A Brief History of Coffee

• 1-500 AD – According to local legend, coffee is discovered near present-day village of Choche in Ethiopia by a goat-herder who notices his animals “dance” with an unusual amount of energy after eating wild, bright-red Arabica coffee berries. Locals began consuming the coffee “cherries” (coffee beans with husk) as a stimulant, either eating the beans mixed with animal fat, or by making a weak brew with the cherries and coffee leaves. There are other theories that coffee was first discovered by a similar goat-herder in Yemen on the Arabian peninsula.

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• 500-600 AD – The first coffee houses are introduced in Cairo and Mecca. A vessel called the Ibrik is used to brew a weak coffee using unroasted coffee cherries.

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• 1400′s – The first extensive planting of coffee trees takes place in the Yemen region of Arabia. Arabians become the first to roast and grind coffee before brewing it. The use of coffee beans spreads throughout the Arabian peninsula and later via the Ottoman Empire to Turkey, where the first coffee shop, Kiva Han, allegedly opened in Constantinople in 1475.

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• 1500′s – Coffee drinking continues to spread in Egypt, Syria, Persia and Turkey. Cafes flourished in cities like Baghdad, Constantinople and Cairo.

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• 1600′s – Coffee brought to Europe by Venetian traders. Coffee houses open in Europe – in 1608 the first one opens in Vienna, Austria; the first one allegedly opens in England in 1652. Many women in England band together to try to ban coffee drinking because their husbands are spending too much time in coffee houses. It becomes common to roast and grind beans before brewing. Coffee comes to America in 1607 with Captain John Smith. In 1690, the Dutch become the first to transport and cultivate coffee in Ceylon and the East Indies.

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• 1700′s – Before the time when filters were used, coffee is prepared by boiling coffee grounds with water. Many coffee pots are designed, all with the purpose of trying to trap the coffee grounds before the coffee is poured. Typical designs feature a pot with a flat expanded bottom to catch sinking grounds and a sharp pour spout that traps the floating grinds. Other designs feature a wide bulge in the middle of the pot to catch grounds when coffee is poured. In France, in about 1710, the Infusion brewing process is introduced, which involves submersing the ground coffee, usually enclosed in a linen bag, in hot water and letting it steep or “infuse” until the desired strength brew is achieved.

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• 1723 – Gabriel Mathieu do Clieu, French naval officer, transplants a stolen coffee seedling on the island of Martinique – the first planting in the western hemisphere.

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• 1773 – The Stamp Act of 1776 places a tax on tea, which was then the U.S.’s national drink, thus making tea more expensive and nudging people over to drinking coffee. Continental Congress declares that coffee is the new national beverage.

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• 1780′s – The first coffee brewers to feature a place for a filter, called Mr. Biggin coffee pots, began to surface and become very popular. Coffee is made by placing a cloth sock across the mouth of the brewer, putting coffee grounds into the sock, and then pouring hot water over the grounds. Coffee was then dispensed from a spout on the side of the pot. The quality of the brewed coffee depends on the size of the grounds – too course and the coffee is weak; too fine and the water doesn’t go through the filter. A major problem with this brewer was that the taste of the cloth filter – whether cotton, burlap or an old sock – transfers to the taste of the coffee.

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• 1790-1810 – There are lots of innovations from France. With help from Jean Baptiste de Belloy, the Archbishop of Paris, the idea that coffee should not be boiled gains acceptance. The French Drip Pot is developed. In this method of brewing coffee, two chambers are stacked one upon the other, with a cloth filter placed in between. Finely ground coffee is packed into the upper chamber and boiling water is poured over it. The coffee slowly drips into the lower chamber, from which it is served. The process is slow and the resulting coffee not very hot. Count Rumford, an eccentric American scientist residing in Paris, develops a French Drip Pot with an insulating water jacket to keep the coffee hot. The first metal filter is developed and patented by French inventor.

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• 1818 – Americans make Cowboy coffee by pouring ground beans into a pot with water, then heating the water until it boils. The coffee is then strained before it is consumed. Some people place the grounds in an old sock before placing them into the water.

A Parisian metal smith named Laurens invents the first coffee percolator.

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• 1820-1850 – Louis Bernard Babaut creates the first known espresso machine. The machine works by using steam pressure to push steam through a chamber containing coffee grounds in a special filter. In 1843, the machine is commercialized by Edward Loysel de Santais and then exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1855, where it is able to produce 1000 cups of coffee per hour. Although a great advancement, the machine is subject to blowing up and also produces a bitter coffee when it overheats or is not operated correctly.

Many inventions are introduced in Europe for various steam-powered coffee makers, plus grinders and roasters. Madame Vassieux of Lyons develops the first vacuum pot, where water is heated and the steam rises to an upper compartment where it saturates the coffee grounds. When the heat source is removed, and the steam condenses in the lower compartment and creates a vacuum which draws the coffee back through the filter into the lower compartment. Many of the early vacuum pots are made of glass, which sometimes blows up from the pressure.

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• 1859 – The Raparlier vacuum coffee pot is invented, which can simultaneously heat water and brew coffee. It has a glass upper bowl with graduated lines, which display how many cups of coffee have been brewed. The Raparlier pot features a hemp filter, which fits between the two compartments and is disposed of after each use. The filters are cheap and do not impart any unpleasant tastes in the coffee.

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• 1889 – Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich patents an American percolator coffee pot. (Other sources claim American James Mason patented the first coffee percolator in 1865.) Similar in principle to the vacuum pot, the percolator works by heating the water near the bottom of the portion of the percolator and forcing it through a tube into the top potion of the percolator. The water then percolators down through the coffee grounds back into the bottom portion. The percolator is removed from the heat source when the desired strength is reached. The significant difference between a vacuum pot and a percolator is that the desired temperature is maintained in a vacuum pot, whereas the coffee in a percolator is brewed with boiling water, which makes the coffee bitter.

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• 1890′s – The plunger filter, now known as the French Press coffee brewer, is invented. It works by having the coffee grounds in a filter compartment that is lowered into the hot water and then pulled up with a rod when brewing is complete. The idea behind the plunger filter is that the grounds could be removed before the coffee becomes bitter. French press brewers are still very popular today. Other sources claim an Italian named Calimani invents the French Press brewer in 1933.

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• 1903 – Decaffeinated coffee is invented. The brand name is Sanka, from the French phrase “Sans Caffeine”.

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• 1905 – An Italian, Desiderio Pavoni, buys a patent from Luigi Bezzera and forms the first company (La Pavoni) to market a commercial espresso machine. Pavoni incorporates the talents of famous designers in the design of his machines.

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• 1909 – After being invented by Japanese American chemist Satori Kato of Chicago, an English chemist named George Constant Washington introduces the first mass produced instant coffee. The coffee, known by the name “George”, becomes popular with the American soldiers during World War 1.

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• 1912 – Germans housewife Melitta Benz invents the Melitta coffee filter paper using blotting paper borrowed from her son’s school supplies. The filters eliminate the need for linen or cloth filters and create an efficient disposal method for coffee.

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• 1926 – A Trademark is registered for “Maxwell House Good to the last drop”.

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• 1935 – Italian Francesco Illy invents a machine called the Illetta, which makes espresso by using compressed air for pushing the steam through coffee grounds. His machine was a vast improvement on earlier machines, which only used steam for creating the pressure and frequently blew up.

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• 1938 – Freeze-dried coffee invented and marketed under the name Nescafe.

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• 1947 – Achille Gaggia designs the first espresso machine to use a spring-loaded lever to force water through the coffee grounds. By using a lever, the pressure applied to the coffee by a spring was independent of the pressure in the boiler. At the same time, the water temperature used became independent of the temperature in the boiler so that a stronger, quicker and controllable filtration was possible. Gaggia machines were the first to produce crema on top of the espresso -’Caffe crema di caffe naturale’ – coffee cream from natural coffee.

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• 1950 – Ernest Valente develops the first espresso machine that uses a rotating pump driven by an electric motor to create the pressure needed to produce espresso. The pump provides steady water pressure and allows for a more continuous delivery of water. The first espresso machine with a pump is marketed under the brand name Faema.

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• 1962 – The International Coffee Agreement regulates coffee export quotas on a worldwide basis. When the cartel collapses in the 1980\’s, prices become volatile, creating uncertainty for coffee traders and diminished prices for coffee farmers.

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• 1963 – The Bunn Corporation introduces the automatic drip coffeemaker. Designed for use in restaurants, coffee maker heats water, brews the water with the coffee, and keeps the coffee warm on a heated plate.

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• 1971 – Starbucks opens its first location in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

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• 1972 – Vincent Marotta invents the Mr. Coffee – the first automatic drip coffee maker for home use.

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