The History of Coffee

The History of Coffee

History is always shrouded in mystery and legend.

Indeed, the history of coffee has a number of theories that have become folklore and narrated down through generations. We will provide you with a version that the Turkish Coffee Club rather likes (of course you are more than welcome to your own)…

The discovery of coffee

Our favourite story is one which takes us back to the 9th Century involving an Abyssinian shepherd named Kaldi. Kaldi used to take his goats out to graze and every time they passed by the “the bush with the red berries”, his goats would eat the fruit and then begin frolicking about excitedly. Kaldi related this strange phenomenon to the local wise men. These sages also ate some of these “red” berries as an experiment and discovered that they were able to stay awake throughout their all-night worship rituals. The wise men decided that this was truly a sacred medicine. All this happened in Abyssinian province of Kaffa (…hence the name Coffee…).

Coffee is still grown in Kaffa today and this is possibly the oldest known native coffee trees in the world.

Coffee as a drink

Coffee as a drink developed through another famous story. Shehab Eddin, a mufti (Muhammedan priest), who during a trip to Abyssinia in the middle of the 14th Century, heard about this “red berry” phenomenan, which made the need to sleep disappear. Shehab Eddin decided to take some bushes back to his hometown of Aden in the land of Yemen. These were cultivated and the beans dried, roasted and turned into a form of drinkable liquid and a close relative to coffee as we know it. Shehab Eddin felt that the Sufi dervishes could use the brew to easier manage their nightly meditations. So popular was this drink that it soon spread to the rest of the people of Yemen and eventually to all the Muslim world through travellers, pilgrims and traders. Indeed, the Yemeni port of Mokka was where coffee first began to be exported (…again, does the name ring a bell with you?...)

The Turks are introduced to coffee

The Turks first came across coffee around 1517 when, Ozdemir Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Yemen, brought back some ground coffee to Sultan Suleyman The Magnificent. The coffee was prepared and served to the Sultan. So impressed was he that once he gave it the Royal seal of approval, coffee very shortly became a way of life. Over the course of time, preparation techniques were developed by the Turks that once refined, the method of preparation became so popular that the term “Turkish Coffee” was adopted by everyone throughout the land and beyond. The culture and conversation developed to such an extent that there was a need to create central meeting places for people to socialise and drink this beverage.

Coffee Houses of Istanbul

The first coffee houses had already been established in Damascus and Cairo, so with the Turks of Istanbul falling in love with the beverage too, it was inevitable that coffee houses would begin to spring up in Istanbul.

The Ottoman chronicler İbrahim Peçevi reports in his writings that in 1555 two men named Hakam from Aleppo and Shams from Damascus moved to the city and each opened their own coffee houses in Istanbul’s commercial district at the time,Tahtekale. As coffee houses spread, so did social activities such as the traditional Karagoz shadow puppet shows, troubadours, mimics and instrumentalists. Games, such as backgammon, were also played with a passion.

Coffee reaches Europe

It is common knowledge that coffee had already reached some parts of South Eastern Europe by way of trade with Yemen. However, coffee in Europe really didn’t kick off until the failed Ottoman sieges of Vienna. As the Ottoman Army retreated from the Gates of Vienna, they left their possessions behind, including barrels of coffee. When the Viennese realised that the barrels didn’t contain gunpowder, they began to pour the contents of the barrels into the Danube River. This was noticed by a Polish Army Officer called Franz Georg Kolschitzky, who had previously lived in Istanbul. Once he understood what was being thrown away he claimed the stocks of coffee left by the fleeing Turkish army for himself. He later opened central Europe's first coffee house in Vienna.

London Coffee Culture

The popularity of coffee spread through Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and eventaully arrived in London. Of course, coffee shops were nothing like the trendy shops that we have today. A true coffee house was crowded, smelly, noisy, feisty and smoky. You could locate a nearby coffee house in London by the smell of roasting beans, or by looking for a wooden sign shaped to resemble a Turkish coffee pot.

The coffee houses of England started the custom of tipping waiters and waitresses. People who wanted good service and a better area of seating would put some money into a tin labelled “To Insure Prompt Service” – hence the term “TIPS”.

Famous Coffee Houses in London

Coffee houses in London were dubbed “penny universities”, as it was said that “for the price of a cup of coffee, a man could pick up more useful knowledge in a coffee house than he could by applying himself to his books for a whole month”.

Some of the coffee houses in London became very well-known with different groups of workers and soon became the kingpins around which the capital’s social, political and commercial life revolved. Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley eventually became the London Stock Exchange, ship owners and marine insurance brokers visited Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House in Lombard Street and eventually became the headquarters of Lloyds of London.

Coffee meets technology

Over the course of time, the art of making coffee began to change and impatient Europeans were constantly looking at technology to find ways of reducing the brewing time of coffee.

Around the Mid-19th Century, both the French and the Italians claimed to have invented the first machine which forced hot water through the coffee grounds using steam instead of merely brewing it. The French called it “French Press” and the Italians “Espresso”

Meanwhile, In 1901 Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato of Chicago invented “instant” coffee.

In 1903, German coffee importer Ludwig Roselius and some of his researcher chums create Decaf coffee.

In 1946, Italian Achille Gaggia created cappuccino,

But the Turks could not be content and in 2004, Turkish electrical appliances company, Beko, invented the first ever semi-automatic Turkish coffee machine.

In 2014, Unesco declares Turkish Coffee to be part of its “intangible Cultural Heritage List”

As we suggested in the beginning of this article, there are many versions of the truth.

Ultimately, let’s have a Turkish coffee and talk…

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