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History of Coffee

The Arabic word “qahwa” was originally identified as a drink, produced by an extracted juice from some seeds and consumed as a dark red liquid, that provoked exciting and stimulating effects such to be used even in a medical way. Today this word indicates, in the Arabic language, the word coffee.

The word “kahve” after a progressive narrowing of the meaning, has replaced the “qahwa” term, called coffee in Italian. This derivation is argued by those who say that the word comes from the name of the region where this plant was most widespread in the wild, in Caffa, southwestern Ethiopia.

Until the XIX century there wasn’t any assurance of the coffee plant’ s place of origin, and as well as Ethiopia, it was assumed that it’s origin could have been in Persia and in Yemen.

Mr. Pellegrino Artusi, in his famous manual, says that the best coffee is the “Mokha” one (city in Yemen) and that this would be the hint to identify its place of origin. There are many legends on the coffee origins.

The most known says that a shepherd named Kaldi used to bring his goats to graze in Ethiopia. One day, noticing a coffee plant, they started eating some of its berries and chew some leaves. As night came, instead of sleeping, goats began wandering with energy and liveliness, never expressed until then. Seeing this, the shepherd understood the reason and toasted the seeds eaten from his herd, making an infusion, after grinding the coffee.

Another legend has as protagonist the Prophet Muhammad that, feeling ill one day, had a vision of the Archangel Gabriel, that offered him a black potion (like the sacred stone of Mecca) created by Allah, that allowed him to recover and return in force.

There is also a legend that speaks of a fire in Abyssinia, regarding wild coffee plants, that spread its smoke for many kilometers afar.

In the 1700 every European city had an Inn. The coffee started to be cultivated in large scale in the British and Dutch colonies (in Indonesia). The Dutch East India Company started to cultivate coffee in the last ten years of the XVII° century, in Java to the Amsterdam botanical garden, then from there in 1713 a plant reached France.

In 1720 Gabriel de Clieu, officer of the French Navy, sailed to the Caribbean with two little coffee plants, unfortunately only one survived arriving to the French colony in Martinique. There, in the next decades, plants spread in all Central America: Saint Domingo (1725), Guadeloupe (1726), Jamaica (1730), Cuba (1748) and Porto Rico (1755).

In the same period, exactly in 1718, the Dutch brought the coffee in another colony, the Dutch Guiana (now called Suriname) from where, in 1719 entered the French Guiana, continuing to Brazil, where in 1727 the first plantations were born. The industries in the several colonies depended exclusively on slavery, abolished, however formally, in 1888.

For trade relations in the Near East, Venice was the first city to use the coffee in Italy, probably since the XVI° century; but the first coffee shops started to open in 1645.

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