A brief history of coffee

Coffee probably originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa, though there is controversy about its origins. The crop first became popular in Arabia around the 13th century, its popularity probably enhanced by Islam´s prohibition against alcoholic beverages. Before 1600, coffee production was a jealously guarded secret, and fertile beans were not found outside Arabia. Sometime after 1600, coffee trees were grown in India, possibly due to smuggling of fertile beans. Around 1650, coffee importation into England began and coffeehouses opened in Oxford and London. Coffee planting began in the English colonies, but a disease wiped out the plantations, leading the English to re-plant them with tea instead.

By the 18th century, the beverage had become popular in Europe, and European colonists had introduced coffee to tropical countries worldwide as a plantation crop to supply domestic demand. During the 19th century, European demand for coffee was so strong that when genuine coffee beans were scarce, people developed similar-tasting substitutes from various roasted vegetable substances, such as chicory root, dandelion root, acorns, or figs. For example, the British used acorns as a coffee substitute during World War II while German U-boats blockaded Britain.

The major coffee-producing countries are Brazil, Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, and India, but coffee is grown in over 70 countries (2003 USDA and ICO data). Major importers are United States, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, and Spain (2002 USDA data), and per-capita consumers of coffee are Finland (11 kg), Denmark (9.7 kg), Norway (9.5 kg), Sweden (8.6 kg), and Austria (7.8 kg). The United States while being the largest importing country, only ranks 16th (4.1 kg) in per-capita consumption (2001 USDA data).