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The birthplace of coffee

Watch part 1 of
the documentary

The origin of coffee

Coffee originated in what is now Ethiopia. According to legend, it comes from the Ethiopian region of Kaffa, and was discovered by Kaldi, a 9th century goatherd who noticed that his goats became particularly animated after they ate the berries of a certain tree.

He reported his finding to the head of a local monastery where, curious about Kaldi’s discovery, the monks made a drink with the berries and found to their excitement that it kept them awake, allowing them to stay alert through long nights of prayer.

Slowly, word of the powerful new beverage spread far and wide.

Kaldi's goats

Kaldi's goats

The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia, where coffee was supposedly first brewed by monks.

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Historically, coffee was popularized by the Muslims of Yemen. The Arabs cultivated and traded coffee and by the 16th century, it was found in the bazars and coffee houses of Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.

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European traders brought coffee to Europe in the 17th century and coffee houses, popular as places of political and artistic discussion, began to appear in England, Holland, France and Germany.

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Keen to break the Arab monopoly on the coffee trade, the Dutch eventually succeeded in bringing coffee seeds back to the Netherlands in 1616, where they grew them in greenhouses.

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From there, the Europeans took coffee to the East and the Americas where they could cultivate it in their colonies. The Dutch planted seedlings in Malabar in India and Java in Indonesia, while the French took coffee to Martinique, from where it spread to Latin America.

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By the mid 17th century, coffee was also available in North America. There its popularity soared after 1773, when the British imposed a tax on tea, prompting the famous Boston Tea Party, an anti-colonial protest.

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Today, coffee is grown in many countries and consumed all over the world.

Coffee's Journey

Coffee is an important part of life in Ethiopia. For a time at the end of the 17th century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is thought to have prohibited coffee drinking, but that is certainly not the case today. Most Ethiopians consume coffee at least once or twice a day, coffee shops abound and coffee production represents an important part of the country’s economy.

Agriculture makes up more than 43% of Ethiopia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 90% of its exports. Coffee constitutes a sizeable part of that, generating about 30% of Ethiopia’s export revenues.

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa, but while Ethiopia’s coffee production has been rising in recent years, it is still a relatively small producer when compared to giants like Brazil and Costa Rica. Ethiopian coffee represents less than 5% of the global coffee supply.

Unusually for a coffee producer, Ethiopia consumes a great deal of the coffee it produces. More than half of Ethiopia’s coffee production goes to the domestic market.

grinding beans

In a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, the beans are ground by hand.

coffee beans

More than half of Ethiopia’s coffee production goes to the domestic market.