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History of Coffee


The history of coffee can be traced to at least as early as the 9th century, when it appeared in the highlands of Ethiopia. Shepherds were the first to observe the influences of caffeine from the coffee beans when, after their goats consumed some naturally occurring coffee beans in the pasture, the goats appeared to "dance" and have an increased level of energy. From Ethiopia, it spread to Egypt and Yemen, and by the fifteenth century had reached Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa.

From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Europe, and became popular there during the seventeenth century. The Dutch were the first to import it large-scale into Europe, and eventually smuggled in some seedlings in 1690, defying the Arab prohibition on exporting the plants or unroasted seeds. The Dutch later grew the crop in their colony of Java. In 1583, Leonhard Rauwolf, a German physician, after returning from a ten-year trip to the Near East, gave this description of coffee:

A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach. Its consumers take it in the morning, quite frankly, in a porcelain cup that is passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed of water and the fruit from a bush called bunnu.

When coffee reached the American colonies, it was initially not as successful as it had been in Europe, as colonists found it a poor substitute for alcohol. However, during the Revolutionary War, the demand for coffee increased so much that dealers had to hoard their scarce supplies and raise prices dramatically; this was partly owing to the reduced availability of tea from British merchants. After the War of 1812, in which Britain had temporarily cut off access to tea imports, the Americans' taste for coffee grew during the early nineteenth century, and high demand during the American Civil War together with the advancements of brewing technology secured the position of coffee as an everyday commodity in the United States. Today coffee is a common beverage of the North American breakfast and morning commute.

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