How Was Coffee Discovered? (An Interesting Story)

Last Updated on July 18, 2023 by Barry Gray

The thought of trying to function without coffee in the morning fills me with dread. I’m sure I’m not alone.

That means I have a lot to be thankful for that coffee was ever discovered in the first place. And yet, how many of you even know how or when it was first discovered?

It’s believed by many that coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia around 800AD by a goat herder. He saw his goats eating some sort of berry and being energized. This may be a legend, though, as there are various other theories surrounding the origins of coffee. Still, it’s a cool story if it’s true.

I find it somewhat remarkable that we drink millions of cups of coffee daily. Yet, most people have no idea how old coffee is or how it even became such a popular drink in the modern world.

But that is all about to change for you. In the next few minutes, I will take you through the history of coffee.

Don’t worry, though. I promise I won’t bore you or become a nerd when talking about it, so perhaps make a cup of your favorite brew and sit back to learn where this amazing bean comes from.

history of coffee when it was discovered

Did a Goat Herder Discover Coffee?

I think so many of the best discoveries in history have been by chance, and the story of coffee could easily be one of those stories.

Now, I must stress that we have no evidence of this story I’m about to tell, which is the reason why it’s perhaps best referred to as a legend. 

The man was known by the name Kaldi, and he was apparently carrying out his usual daily task of tending to his herd of goats. They were nearby a tree and eating berries, which was nothing too unusual.

But Kaldi then noticed his goats would have some extra energy after eating these berries. So, he tried them himself, as curiosity had clearly got the better of him.

Upon eating them, he too felt this rush of energy and was blown away by the impact these berries had on him. So, he went to his local monastery to tell them what had happened.

At first, the monks were scared. They told Kaldi these berries were clearly the work of the devil and threw the berries Kaldi had brought into the fire.

Upon throwing the berries in the fire, everyone in the room was struck by the aroma that instantly flew up and filled the air. It was described as being somewhat heavenly, and it seems the aroma made the monks change their minds.

The monks raked and crushed the now cooked berries and placed them in a jar. They added water in the hope of preserving the beans while they presumably tried to work out what they were. 

Later, some monks decided to drink the water, which had now been infused with the berries. They felt the energy boost hit them and discovered they were able to carry out their devotionals at night, and they had no problem staying awake.

From that moment on, the monks would make this magical brew to help them with their religious life. But news of this potent concoction spread, leading to more people in the area drinking this liquid we now know as coffee.

Ethiopia is Where Coffee was Discovered

ethiopian coffee granules

I do love the story about a goat herder and monks. Still, it’s not the only story regarding the discovery and spread of coffee that comes from Ethiopia.

Instead, a second story tells how an individual from Yemen was traveling through Ethiopia. I’m sure you are about to see some similarities with the previous story.

This Sufi mystic encountered some birds eating berries, and they were clearly full of energy. This interested the mystic as he was weary from traveling and walking, so he felt inclined to try the berries for himself.

He then felt the rush of energy and was able to continue his travels, so he took some of the berries with him to continue to feel that rush of energy.

However, this story does not explain how it went from eating the berries to drinking coffee.

How Did Coffee Spread?

While things can be a bit vague when it comes to exactly how or when coffee spread, one thing people are pretty sure of is that coffee made the move from Ethiopia to Yemen, probably in the 15th century.

This was thanks to Yemeni traders who visited Ethiopia and tried some of what we know as coffee. They took berries and plants back to Yemen with them and started growing the plants and making the drink.

From its origins in Yemen, the concept of coffee quickly spread through the Islamic world thanks to extensive trade routes. The first “coffee shop” appeared in Constantinople in 1475, meaning coffee was known from Turkey in the north to Yemen in the south.

When Did Coffee Reach Europe?

italian espresso

Coffee was clearly an Arabian drink in the early days.

Still, travelers from Europe would head to the Middle East and North Africa, where they too would encounter coffee.

They were clearly intrigued about the mystical properties that came with this drink and how it allowed people to stay so alert that they had to take it back to Europe with them.

Italy was the Birthplace of Coffee in Europe

If I asked you to guess the first European country that adopted coffee, I think most would go for Italy, and you would be right.

It’s believed coffee made its way from what is now Turkey to Italy in the 17th century. Again, we have traders to thank for this, and the first European coffee shop opened in Venice in 1645.

But even at this point, drinking coffee was really something the elite and wealthy of Italian society would indulge in. Coffee was not yet popular or something the poorer would even entertain as it was viewed as a rare commodity.

Coffee Spreading Over Europe

Traders in Europe quickly became aware of this new drink on the market, and it didn’t take long for the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company to pick up on it. This led to coffee making an appearance in the UK in the mid-17th century, with Oxford being the location of the first coffee shop in 1651.

But here’s an interesting fact.

These first coffee shops, which began to pop up in cities across Europe, were initially only for men. It was not deemed to be a suitable place for women to appear, allowing men to talk about society and socialize.

How Did Coffee Reach the US?

coffee in the united states

Coffee managed to make its way to the United States relatively soon after coffee had conquered Europe. The first coffee house appeared in Boston in 1670, but it was a small shop as tea was still the most popular drink.

Yet that all changed when the uprising started against Great Britain. At that point, drinking tea was viewed as unpatriotic, so coffee became the drink of choice. 

It’s something that still applies today.

Growing Coffee in the Americas

If you have any experience with coffee, there’s a good chance you have enjoyed some coffee from countries such as Honduras, Colombia, or Brazil. That’s because parts of Latin America have the perfect climate for growing coffee, unlike Europe, where it just was not possible.

This all occurred after coffee was brought to the US. Its popularity spread with some failed attempts to cultivate the plants until people headed south and discovered it was actually possible to grow coffee.

Coffee Becoming More Affordable

We now see coffee as being far more affordable than it was in Europe when it first appeared on the scene. But it was only in Europe and then the New World where it was viewed as the drink of the elite.

Drinking coffee was commonplace in Arabia, and it seems most people participated. It certainly did not come with the feeling of being a drink for the elite in that part of the world. 

But I see the 1970s as the moment when coffee’s popularity took off and reached new heights. Demand surged, and prices dropped, making it more affordable.

Of course, it was popular before the 70s, but it did lead to more coffee shops opening and the whole coffee scene exploding.

When you look at the number of places selling coffee today, I think it’s reasonable to state this popularity will not wane any time soon.

My Recap on the History of Coffee

I know not everyone loves history, so I’ve tried to keep things as short as possible. But if you want to skip past everything else I’ve written above, here’s a quick recap on the main points in the history of how and where coffee was discovered.

  • Coffee was 100% discovered in Ethiopia
  • Legend states it was discovered by a goat herder
  • It first spread to Yemen
  • It then spread across Arabia
  • The first coffee shop was in modern-day Turkey in the 15th century
  • Italy was the first country in Europe to have a coffee shop
  • The first coffee shop appeared in the US in 1670
  • Its spread in the Americas eventually led to coffee being cultivated there
  • It is now the most popular drink in the world

I just love how coffee has managed to establish itself as such an important drink globally. It has traders and merchants to thank for that, but they were responsible for everything, so it’s hardly a surprise.

My Conclusion

I love to think the story about the goat herder is true. I simply have this image in my mind of his goats being full of energy thanks to what we know as caffeine, then him copying them and being hit by that energy buzz.

But whether or not that story is true is also irrelevant. The main thing is knowing coffee came from Ethiopia, and that is something even the National Coffee Association agrees with.

It’s just amazing to think this drink we love, which you will find in every corner of the world, started off in a remote part of Ethiopia. I bet that goat herder could never have imagined the impact his caffeine-high goats would have had on generations that followed.