the cultivation of coffee began to extend beyond the Middle East. First, the bean settled westward into Europe, and eastward into Persia and India. Only then, the coffee made its way to the New World.
The First Coffee Cultivators in Europe
The first attempts to cultivate coffee plants in Europe failed numerous times. The first successful cultivation did not occur until the Dutch took control of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from the Portuguese in the mid-1600s. Not knowingly, the Dutch inherited small coffee plantations that were seeded by Arab traders.
The Dutch took over the plantations and developed even more on the Malabar Coast of India. But, it was not until the 1690s that the Dutch took some coffee plants to their colony Batavia (now Java), which eventually became their main source of supply.
Eventually, the Dutch started taking seeds from Batavia to the Hortus Botanicus (botanical gardens) in Amsterdam that they managed to successfully cultivate in greenhouses in 1706.
Interestingly, the first botanical description of the coffee tree was made in exactly those gardens by a French botanist by the name of Antoine de Jussieu in 1713. Today, coffee-lovers from around the globe can visit the botanical gardens to gaze on plants that have a direct lineage back to the eighteenth century.
But, enough about the Dutch.
Coffee Cultivation Outside of Europe
On a completely separate stage, in 1670, the Sufi mystic Baba Budan allegedly smuggled seven coffee seeds from Yemen to the hills of Chikmagular in Karnataka in southwest India. Conveniently, this location, later on, became a renowned coffee-growing region.
Around the same time, coffee began spreading to the West thanks to the Columbian Exchange. This term refers to the widespread transfer of anything from plants, culture and ideas between the Americas and the Old World. It is named after Columbus’s voyage to the New World of the Americas in 1492.
Coffee and tea flowed one way, and chocolate the other way. The Dutch again played a role here, by establishing coffee cultivation in their South American colony of Dutch Guiana (now Surinam). But, this was not done until the early eighteenth century.
Interesting fact: In the early eighteenth century the mayor of Amsterdam presented the Sun King of France, Louis XIV with a coffee plant from the botanical gardens. Later on, in 1723, a French naval officer by the name of Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu took a cutting from the plant and sailed with it to French Caribbean colony of Martinique. It was from that plantation that coffee spread to other places in South America. Legend has it, that coffee was first smuggled into Brazil.
Moving on to Central and South America, coffee was widely popularized by the Spanish and the Portuguese. As most of you can guess, tea was the drink of choice for the British North American colonies.
However, that began to change with the 1773 Boston Tea Party protest. This rebellion was against the heavy duty placed on tea by the British government at that time. Following these events, coffee became the patriotic drink in the Thirteen Colonies that formed the United States at that time.
Coffee Going Global
Interestingly, today the vast coffee-cultivation area known as “the bean belt” sits almost entirely within the humid equatorial region between the two tropics. Most commonly, these regions have steady temperatures of around 68 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius), rich soil, moderate sunshine, and rain.
Today, the world’s top ten coffee-producing countries according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO) are:
Statistics demonstrate that Brazil is currently producing almost one-third of the world’s coffee. The diversity and range of product quality that comes out of Brazil is quite different, since most farms there are smaller than 25 acres.
Purchasing coffee has become increasingly complicated not just for the end users, but for coffee houses as well. With so many countries and regions within the countries producing coffee, it is hard to tell what is good and what is bad. This is why at Coffee Dorks we urge you to keep trying different brands until you find the ones that you truly enjoy.
On top of the countries and the regions, various soils and terroirs can produce beans with similarities if they are processed in the same way. In other words, it is not solely the location of the bean that drives its taste.
A true coffee lover’s only option is to taste, identify personal preferences, and continue to be an analytical consumer. The beauty of the global market is that it gives us access to explore the huge range of coffee available.
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.