Coffee history – since when do people drink coffee?

Today, it’s impossible to imagine our daily lives without coffee. But since when is the popular hot drink actually drunk and how did coffee come to Germany? In this article, you will learn more about the origin and history of coffee.

Back to the origin: the history of coffee in Ethiopia

In general, the origin of coffee cultivation is not historically documented. However, the custom of drinking a hot brew made from roasted coffee beans is said to have originated in Ethiopia. It has been proven that the plant genus Coffea originated in tropical Africa. The Ethiopian highlands are considered the place of origin of the Coffea Arabica bean. Coffee was first mentioned there early in history – in the 9th century.

According to legend, a goat herder named Kaldi in southwestern Ethiopia discovered coffee in the 9th century when he observed that his goats, snacking on the cherry-like fruit of a small tree, frolicked at night and did not seem tired. To get to the bottom of it, he sampled the cherry-like fruit himself. He quickly noticed their stimulating and refreshing effect.

Coffee probably reached Arabia from Ethiopia through slave traders. Ancient writings indicate that the Yemenis were already cultivating coffee in the Middle Ages. The first coffee plantations were established in the port city of Mocha in Yemen in the 14th/15th century. The term “coffee” is derived from the Arabic “Kahwe” or “Qahwa”, which means life force or strength.

The story continues: spread of coffee & arrival in Europe

From the mid-15th century, coffee made its way to the Egyptian metropolis of Cairo via the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina. This was a decisive point in the history of coffee. Because from then on, an expansion of the Ottoman Empire took place starting in the 16th century.

Coffee conquered Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and southeastern Europe. The first coffee houses sprang up everywhere. For years, Arabia, especially Yemen, had the monopoly of the coffee trade. The Arabs had delivered only raw beans to their trading partners and had previously doused them with hot water. This rendered the beans incapable of germinating and they could not be grown in other regions. This little state secret was properly guarded by the Arabs.

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It was not until the 17th century that a change in the history of coffee took place. With the beginnings of colonization, the coffee monopoly of the Arab world fell and coffee found its way into Europe. More and more travelers and pilgrims reported on the energy-rich beverage and brought small amounts of coffee back to their home countries. With the expansion of trade routes, sacks of coffee beans soon arrived in major port cities such as Venice, London, Amsterdam and Hamburg, and coffee became a sought-after drink among the urbane rich in these cities.

Gradually, numerous coffee houses opened in Europe and North America. The first coffee house opened its doors in Venice in 1647. As a central meeting place for the citizens of the city, the coffeehouse gained social relevance. In the years that followed, other coffeehouses opened: in Oxford in 1650, in London in 1652, in Bremen in 1673, in Hamburg in 1677, and in Vienna in 1685. The coffeehouse tradition is still maintained today in some major cities. And coffee cultivation also expanded abruptly.

Long after its origin: coffee becomes a popular mass drink

Once it had arrived in Europe, coffee’s triumphant advance was unstoppable. Here, coffee became a coveted beverage of urban elites and nobility, because coffee was initially considered a pure luxury good. Only later in history, in the middle of the 19th century, coffee gradually became a popular and mass drink.

This development in coffee history is due to the mass production of coffee on plantations in South America and the increasing purchasing power of the working class. The coffee trade became much easier as industrialization progressed, and the broad working classes also experienced relative prosperity. While coffee was still a luxury food for the aristocratic upper class, the workers particularly appreciated its powerful and invigorating effects.


Since the 20th century, industrial ready-made products were consumed for the first time. In wartime, soldiers were supplied with soluble coffee that was easy to prepare and had a long shelf life. From 1945, however, bean-to-cup coffee was in short supply. During World War 2, coffee production in factories was curtailed, and the focus of the diet shifted instead to carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes and flour. German coffee consumers had to make do with a coffee substitute called muckefuck instead.

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This can be prepared in different ways. Basically, chicory roots, which are roasted, ground and finally infused like ordinary coffee, are used to make the drink. This gave the substitute coffee the color typical of coffee. Other main ingredients of the hot drink were barley grains, which also underwent roasting. Other grains such as rye and spelt were also added to the mixture for variety. There are two explanations for the word origin of the coffee substitute. Some assume that the term comes from the French “mocca faux” (false mocha). And others believe that muckefuck derives from the Rhenish “mucke” (brown woodworm) and “fuck” (lazy). In terms of taste, the drink can be described as nutty. Of course, it cannot be compared in taste with a coffee from a filter coffee machine.

Gradually, through different ways of preparation and coffee variations, coffee became one of the most important trade goods in the world – and it still is today. Nowadays, coffee is considered the second most important raw&Shy substance on the global trade market. The coffee supply is large and varied. Germany is supplied with tons of Arabica beans and Robusta beans. These are ideal for grinding and brewing in filter coffee machines. The largest coffee exporter is Brazil, beating even Vietnam by a long way. The largest country on the South American continent supplies the world with 2.7 million tons of coffee annually. Vietnam contributes around 1.6 tons of green coffee year after year – and the trend is rising. This is because there are more and more citizens of the world who want to enjoy a cup of coffee from a filter coffee machine.

The history of coffee in the 21st century

A lot has happened in the coffee world in recent years. Not only is the variety of coffee constantly growing, but coffee machine manufacturers are also constantly surprising us with technical innovations. But our attitude towards this beverage and its value chain have also changed.

Coffee, pad and capsule machines as well as fully automatic espresso machines are becoming increasingly popular and can be found in more and more households. As a result of constant further development by manufacturers, preparation is becoming faster, quieter and the coffee more aromatic. Likewise, the variety of coffee specialties that can be prepared with the fully automatic coffee machine is regularly increasing. Milk drinks such as cappuccino or latte macchiato are now particularly popular.

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But the meaning of coffee has also changed over the course of history. Coffee is no longer exclusively synonymous with wakefulness, but has evolved into a luxury good. The willingness to spend more money on quality coffee products and equipment is growing. The idea of quality is accompanied by an increased interest in the processing of coffee. Drum roasting is the preferred method of processing among those interested in coffee. This development in quality awareness is also reflected in the numerous small specialty roasteries that are currently taking over the backyards in many major cities. In addition to quality awareness, the idea of sustainability has also pushed its way further and further into the consciousness of coffee drinkers. Thus, in addition to price and quality, origin and possible certifications also play a role. Customers want to know more about their coffee.

One effect of this coffee evolution is the “third wave of coffee”. The third wave of coffee stands for high-quality coffee that is regarded as a luxury food. Their concern is to stamp all components of the value chain with high quality and sustainability, thus increasing product and taste quality. For them, roasting is a craft and not just an unimportant work step. But the working and living conditions of local coffee farmers are also close to this movement’s heart. Thus, as many middlemen as possible are eliminated so that as much revenue as possible ends up directly with the coffee farmers. Additionally, this movement favors original and alternative brewing methods as opposed to fully automatic coffee machines. The focus is on aromatic coffee preparation that has nothing to do with speed or simplicity. Here, no coffee machine makes the filter coffee, but it is brewed by hand. The aim is to awaken consumers’ awareness of quality and their interest. They should decide for themselves which coffee is good and not blindly trust the colorful coffee packaging.

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