TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Where was coffee first discovered?

Many of us associate coffee with countries in South America, but it took a long journey for the drink to get there.

Where was coffee first discovered?


Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau, according to the National Coffee Association.


Legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of coffee beans when he noticed that after eating the beans, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the beans and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and knowledge began to spread.


Coffee cultivation and trade began on the Arabian Peninsula.  By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.


European travelers to the Near East brought back stories of an unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. In the mid-1600’s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, later called New York, by the British.


According to the association, in 1714, the mayor of New Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. The King ordered it to be planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. In 1723, a young naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu obtained a seedling from the King’s plant. Despite a challenging voyage, he managed to transport it safely to Martinique. 


Once planted, the seedling not only thrived, but it’s credited with the spread of over 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique in the next 50 years. This seedling was the parent of all coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America.


The famed Brazilian coffee owes its existence to Francisco de Mello Palheta, who was sent by the emperor to French Guiana to get coffee seedlings. According to legend, the French were not willing to share, but the French Governor’s wife, captivated by Palheta’s good looks, gave him a large bouquet of flowers before he left—buried inside were enough coffee seeds to begin what is today a billion-dollar industry.