How Coffee Reached the US: A Brief History

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Discovered in the 11th century, coffee has a unique and rich history. The coffee plant and its cultivation originated in Ethiopia, where the plant was boiled and thought to have medicinal properties. However, coffee quickly spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, eventually reaching Yemen in the mid-14th century. Here, coffee was cultivated and consumed using the same Ethiopian method for 300 years. In Yemen, coffee flourished because of the favorable climate and fertile soil.

In 1543, coffee was introduced to the Turks. While stationed in Yemen, the Ottoman governor enjoyed coffee so much that he imported coffee plants into Istanbul. Here, in the royal palace, the Turks began roasting coffee beans, grinding them, and boiling the grinds in water. This new method increased coffee’s appeal and hastened its migration worldwide.

In Istanbul, coffee became a staple of palace life. In fact, the government created a “Chief Coffee Maker” post. These men were so popular that some became royal viziers to the sultan. Outside of royal life, coffee quickly spread to the wealthy and eventually to the laypeople. Istanbul established itself as a center for coffee cultivation, and the city boasted the first coffeehouse, called Kiva Han. Soon, coffeehouses thrived in the city, becoming centers for learning, games, music, and intellectual discussions.

Coffee reached Europe via Istanbul in 1615 through merchants. Coffee was initially unpopular in Europe, although the first coffeehouse opened in Venice in 1645. As in Istanbul, coffeehouses quickly multiplied and thrived as cultural and social outlets.

Swiftly migrating through Europe, coffee was introduced to France in 1644 by Italian ambassadors. Like previous trends, coffeehouses emerged and the beverage gained popularity and prestige throughout the country. Paris boasted numerous posh coffeehouses, the most famous being Café de Procope, which opened in 1686. This establishment was frequented by artists, poets, and famous philosophers like Voltaire.

Coffee arrived in England by 1637 through Turkish merchants traveling through Oxford. The beverage became popular with students and professors alike, who formed the “Oxford Coffee Club.” Coffeehouses in London were referred to as “Penny Universities” because, for a penny, the prestigious clientele, like writers, painters, politicians, and lawyers, met and held intellectual discussions.

Coffee finally reached North America in 1668. The first and most famous coffeehouse in New York, “The King’s Arm,” opened its doors in 1696. In the 18th century, coffee continued to spread across the Americas and throughout the Caribbean. History states that in 1714, the Dutch gave the king of France a coffee sapling. This sapling was planted in Paris, where a French naval officer took coffee beans and planted them on the island of Martinique. The coffee on the island flourished, and it is believed that from this plantation, coffee spread to Central and South America. By the 19th century, coffee became a leading worldwide trade commodity.

Today, coffee is the second most consumed beverage in the United States after water. Brazil is the leading manufacturer of coffee, accounting for approximately 35% of coffee production worldwide.

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