Coffee History

Noble tree legends

Once they had discovered it, the coffee tree was quickly brought back to Europe by Dutch and English traders who began to study the characteristics of what was soon to go by the name of the “Noble tree”.

At the end of the 17th century, the coffee plant was taken to the island of Java in Indonesia which was, at the time, a Dutch colony. Production initially concentrated exclusively on Arabica beans, which developed rapidly thanks to the very favourable climatic conditions and the rich volcanic soil, making Indonesia the world’s first coffee producer. 

The first sprouts from the noble tree reached Martinique in the Caribbean in about 1720, thanks to the truly heroic efforts of Chevalier Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, which secured him a place in the coffee hall of fame. In addition to escaping from pirates, nearly being sunk in a storm, and finally marooned on his way to the island, he also nearly ran out of fresh and all but one of the precious little seedlings died. Despite suffering from thirst himself, de Clieu was so desperately looking forward to bringing his coffee to the New World that he shared half of his daily water ration with his struggling plants. “I would have rather died of thirst than kill the plants that were given,” wrote de Clieu in his journal.

The arrival of the coffee plant in what is now the world’s largest producer, Brazil, has its own emotional, romance filled story.

Legend has it that the King of Portugal sent Francisco de Mello Palheta to French Guiana in search of coffee seeds so that Brazil could enter the coffee market. However, as these seeds were so closely guarded by the Guianese officials, it was only after captivating the French governor’s wife that he was able to obtain them. Upon his departure, she gifted him a bouquet of flowers within which she hid the ripe coffee berries and coffee shoots he would use to commence Brazil’s coffee industry upon his return.

In 1554 two merchants, Hakim of Aleppo and Gems of Damascus, opened the first two coffee houses in Constantinople called kahweh-kane, the first examples of a modern café where brewed coffee was prepared for the public, and quickly transformed into a lifestyle – a place intended not only for the consumption of the drink but also for important debates, cultural and economic exchanges or leisure activities.