Where does our love of coffee come from? - Hilton Smythe

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Where does our love of coffee come from?

The history of coffee can be traced back to the 10th century, with a number of reports and legends surrounding its first use.

The native origin of coffee is thought to have been Ethiopia. The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, Horn of Africa, and Northern Africa. Coffee then spread to the Balkans, Italy and to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia and then to America.

Coffee became available in England no later than the 16th century, largely through the efforts of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. The first coffee house in England was opened in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, London. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffee houses throughout England.

Meanwhile, coffee had been introduced to Brazil in 1727, although its cultivation did not gather momentum until independence in 1822. After this time, massive tracts of rainforest were cleared first from the vicinity of Rio and later São Paulo for coffee plantations.

After the Boston Tea Party of 1773, large numbers of Americans switched to drinking coffee during the American Revolution because drinking tea had become unpatriotic.

Brazil became the largest producer of coffee in the world by 1852 and it held that status ever since. It dominated world production, exporting more coffee than the rest of the world combined, from 1850 to 1950. The period since 1950 saw the widening of the playing field due to the emergence of several other major producers, most notably Colombia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and, most recently, Vietnam, which overtook Colombia and became the second-largest producer in 1999 and reached 15% market share by 2011.

Watch our video on why buying a cafe is a good investment

Facts about coffee

  • In the UK, we drink approximately 55 million cups of coffee per day
  • Last year in Britain  £730 million was spent on coffee
  • 80% of people who visit coffee shops do so at least once a week 16% of us visit on a daily basis
  • Coffee grows in more than 50 countries and is the second largest export in the world after oil
  • There are two main commercial types of coffee bean Robusta and Arabica
  • Coffee was first known in Europe as Arabian Wine

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