The cultivation and spread of coffee

The cultivation and spread of coffee - Iburu Coffee
The Arabian Peninsula

The cultivation and trade of coffee began on the Arabian Peninsula from where it traveled to the East. By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia owing to the favorable climate and soils. It was introduced to Sri Lanka by Muslim traders and travelers in 1505. Fertile coffee beans, the berries with their husks unbroken, were taken to South-West India by a Baba Budan on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 17th century.

By 1517 coffee had reached Constantinople, the modern-day Istanbul, following the conquest of Egypt by Salim I. It was established in Damascus by 1530 and in 1554, the first coffee houses, kaveh kanes,  opened in Istanbul. Their advent provoked religiously-inspired riots that temporarily closed them but they survived their critics. Soon their luxurious interiors became a regular rendezvous for those engaged in radical political thought and dissent.

TURKEY, Istanbul

Data regarding the introduction of coffee to the Ottoman culture vary as put forward by different scholars. Whereas Fernard Braudel argues that coffee was first used by Ottomans in 1511, Ulla Haise argues that the first use of coffee corresponded with the year 1516, when Yavuz Sultan Selim conquered Egypt. According to Burçak Evren, coffee reached Egypt via Yemen in 1519, and then it was brought to Istanbul.

Coffee became widespread in Ottoman during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent introduced to him by Özdemir Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Yemen. He had grown to love the drink while stationed in that country. Coffee soon became a vital part of Ottoman’s palace cuisine from where it spread to the grand mansions then to the homes of the public.

The first coffeehouse in the Ottoman Empire was opened in 1555 during the era of  Suleiman the Magnificent, as stated in the history of Pecevi. Two Syrians brought the coffee, which was well known and used at that time in the Arab world, to Istanbul where they opened the coffeehouse in Tahtakale. Social activities have since the inception of these coffeehouses increased  in daily life.

Many Turkish merchants began to sell coffee beans abroad in 1600 and European travelers to the Near East brought back stories of an unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent.

ITALY, Venice

Europeans got their first taste of coffee in 1615 when Venetian merchants who had become acquainted with the drink in Istanbul carried it back with them to Venice. This was after tea which had appeared in 1610. Again its introduction aroused controversy in Italy when some clerics, in the manner of the mullahs of Mecca, suggested it should be excommunicated as it was the Devil’s drink. When asked to intervene,  Pope Clement VIII (1592- 1605) enjoyed the drink so much that he declared that “coffee should be baptized to make it a true Christian drink.”

The first coffee house opened in Venice in 1683. The oldest surviving coffee house in Europe is the famous Café Florian in the Piazza San Marco, established in 1720. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries coffee houses proliferated in Europe. Nothing quite like the coffee houses, or café, had ever existed before, the novelty of a place to enjoy a relatively inexpensive and stimulating beverage in convivial company. This established a social habit that has endured for over 400 years.

FRANCE, Marseilles

Travelers who discovered coffee while staying in Istanbul extolled the matchless flavor of the beverage in letters they sent home to Marseilles. In 1644, the first coffee beans, along with the apparatus used to prepare and serve coffee, were brought to Marseilles by Monsieur de la Roque, the French ambassador. Merchants from Marseilles who now loved the coffee they had first tasted in Istanbul began importing it in 1660, thus sating Marseilles growing appetite for coffee. In 1671, the first coffee house opened in Marseilles, initially catering to merchants and travelers but soon becoming popular to people from all walks of life.


Coffee was introduced to Paris in 1669 by Hoşsohbet Nüktedan Süleyman Ağa. He had been sent by Sultan Mehmet IV as ambassador to the court of King Louis XIV of France. Among the Ottoman ambassador’s possessions were several sacks of coffee, which he described to the French as a “magical beverage”.

Paris’s first real coffeehouse, Café de Procope, opened in 1686. It soon became a favorite haunt of the literati, a place frequented by renowned poets, playwrights, actors, and musicians. Many famous figures such as Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire became enamored with coffee at Café de Procope. Coffeehouses opened on practically every street in the city following the trend set by Café de Procope .


The Second siege of Vienna ended in 1683 and the Turks left their extra supplies behind as they retreated. Among the abandoned goods was about 500 sacks of coffee whose mysterious content the Viennese had no idea what to make of. One Viennese captain who claimed the coffee beans were camel-feed dumped the sacks into the Danube.

News of the mysterious sacks reached a gentleman named Kolschitzky who had lived among the Turks for many years and had served as a spy for the Austrians during the siege. He requested the sacks of coffee, with which he was very familiar, as payment for his successful espionage services during the siege. Kolschitzky served small cups of Turkish Coffee to the Viennese, first going door to door, and then in a large tent that he opened to the public. Soon, he had taught the Viennese how to prepare and enjoy the beverage. Thus Vienna became acquainted with coffee.

The Viennese coffeehouses that opened during this period set an example for coffeehouses in many other countries.




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Gakii Mugendi