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Coffee: A complete history

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For many of us, coffee is a regular fixture in our lives, there to wake us up in the morning, perk us up when we need a buzz of energy and sometimes just to provide us with a comforting aroma and luxurious taste.

But have you ever thought about the history of coffee? Where did it all start? Who were the very first bean growers?

Nowadays, it seems as though you can't turn a street corner anywhere in the world without finding a coffee shop in front of you, with both chains and independent outlets being regular sights.

Coffee also provides a livelihood for many people in developing countries who grow and harvest the green beans that are then roasted and exported, keeping many out of the deepest depths of poverty.

Here, we're going to take you on a journey back in time by almost 1,000 years, to find out where this obsession with the beautiful caffeine-filled beverage began.

11th century AD

Today, Ethiopia is a popular location for coffee roasters to source their beans from and this is where it all started, back in the 11th century. 

It is believed the coffee plant was discovered in the region around this time, with many thinking it had magical, healing properties, meaning it was a regular feature of lotions and potions concocted by the equivalent of doctors during this period.

Travellers spoke of the mythical properties of the plant, taking the tales with them to other lands and spreading stories of its supposed qualities across the world.

Some believe in the old Kaldi legend that a man ate a few berries from a tree and found himself to have so much energy he did not need any sleep.

He passed his findings on to a monk, who discovered the berries could keep him awake through a long evening of prayer, which in turn led him to spread the message of the mysterious plant further afield.

16th century

Fast-forward a few hundred years and farmers in the Yemen region have begun to grow and harvest the coffee plant themselves, with the soil and climate in that particular part of the world being ideal for producing a successful harvest.

Next, coffee and its energy-reviving properties reached the Turkish capital of Istanbul and we saw the first instances of coffee roasting beginning to emerge.

This initial process involved heating the beans over a fire, before grinding them into a fine powder and cooking them with water on a low heat. 

People were fascinated by the aroma this brewing method produced, leading the tale of coffee to spread even further across the lands.

17th century

While the reach of coffee has been progressing slowly and steadily up until this point, the 17th century marked something of a boom for the humble bean.

European citizens who travelled throughout the East took coffee home with them and by 1645, the world's first coffeehouse opened in Italy.

The drink continued to cause a stir, with the Pope being asked to intervene in an argument as to whether or not it should be banned in Venice in the early part of the century. However, he enjoyed the bitter taste of the beverage and approved its presence in the region.

From Italy, coffee travelled to France and Austria and in 1637, it made its arrival to the University of Oxford in Britain. 

Coffeehouses quickly became popular in London, with them being seen as a respectable place to meet.

18th and 19th centuries

By this time, coffee was being enjoyed by many people, with cafes dedicated to the beverage springing up all over the world.

In 1730, the British began growing the plant on plantations in Jamaica and around 100 years later, the bean had become one of the most important items to be traded throughout the globe.

And there we have it, that's the tale behind the coffee we know and love today.

Of course, many variations have been made over the years and the combinations that can be created in one cup are numerous, but will coffee's future be as rich as its past? Only time will tell.

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