The History of Coffee

Coffee beans

Some legends say a Yemenite sheperd made the discovery of the coffee plant, when he observed that his goats would become very vivacious and restless whenever they ate a certain type of red berry. He told this to the monks of a nearby convent, who began to roast the berries and make them into a drink that allowed them to withstand their long hours of prayer more easily.

The cultivation of cofee dates back to 575 BC in Yemen (then called "Arabica Felix"), and it was from this extraordinary highly civilized country thato our precious bean started its great journey throughout the world.

The route from Arabia and diffusion toward the East around the 17th century is due to a certain Baba Budan, who brought back some fertile seeds on his return to India, after a pilgrimage to Mecca.

At the beginning of the same century, German, French, Italian and a majority of Dutch merchants began to compete to introduce coffee into their colonies overseas. The Dutch were the firts who succeeded in importing one plant into the Netherlands and, in 1658, they started their proper cultivation in Sri Lanka.

Coffee powder

There were several famous people who, through personal sacrifice, managed to take some seeds or seedlings into the colonies in order to start cultivation. These included: Nicolaas Witson from Amsterdam, who tried to transplant some coffee plant in Java, in 1696, but failed in his enterprise.

On contrary, Henricus Zwaaydecroon succeeded in taking coffee plants from Malabar to Java in 1699, thus giving birth to the first plantation controlled by the Europeans. Also, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, an officer of the French Navy, happened to be on leave in Paris between 1720 and 1723, and was able to obtain a small plant of coffee. During his entire travel from France to Martinique, he protected the plant with his life and it finally reached the island in good condition.

The arrival of coffee in the area that would later become the centre of the world production is due to the Dutch, who transported some plants to Suriname, on the north-eastern coast of South America. Little by little, plantations spread in different colonies and between 1727 and 1901 they were present in Brazil, Jamaica, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Hawaii, Eastern Africa and going as far as Australia. The circle of history closes and, although Arabs had jealously guarded the secret of coffee, now coffee was present all over the world.


Coffee arrived in Europe in 1615, but there are contrasting opinions; some books say that it arrived in VEnice first, thanks to the Turks, other say that it arrived in Venice by means of merchants. Initially, it was considered more of a medicine than a drink, because it was so expensive.

The first coffee shop was opened in Venice in 1683, but one of the most famous remains the "Caffè Florian" in Saint Mark's Square, dating back to 1720. These shops had become meeting points for the mixed, bourgeois and aristocratic society of the time, where they used to talk politics or find out news while drinking a cup of coffee.

The way of preparing coffeeof those times has undergone several developments: the "Turkish" method, by "infusion", the system using "biggins" machines, the use of samovars, filter-coffee and other ways... right up to the beginning of the 20th century with the "neapolitan" machine.

In 1933 Alfonso Bialetti, a clever artisan and inventor from the Alps in the Novara area, created the "caffettiera espresso", that would almost completely replace the "neapolitan" machine in the habits of Italians. The firts coffee-bar machine was designed in Italy in 1902 by Giusebbe Brezzera, who later assigned the patent to Desiderio Pavoni.