The history of coffee is rich with adaptations from different cultures, and the ways that their impact on coffee brewing methods and flavors, as well as preferred bodies and profiles, have become a worldwide phenomenon.
Everyone does it differently, and everyone likes it differently.
While most of the world gets its coffee from Brazil, way back when, it all originated from Ethiopia.
We’re going to dive into some of the history, cultural norms, and the way that over a millennium of history has shaped how we enjoy coffee today.
History of Coffee
Coffee is the number two drink in all of the world, and it’s achieved that with only 1/3 of the history as the #1 drink: tea.
We’re about to summarize over a millennium of coffee history.
Coffee probably originated in Ethiopia back in the 10th century. There’s an old tale of a farmer who noticed his goats getting hyper and pepped-up after eating these hard little green beans off of a plant, so he decided to see what the fuss was all about.
Unfortunately, this strange little story is unsupported by any historical facts.
Another story, supported by some circumstantial evidence, tells of Mohammed bin Sa’id al-Dhabhani as the ‘inventor’ of the coffee drink about 560 years ago.
Mohammed bin Sa’id al-Dhabhani, also called Gemaleddin reportedly set out from Aden to visit Ethiopia as a missionary and returned to Aden with some coffee fruit. He ﬁrst tried to brew the dried leaves of the fruit (a lesson he had learned from the Chinese).
In the 13th century, coffee was fire-roasted, and in the 15th century, it had become a staple in Arabic culture.
There was actually a long period of time where it was seemingly impossible to get coffee out of Arabic culture because they had begun imbuing it into their economy.
At some point in the early 1600s, coffee found its way to Rome.
From there, the Pope tried coffee and gave it papal approval after he enjoyed it so much.
It moved around quite a bit, but eventually, we saw coffee rise up in 1773 during the Boston Tea Party.
Thomas Jefferson famously said,
“Coffee—the favorite drink of the civilized world”
just to upset the British and their preference for tea.
That event is loosely based around why America is the largest consumer of coffee on the planet.
There’s a lot of information that’s shrouded in mystery, especially the Ethiopian origin story, but that’s the jist of coffee’s world history in a nutshell. If you are eager to learn more, then this site has another perspective on the history of coffee.
There are also some fantastic books on the history of coffee and the development of coffee as a worldwide drink. A few of our absolute fave books are shown below
Let us now briefly look at how coffee made an impact on different cultures.
In the United States, we’ve become the largest consumer of coffee, yet most of us actually have pretty weak palates.
We’re big fans of light roast coffee here, though it wasn’t always that way.
We popularized coffee in a spiteful way during the Boston Tea Party, but after that point, it had become a staple.
We went years without tea or with as little as possible.
From the Boston Tea Party, coffee consumption skyrocketed.
We saw major brands that are still currently in production rise to the top, one notable name being, of course, James Folger who founded Folgers coffee.
You also saw Hills Brothers and Maxwell House born during the same time, which was the Civil War and post-war world.
New England has become a coffee capital of American, despite Seattle getting all the praise. Major chains were founded in the 40s and 50s, one of those most notably being Dunkin’ Donuts in 1951.
It became a phenomenon, and single-serve coffee to go had really begun to take off. Despite the cold climate, it’s also one area of the country where you can see an iced coffee in almost everyone’s hands throughout the day.
Then we had the phenomenon of Starbucks begin in 1971, where the western side of America finally got to experience some top notch coffee.
One important distinction between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, was how they catered to the two different sides of American coffee consumers.
Yes, there were 3,000 miles between Boston and Seattle, but it had little to do with geographical location.
Dunkin’ Donuts focused on the quick and easy cup of coffee to get you going, while still focusing on making a great cup.
Starbucks appealed to those who didn’t mind waiting a little longer for a signature cup and also used multiple roasts and different types of coffee beans to get a distinct flavor.
There’s a reason that they’re both still alive and kicking today.
In the Western world, we’ve also developed more and more ways to enjoy coffee at a much faster pace.
From the invention of instant coffee (which was popular up until the late 60s) to single-serve pods and a myriad of culturally different coffees, we’ve become a focal point of the coffee culture in the 21st century.
The coffee culture in Latin America isn’t loaded with ritzy corner coffee houses as we have in America; it’s a way of life, not a beverage option.
We mean that as literally as possible.
Brazil not only enjoys their fair share of coffee beverages and makes it part of their daily lives, as the rest of the world does, but it also accounts for millions of livelihoods across Latin America states.
They make the coffee from the ground up. In hilly, shaded areas of Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Colombia, they rely on coffee exporting through Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance to make a living out of their passion.
Given the fact that Arabica beans grow in South America, and make up 60% of all traded coffee in the world, you better believe that they have a large economic focus around the coffee industry.
Latin America undergoes a lot of difficulties when it comes to sourcing beans to the rest of the world, most notably to North America.
Organizations have become a requirement to ensure that coffee farmers are treated fairly and are offered reasonable compensation for their crop yields.
Coffee began in Ethiopia, which is part of Eastern Africa, and made its way into Yemen some years later.
At some point, it found its way through Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, until reaching India in the 17th century.
It’s rumored that just seven coffee beans were smuggled out of Yemen, which was marvelous because Arabic culture did not share coffee with the rest of the world.
There are about 800 years between the believed beginning of coffee, and its full infusion into Eastern culture.
Coffee began spreading like wildfire, reaching nearly every corner of the world.
The French brought coffee to Vietnam, and now Vietnam is the second-largest coffee exporter in the world.
Malaysia began growing coffee beans, and two very specific islands in Indonesia began growing gourmet coffee beans that are still enjoyed to this day.
In the midst of all of this, you had Italy produce the very first espresso machine in 1930, while Spain made coffee part of nearly every meal throughout the day.
The adoption of coffee in Eastern and Europeans countries erupted, and it quickly became the world’s second-most traded commodity, just underneath crude oil.
Currently, coffee is seeing a major spike in countries like China, where the millennial generation has shifted the market away from tea.
It is estimated that within the next ten years, thanks to countries like China, coffee will surpass tea as the number one beverage in the world for the first time in history.
A Summary on Coffee in All Cultures
Regardless of where you hang your head, coffee is bound to be close by.
It’s a massively popular beverage and passes through numerous sets of hands to get to you. Middlemen, distributors, exporters, importers, roasting facilities, coffee houses—it’s a trip, that’s for certain.
The coffee that’s in your cabinet right now has gone through a crazy process to get there.
Farmers in Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Vietnam and Indonesia all use similar methods of preparing their coffee beans for sale.
They’re plucked from the coffee cherries, dried out, and shipping off to be roasted before getting in your cup.
When you think about it, coffee is sort of a universal language that often comes from the same place.
Every culture has their own grasp on how coffee should be prepared.
We’ve covered some different techniques for coffee making that blow our minds, such as an old Indonesian method where you drop a hot coal directly into the cup of coffee.
The point is, there’s a wide cultural spectrum of coffee making, and it’s all interesting and fantastic.
Greeks enjoy coffee similarly to the Turkish: strong.
You’ll also find similarities to Armenian and Cypriot coffee, because in that region, they all adopted different techniques from each other.
The result was a strong and thick coffee with plenty of dissolved solids in each cup, giving it that espresso-like body when you go to sip it.
Turks make their coffee a very different way, and it’s one of the strongest methods of making coffee that you’ll ever experience.
If you’re planning on making a trip to Turkey and enjoying traditional, cultural coffee, gear up your taste buds because it’s about to get intense.
Turkish coffee doesn’t use a filter, and it’s done in a way that’s completely against the way we grind coffee in America.
You need finely ground coffee, and to drop it in the middle of an ibrik, the copper pot with the long handle that you’ve seen in all those eclectic coffee photographs in the past.
It’s made by boiling the water (which we usually don’t do in America) with the grounds directly in the pot.
It gets bitter, but the best part is the small amount of natural sugar in the coffee beans that rises to the rich foam layer on top. It’s an intense way to enjoy coffee.
A lot of coffee’s history can be traced to Morocco and it’s their national drink.
If you follow their method of Cafe Cassis, it’s the search for and the practice of making the perfect cup of coffee.
While Morocco enjoys a lot of tea as well, their coffee almost contrasts that light tea flavor.
It’s important in Moroccan culture to ask the guest, or the one receiving the coffee, how many sugars they would prefer. Moroccan coffee can be dark and bitter, making this a customary courtesy.
In Vietnam, they make their coffee a little differently.
As the second-largest producer of coffee in the world, they don’t have the richest coffee culture across the globe. The same goes for Brazil.
They produce it, they live it, so they enjoy it differently than those who they export to.
Most Brazilian coffee farmers drink instant (yes, instant coffee), and in Vietnam, they enjoy a thicker, stronger brew.
They don’t use cream like we do in America, instead, they use sweetened condensed milk to add a bit of sugar into their coffee.
The French brought coffee to Vietnam in the 19th century, and since then, it’s become an economic Godsend that’s helped the country out significantly.
Coffee is still a part of their daily lives, they just choose to enjoy it in a more simplistic way.
In Vietnam, they almost exclusively use drip filter systems for their coffee, whereas we use every method under the sun in America.
Specialty Types of Coffee
You might identify most or all of these with Italy, and for good reason: they perfected this art before we ever adapted their craft in America.
Some of the histories behind these beverages are a bit mixed, but we can thank Italy for the modern version of this style of specialty coffee making.
It’s more than that cup with the fun designs in it that you see on Instagram; a latte is believed by many to be the pinnacle of espresso creations.
Generally speaking, two parts espresso and three parts milk make up a latte.
The distinct difference between this and a cappuccino is that you hold back the frothed milk with a spoon, and just leave a very little dollop on top.
Lattes were popularized in America in the 1980s, primarily in Seattle, which became the coffee capital of the country.
Milk quality only matters so much, since all milk has to be ultra-pasteurized to be sold, so the real trick in getting this right is in the espresso and the milk frothing wand.
It’s easy to mess up a latte by steaming the milk for too long.
One of Italy’s notorious beverages, cappuccinos have a similar build to a latte.
The only difference is that you do not hold back the milk froth/foam; you just pour the entire thing in with complete reckless abandon.
It creates a foamy beverage that marries the espresso in a unique way.
Despite espresso machines not being commercially available until the very late 1800s, there was a variation of this beverage floating around England and France for quite a while.
They couldn’t pressurize coffee beans the same way that espresso machines can, but different versions of coffee with cream and sugar, and in some cases whipped cream, became a specialty beverage.
Cappuccinos, as we know them today, weren’t Italian-made until the 1930s, though we commonly identify these and lattes with Italy today.
Espresso is arabica coffee that’s been treated differently and roasted at higher temperatures (not to be confused with dark roast coffee).
Espresso is defined more by the brewing method than the beans themselves.
Hot water is pushed through a highly pressurized espresso machine and forced through the grinds.
These grinds are super fine compared to the coarse nature of standard coffee beans, and produce more dissolved solids into the final cup.
We talked a bit about dissolved solids in this post about water quality affecting coffee, but this is a different story.
Espresso has been around since 1884 at the very least, where the first espresso machine was produced.
These dissolved solids are directly from the espresso grinds, and it’s what gives espresso that thickness and hyper-caffeinated quality.
It’s come a long way from the halls of history to our cups.
An americano is an espresso plus water, also known as the Italian term for “American coffee.”
Italians are used to a much stronger blend of coffee, and this term originated back in World War II when Allied American G.I.’s would water down the coffee they were served in Italian cafes and restaurants. In America, we’re technically used to a weaker blend of coffee.
It’s kind of ironic that now, an americano is just a beverage that we order here in America, not understanding the sarcastic definition in which the term is rooted.
We like our coffee a bit weaker than elsewhere in the world.
You’re a True Aficionado Now
You now have a snapshot of the history of coffee and lots of interesting facts.
Not only that, but it makes you look at that black brew in your mug in an entirely different way, knowing the long-term dedication to coffee from all these different cultures.
Go forth with your newfound knowledge, just don’t bore the barista at the coffeehouse with all of it at once.