Where did coffee come from?

1st October is International Coffee Day.
1st October is International Coffee Day.

Author: Joshua Burns

You may not have been aware of this but 1st October is actually International Coffee Day. While I’m not entirely sure why it needs a holiday dedicated to it, I thought it would be an interesting excuse to look at how coffee came to be the world’s most popular drink.

And that’s no exaggeration – it really is incredibly popular. Each year over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed throughout the world, and in the United States alone over 450 million cups are drank every single day.
So, where did this hugely popular drink come from?

The origins of coffee

If someone asked you where coffee is originally from, where would you say? I’m sure many of you would understandably guess Colombia, Brazil, or some other South American country. However, coffee is actually thought to originate in Ethiopia on the African continent. As for when we started drinking it, the first recorded evidence goes back to the 15th century, but it is possible that it dates even earlier.

The earliest provable evidence of coffee consumption can be found in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. From there, the drink spread to Mecca and Cairo before making its way all throughout the Middle East and North Africa into Europe via Malta.

Coffee as a culture

There is some sort of distinctive coffee culture in most countries in the world. In many ways it’s incredible how much one drink has influenced how people work, socialise, and even the look of our high streets*.
Coffee in the Islamic world

The first coffeehouses sprang up* in the Islamic world, not long after the drink itself was discovered in the 15th century. They quickly became popular places where people would have conversations, play board games like chess and backgammon, listen to stories, and discuss politics. In fact, they even became known as “schools of wisdom” because the people who went were seen as intelligent.

However, not everyone was happy with these new places of debate and discussion. In Mecca, for example, some imams or Muslim spiritual leaders began to become suspicious of cafés because so much politics was being discussed there. So, between 1512 and 1524 coffeehouses were banned. The result was similar to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s – it failed. Drinking coffee was just too engrained in the culture.

Europe catching up

The western world was a bit behind the rest when it came to coffee. It wasn’t until the 17th century that coffeehouses were established outside of the Ottoman Empire. Venice in 1629 was the site of the first recorded coffeehouse in Europe, while the first in England wasn’t until another twenty-one years later in Oxford in 1650.

Not long after this, the first ones appeared in London and they became quickly popular. In fact, by 1675 there were over 3,000 cafés in the whole of England. Paris was a little behind again, with the first one opening in 1672. One person, Pasqua Rosée had a monopoly on the Paris coffee scene until someone called Procopio Cuto opened Café Procope in 1688. Believe it or not, this café is still open and throughout the years was a preferred meeting place for people like Voltaire and Rousseau.

Today’s strong coffee culture

Today coffee is more popular than it’s ever been – and it’s the turn of the United States to lead the way* with new trends*. The coffee giant Starbucks is an example of just how popular this beverage is. Opening in 1971 in Seattle, Starbucks now has over 6,000 outlets in the U.S. and is present in 36 other countries.

This mas coffee culture is sweeping but it’s by no means the only type. There is another wave of hipster coffee places taking over all modern cities, with new types of drinks and ways of brewing showing that our urge for coffee innovation is still strong.

So, the next time you wake up and have your morning cup of coffee, it might be worth taking a moment to think about the centuries of culture you are taking part in.


High streets: The main street in a town or city for shops
Sprang up: Emerged suddenly
Lead the way: Be the first to do something
Trends: Fashions or tendencies

The Brythonic Celtic languages

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