No one is exactly sure when coffee’s history begins, but the folklore surrounding its origins is fascinating. There is a legend in Ethiopian history which states that a goat herder found his goats prancing about a field with much more energy than usual after eating the berries of the coffee plant. After witnessing this, he decided to try some of the fruit for himself and found he had the same increase in energy and alertness. We now know that this is due to the high level of caffeine that comes from coffee. Upon witnessing this behavior from the goats and the herder, a monk took some of the fruit to try with his fellow monks, and they spent the whole night awake and alert.
Coffee went through many variations before becoming the drink we know and love today. Prior to any type of processing, coffee is a red fruit resembling a cherry or berry. What we know as coffee beans are the pit of the fruit, and they are green or light tan in color in their raw form. Prior to the 13th century, a few different beverages were made from the coffee plant. Some were fermented, some used just the fruit, some used the bean as well. Eventually, in Arabia during the 13th century, the tradition of roasting coffee beans began.
The stimulant effect of the caffeine found in coffee proved helpful during long prayer sessions among the Muslim community. Coffee became extremely popular in Arabia during this time. Now we enter into another part of coffee’s mysterious folklore. Arabs had cornered the coffee bean market, and purposed to keep it that way by rendering coffee beans infertile. Legend states that when an Indian pilgrim named Baba Budan traveled through Mecca, he managed to leave with fertile beans, thus beginning the robust European coffee trade of the seventeenth century.
Throughout the 1600s, coffee made its way throughout Europe, gaining more popularity everywhere it went. Beginning with the Dutch and making its way to France, Italy, and Spain, coffee took root and became a staple part of European culture.
Making its way to the Americas took a little more time, though. While coffee plants existed in America during the early eighteenth century, it wasn’t until after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 that coffee’s popularity took effect. From then on, our morning cup of coffee became just as American as baseball or pumpkin pie.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, coffee had truly become a worldwide enterprise. Around this time, pre-roasted coffee began being sold by the pound and became very popular among the cowboys of the American west and the gold miners of California.
Now, coffee is an art form. Small, independent roasters are forging their own path toward what it means to be a coffee drinker in America and around the world. We at Youngstown Coffee Company would not be where we are without this history, and we are so excited to be able to make our mark on the coffee world.