The pioneers who shaped our coffee culture

“To me, the smell of fresh coffee is one of the greatest inventions,” Hugh Jackman, actor.

Our love affair with the bean stretches all the way back to the 15th Century when monks from the Sufi Order in Yemen became the first known humans cultivate and drink coffee. It’s safe to say that since then it has definitely caught on. Today we consume over 8,000,000 tonnes every year in the form of around 2.25 billion cups a day.

In homage to humanity’s favourite beverage we thought we would take a look at the coffee heroes who have shaped our love of this fabulous drink. From the man who first discovered coffee to the pioneers of the ubiquitous coffee bar, read on for a brief potted history of the Mighty Joe.

Kaldi, Ethiopia – 9th Century

Kaldi was a mythical goatherder who noticed that his goats became more animated when they ate certain red berries. Legend has it that he took the berries to a local monk who threw them on the fire disapprovingly. This was the point at which the first ever magical aroma of coffee came into contact with the human nostril. Things would never be the same again.

Sufi Monks, Yemen- 15th Century

Our first truly credible evidence of coffee drinking comes 800 years later in the 5th Century. The monasteries around Mocha in Yemen are where coffee beans where first roasted, ground and brewed to make the drink we all know so well today.

Leonard Rauwolf, Germany – 16th Century

Coffee remained a bit of a mystery outside of the Arabian Peninsula for quite some time. The earliest European account came in 1583 when German physician Leonard Rauwolf returned from a 10 year trip to the Near East and described:

“A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach. Its consumers take it in the morning, quite frankly, in a porcelain cup that is passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed of water and the fruit from a bush called bunnu.”

Pope Clement VIII, Rome – 17th Century

One of the early obstacles to people in Europe enjoying coffee was the fact that it had been deemed un-Christian, coming as it did from regions outside of the European realm. This changed in 1600 when Pope Clement VIII officially deemed coffee to be an acceptable Christian beverage.

Sufi Baba Budan, India – 17th Century

Legend has it that, in 1670, Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans out of the Middle East, strapping them to his chest. Before this coffee cultivation as tightly controlled and only sterilised coffee ever left the region. This act led to the first cultivation of coffee beans outside of Arabia and soon coffee was being grown across the world.

The Grand Café, Oxford, England – 1650

England’s first ever coffee shop was opened, by a man known only as Jacob, a full 39 years before coffee shops began appearing in Paris. Just 25 years’ later, in 1675, there were over 3000 coffee shops in England.

Procopio Cuto, Paris, France– 1689

Proscopio Cuto opened his café, Café Procope, in 1689 and Parisian Café Culture was born. This café is renowned as one of the birthplaces of the Enlightenment with regulars such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot. It also claims to be the birthplace of the first ever Encyclopaedia.

Gabriel de Clieu, Martinique – 18th Century

Today, most of the world’s Arabica coffee derives from this man’s actions. In the 1720s he arrived in the Caribbean with a single coffee plant and discovered that the bean thrives in the warm and wet climate. This region has since gone on to produce nearly all of the world’s coffee ever since.

Joel Cheek, Nashville, USA – 19th Century

Joel Cheek set up the Nashville Coffee and Manufacturing Company with British coffee broker Roger Nolley Smith. He named his coffee Maxwell House after the hotel that first brought his blend and for the next 100 years it would be the undisputable coffee brand in the world.

Achille Gaggia, Milan, Italy – 1945

Possibly the most important breakthrough in coffee with the invention of the world’s first espresso machine. From here on in coffee would never be quite the same again.

Pino Riservato, London, England – 1952

Mr Riservato opened Moka Bar in London’s Soho to establish the central London location as the epicentre of teenage rebellion and rock and roll. From here would blossom the burgeoning UK music scene and its close ties with Soho’s coffee culture.

Alfred Peet, Berkley, California – 1966

The focus on high quality independent roasting began here at Peet’s Coffee & Tea Store in Berkley California. Peet would go on to supply and train three college friends, Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegl who went back to Seattle in 1971 and became the founders of what would become Starbucks.

Howard Schultz, Seattle, USA – 1980s

Schultz joined the company in 1982 as Director of Retail Operations and Marketing. He persuaded Baldwin, Bowker and Siegl to begin selling premade espresso as opposed to just coffee beans. The company now has 16,600 outlets in over 40 countries and has fundamentally changed most of the world’s expectation levels when it comes to drinking coffee.

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