The Birth of Coffee | How the Coffee Bean Won America’s Heart

Enjoying a freshly brewed aromatic cup of coffee as you read this? Thank a goat, the keen observations of a goat herder, and the brave curiosity of a priest open to experimenting with nature.

According to Ethiopian legend, a goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats frolicking and full of energy after eating the red fruit of the coffee shrub. He tried the fruit himself and experienced possibly the first caffeine high known to man. He shared this discovery with the abbot of a local monastery, who brewed the first coffee concoction. That night, the monks pulled the first coffee all nighter, and coffee culture was born.

An Arabic Monopoly

The art of coffee roasting has its roots in Arabia. In the 13th century, coffee was enjoyed and praised by Muslims for its stimulant powers, which proved quite useful for long praying sessions. Beans were parched and boiled.

Arabs enjoyed a monopoly for a time on the coffee market. According to legend, not a single coffee plant existed outside of Arabia or Africa until the 1600s. An Indian pilgrim named Baba Budan smuggled fertile beans out of Mecca, fastening them to a strap across his abdomen. Europeans got hold of the beans. A highly competitive coffee market had already begun.

How Wholesale Coffee Won America

In colonial America, coffee was considered primarily a medicinal drink too expensive for day to day consumption. Spurred by the East India Company tea monopoly that inspired the Boston Tea Party and similar protests throughout the Colonies, New York’s first coffee roaster opened on Pearl Street in 1793. It sold wholesale coffee beans to taverns and hotels. A thriving market for coffee grew along the East River ports. But the coffee was generally of very poor quality. The beans were often old and damp from sitting in musty ships during months of transport.

Once steamships were invented, the quality of coffee improved and it began to be enjoyed by the general public rather than just the wealthy. As Central America coffee production began in the late 1950s, coffee became a quintessential American beverage enjoyed by all classes and lifestyles.