Etymology The word coffee comes from an Arabian word, whether it be kahua, kahoueh, kaffa or kahwa, and the peoples who have adopted the drink have all modified the Arabian word to suit their pronunciation. The word as written in various languages:
French, café; Breton, kafe; German, kaffee; Dutch, koffie; Danish, kaffe; Finnish, kahvi; Hungarian, kavé; Bohemian, kava; Polish, kawa; Roumanian, cafea; Croatian, kafa; Servian, kava; Russian, kophe; Swedish, kaffe; Spanish, café; Basque, kaffia; Italian, caffè; Portuguese, café; Latin (scientific), coffea; Turkish, kahué; Greek, kaféo; Arabic, qahwah (coffee berry, bun); Persian, qéhvé; Annamite, ca-phé; Cambodian, kafé; Dukni, bunbund; Teluyan, kapri-vittulu; Tamil, kapi-kottai or kopi; Canareze, kapi-bija; Chinese, kia-fey, teoutsé; Japanese, kéhi; Malayan, kawa, koppi; Abyssinian, bonn; Foulak, legal café; Sousou, houri caff; Marquesan, kapi; Chinook, kaufee; Volapuk, kaf; Esperanto, kafva.
Cultivation The coffee plant was first cultivated in the northern half of Ethiopia (historically known as Abyssinia), where in about the fifteenth century Arabians having found the plant growing wild, first gave it intensive cultivation. Today commercial growers cultivate coffee on a large scale, maintaining their trees as do other growers of grains and fruits.
The coffee tree, scientifically known as Coffea arabica, is native to Ethiopia but grows well in Java, Sumatra, and other islands of the Dutch East Indies; in India, Arabia, equatorial Africa, the islands of the Pacific, in Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies. Unlike most tropical plants, it can stand low temperatures. It requires shade when it grows in hot, low-lying districts; but when it grows on elevated land, it thrives without such protection.
Coffee Trading When Columbus sailed for the new world, the coffee plant was unknown even as near its original home as his native Italy. From its birthplace in Ethiopia, it had spread to southwestern Arabia; but the Mediterranean knew nothing of it until after the beginning of the sixteenth century. It then crept slowly along the coast of Asia Minor, through Syria, Damascus, and Aleppo, until it reached Constantinople about 1554. It became very popular; coffee houses were opened, and soon was firmly established in Turkish territory. The next step westward, from Asia to Europe, was not taken for more than fifty years. In general, its introduction and establishment in Europe occupied the whole of the seventeenth century.
The greatest pioneering work in coffee trading was done by the Netherlands East India Company, which began operations in 1602. The enterprise not only promoted the spread of coffee growing in two hemispheres; but it was active also in introducing the sale of the product in many European countries. Coffee reached Venice about 1615, and Marseilles about 1644. The French began importing coffee in commercial quantities in 1660. The Dutch began to import Mocha coffee regularly at Amsterdam in 1663; and by 1679 the French had developed a considerable trade in the berry between the Levant and the cities of Lyons and Marseilles. Meanwhile, the coffee drink had become fashionable in Paris, partly through its use by the Turkish ambassador, and the first Parisian café was opened in 1672. It is significant of its steady popularity since then that the name café, which is both French and Spanish for coffee, has come to mean a general eating or drinking place. Active trading in coffee began in Germany about 1670, and in Sweden about 1674. Trading in coffee in England followed swiftly upon the heels of the opening of the first coffee house in London in 1652. By 1700, the trade included not only exporting and importing merchants, but wholesale and retail dealers; the latter succeeding the apothecaries who, up to then, had enjoyed a kind of monopoly of the business. In the early days of the eighteenth century the chief supplies of coffee for England and western Europe came from the East Indies and Arabia. The Arabian, or—as it was more generally known—Turkey berry, was bought first-hand by Turkish merchants, who were accustomed to travel inland in Arabia Felix, and to contract with native growers. It was moved thence by camel transport through Judea to Grand Cairo, via Suez, to be transhipped down the Nile to Alexandria, then the great shipping port for Asia and Europe. By 1722, 60,000 to 70,000 bales of Turkish (Arabian) coffee a year were being received in England, the sale price at Grand Cairo being fixed by the Bashaw, who “valorized” it according to the supply. “Indian” coffee, which was also grown in Arabia, was brought to Bettelfukere (Beit-el-fakih) in the mountains of southwestern Arabia, where English, Dutch, and French factors went to buy it and to transport it on camels to Moco (Mocha), whence it was shipped to Europe around the Cape of Good Hope.
The Character of a Coffee-House Coffee houses became the gathering places for wits, fashionable people, and scholarly men, to whom they afforded opportunity for endless gossip and discussion. It was only natural that the lively interchange of ideas at these public clubs should generate liberal and radical opinions, and that the constituted authorities should look askance at them. Indeed the consumption of coffee has been curiously associated with movements of political protest in its whole history, at least up to the nineteenth century.
THE DERIVATION OF
A Coffee-house, the learned hold
It is a place where Coffee’s sold;
This derivation cannot fail us,
For where Ale’s vended, that’s an Ale-house.
(Poem from a pamphlet printed in the year 1665)
Page content from All About Coffee, by William H. Ukers, NY: The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1922.