How Coffee made its way around the World

Coffee bean belt wraps it way around the world.

 This is the story of how a plant native to Eastern Africa spread around the world to become the most sought after drink in the United States.

Origins of Coffee - An African bush that caused a worldwide addiction.

The route of our story begins in Africa, more precisely Eastern Africa, just above the equator. Coffee trees are indigenous to an area ranging from South of Ethiopia and South Sudan to the North of modern day Kenya. Long before these modern country borders were formed a variety of plants grew producing berries whose inner seed would come to intoxicate the world. It may come as no surprise that from this region of Africa the first stories about Coffee are derived.

 The Oromo people of Ethiopia and Kenya are the first confirmed people to use products derived from Cofffee. The people are often referred to as the ‘Galla’ a term they regard as offensive since it contains negative connotations. The Oromo are believed to have captured the potent powers of coffee by making a traditional type of energy bar. Coffee beans were mixed with Ghee - a butter produced from animal fat, to form bars to aid transport.

 Tentative accounts of the movement of coffee into Arabia either credit the Oromo with taking the beans with them or of locals otherwise acquiring them. Exactly how and when coffee was first planted in the Arabian peninsula is difficult to say with certainty. Oromo invasion and plantation is one theory.

 Alternative accounts of how coffee made its way into the Arabian peninsula follow two main lines of thought. The first is that coffee was peacefully traded between Arabia and Africa until somebody acquired beans and planted them. The second line of thought is that the beans were stolen and smuggled out of Africa. At present there is no accepted consensus as to exactly when and where the first Arabian coffee plantation grew. 


 Smuggler to Saint - How Baba Budan broke the coffee producing strangle hold on the rest of the world.

 Like many other beans, seeds and spices, Coffe was once a fiercely protected resource. Traders and producers of Coffee in Eastern Africa and the Arabian peninsula jealously guarded their cash maker. Far better to make large profits by continually selling coffee beans made infertile by boiling as opposed to selling fertile beans only once. Logically the fear was that if people in other regions of the world were to grow their own Coffee their trade in Coffee would be in ruins. Strict controls on Coffee bean export proved to be effective for some time, but it was not to last forever.

 To the people of Yemen and others in the Arabian peninsula trying to protect their Coffee market monopoly the name of Baba Budan would be viewed as a villainous smuggler. To the people of India he would eventually be regarded as a saint. Regardless of opinion he would be the man to first make coffee plantation a reality further afield.

 Baba Budan travelled from India to Mecca on a holy pilgrimage or Hajj. Along the way he seems to have grown rather fond of Coffee and decided that he did not want to live in India without it. He decided to risk life and limb to smuggle fertile coffee beans out of the Yemeni port of Mocha.

 There are a few conflicting reports on how he did this. One claim is that he concealed beans in his clothing wrapped around his stomach. A second version of events claims he in fact smuggled seven beans within his bushy beard. This second story significantly contains the specific number of beans to be seven - a sacred number within Islam. In a third version of the story Baba Budan is believed to have concealed the beans in a smugglers space inside his cane.   


 Regardless of exactly how many beans and where on his body he concealed them it is evident he made it to India with the beans. He returned to the district of Chikkamagaluru on the Western side of modern day India. Here in the foothills of Chandragiri he planted the beans and waited for the first coffee plants to be cultivated outside of East Africa and Arabia. The production of coffee world wide  was moving forward.

 From this small village in India the plant would slowly makes its way around much of the bean belt in Asia. Baba Budan was reveared as a savior and elevated to the sainthood in India. It is reasonable to say that he would not be viewed so favorably in Arabia. Coffee had began to become far more accessible within Asia, however making the jump to Europe was to prove far harder.


 Similar to Baba Budan’s successful smugling of coffee beans to India, Europeans were also intent on doing the same. Pieter Van Dan Broeck was another foreigner to discover the magical properties of Coffee in Mocha, Yemen. In 1616 he developed a firm liking for coffee and successfully smuggled fertile coffee beans back to Holland. Van dan Broeck was probably now convinced that he had an assured fortune in his hands. Unfortunately for him his plans for Coffee cultivation were to be thwarted.

 Unbeknownst to Van Dan Broeck at the time, Coffee plants can only grow in a region around the world we now call the bean belt. Holland and in fact all of Europe is well outside this region. European addiction had still to be serviced from abroad. No sainthood and glory for Van dan Broeck, geography had sunk his hopes of Coffee fueled fame. The Dutch would have to wait until they planted Coffee in their Indonesian colonies before they could harvest the sought after beans.

 In 1658 the Dutch east India company displaced the Portuguese as the ruling Colonisers of Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). The primary motivation for this was to seize control of the highly valuable production of Cinnamon. Here they encountered Coffee growing , believed to have been planted in the 1500’s. The Coffee was not a huge priority for the Dutch nor for the residents of the island and Holland was to turn its attention to Indonesia as a resource to grow Coffee.


 By 1704 Dutch Coffee production had begun in earnest in Indonesia. Seeds had sent over from Malabar on the West coast of Africa eight years ago. These seeds were most likely the offspring of the first Coffee to be smuggled out of Mocha by Baba Budan. The first beans had arrived in 1696, however a series of bad harvests and terrible storms had thwarted the successful growing of the plants. By 1704 perseverance had paid off and Coffee was to gain a strong foothold in the area.

 Once established on the Indonesian island of Batavia (modern day Jakarta) the Dutch would become major suppliers to much of the western world. The name Java would become one of the most well known names associated with coffee. The East African / Arabian regional stranglehold on Coffee production was truly lost and the bean belt was beginning to wrap its way around the world.

 Whilst coffee plant can not grow from seed outside the bean belt, a young plant can survive in areas further North or South if looked after in botanical gardens for example. The Dutch and their colonies in Asia would unwittingly lend a hand in the spread of Coffee plants to the Caribbean and South America. Mature Cofffee plants were taken to Europe on Dutch ships to be shown as a a rarity.


 In 1713 the generous mayor of Amsterdam presented one such plant to King Louis the 14th of France. The gift would have major implications to the world of Coffee and the expansion of the Coffee belt’s wrapping around the world. Being such a rare specimen the plant was lovingly protected in Frances royal botanical gardens. Here it was proudly shown to visiting dignitaries and guests of honor.

 For the next ten years this plant was cared for in its Parisian glass housed palace and was a great treasure of the King. In 1723 King Louis the 14th was to invite a young naval officer by the name of Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu into his his royal court. Mathieu de Clieu was on leave of duty from his Caribbean posting in Martinique. Having an intuition that the plant would grow in the fertile climate of the Caribbean, he requested a clipping to be taken back to the Caribbean. In a short sighted decision of over protectionism and possible jealousy the king of France denied the seemingly reasonable request.


 Mathieu de Clieu was not to be denied and is believed to have snuck in to the botanical gardens under the cover of a new moon by scaling the high walls surrounding the gardens. After illicitly taking a clipping from the coffee plant he made is escape from the gardens undetected. With the precious clipping in his possession he was to make his way back to Martinique. This was to prove to be a precarious journey fraught with adventure and danger.

 The small off cut had a perilous voyage across the Atlantic and according to Mathieu de Clieu was extremely fortunate to survive the journey. To care for the small clipping it was planted in a small glass cabinet and kept below deck, being brought on deck daily for a good dose of sunlight. Apparently the valuable plant caught the attention of a jealous crew member. Mathieu de Clieu claimed to have valiantly fought off an attempted kidnapping of the plant. The would be thief is alleged to have been severely punished for the attempted theft. This story does seem a little strange since it is hard to imagine where the perpetrator would have run away to on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

 Further ordeals were to be encountered when the ship was the intended target of Pirates roaming the sea. The would be invading pirates were valiantly held off for over a day before giving up in their failed assault of the ship. This would not be the end of the problems facing this man and plant team, next nature would test the determination of the pair.

 Storms in the Atlantic were a genuine danger to all ships attempting to cross the ocean. After surviving the failed pirate invasion the ship was battered by a raging storm tossed the ship around like a rag doll causing loss of supplies and major damage to the ship and crew. When the storm abated fresh water supplies had been greatly reduced to meager levels, sparsely rationed to all on board. If this was not enough the glass casing protecting the wilting coffee clipping was smashed to bits. Mathieu de Clieu had to share his meager rations of water with the wilting plant in order to save it.

 Mathieu de Clieu and the plant made it to Martinique where he carefully tended it as it grew in to a full and healthy coffee plant. It is worth mentioning that Martinique is well within the bean belt of the world. The Caribbean had its first ever Coffee plant growing in its native soil. After surviving its transatlantic journey the plant would provide clippings to begin the process of coffee plantations on the neighboring islands. From here the seemingly inevitable cultivation of Coffee all over the Americas was just beginning.

 Once coffee plantations were set up all over French controlled colonies of the Caribbean it did not take long for their neighbors to take notice. By 1727 Brazil had set its sights on the French colonies prized asset. After forgiving Mathieu de Clieu his naughty behavior in stealing the sapling, France was intensely protecting their Coffee plantations.


 In 1727, Brazil officially sent Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta to deal with territorial disputes over the border limits with French Guiana. His ulterior motive was to persuade the French into gifting him off cuts of the Coffee plants. Diplomacy failed to persuade the French into gifting Palheta the desired clippings, so the story goes he turned from diplomat to seductor. Accounts claim that the French Governor was so obsessed with protecting his beloved coffee plants that he paid no attention to guarding his charming wife. Palheta seduced the beautiful wife and persuaded her in to helping him return to Brazil with Cofffee beans. The story goes that upon departing for Brazil the governors wife presented him with a lovely bouquet of flowers with coffee seeds hidden inside. Brazil had a new hero and the beginnings of a new source of their own Coffee.

 From Brazil the spread of coffee growing in the bean belt would spread across all viable regions in the bean belt. By 1730 Jamaica would have its first coffee plantations, with Cuba, Colombia and Costa Rica having coffee growing within 50 years of Jamaican production. From here Coffees popularity increased to the point now where it is the number one traded drink on the planet.

 Just because it can’t be grown outside the bean belt does not mean that it has not been enjoyed further afield. Coffee is imported to and drank more in the USA than anywhere else on the planet. In fact the majority of high consumption countries are found outside of the bean belt itself