Coffee Bean - Coffee Bean Tree | History

Beer may be the oldest man made brew, with wine a distant second. Beer recipes are at least as old as 6000 BC, but the oldest winemaking processes date 'only' from about the turn of the first millennium. Their younger cousin, coffee, arose a few hundred years later, though no one knows exactly how old the coffee tree itself is. Some archaeological evidence shows that humans were eating the berries as long ago as a hundred thousand years.

One legend says that a goat herder in Ethiopia observed his charges eating the red berries from a nearby tree and became excited. Trying them himself, he too felt a great lift. By 600 AD that magical berry, and the brew made from drying and grinding its seeds, had found its way to what is now Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.

Stories tell of a native of India smuggling the precious seeds of the coffee tree out of Arabia around 1650 AD, then planting them in the hills of Chikmagalur. Arabian law forbad the exporting of coffee beans that could germinate, effectively controlling coffee trade for centuries. Whether myth or history, the fruit of those seeds now forms a third of India's large coffee output.

Europeans - the British, Dutch, French, and others - spread the coffee beans to other countries during their travels. The Dutch were responsible for its introduction to Java in the 18th century. From those plantings, history tells us, came the famed tree coveted by France's king, presented to him as a gift.

Louis XIV of France, finding the tree did not tolerate frost well, had a greenhouse erected to supply him with the beans to make the brew he so savored. It is said that from that source came the cultivars used in Central and South America.

Reaching Martinique around 1720, sprouts were planted and grew well in the hot Caribbean climate. From the thousands of coffee trees that resulted, some were transported to Mexico where coffee now forms one of their largest exports.

Making its way to French Guiana around the same time, the coffee tree grew well in that steamy atmosphere. Seeing an opportunity, a rascal named Francisco de Melo Palheta solicited the aid of the governor's wife to smuggle seeds out of the country. As he prepared to part for Brazil, the lady handed him a bouquet of flowers containing the illicit beans.

Brazil is now one of the largest coffee producers on the planet.

From Brazil the seeds complete the circle, making their way in the late 19th century to Kenya and Tanzania, not far from their original home in Ethiopia. Six centuries to return home is a long journey and an excellent excuse to rest and have a cup!