From Sheep To Starbucks: Coffee History in a Beanshell

Coffee - it's everywhere. I know that in my town you can't walk down the high street without going past at least four different outlets for the stuff and I'm not even talking about the cafes and restaurants. Starbucks, Costas, Neros... they spring up overnight when not so long ago the closest you could find to a cappuccino was a coffee with a lot of froth on top that dissolved into limpid clusters that looked unnervingly like saliva. These days, though, with the influx of the Big Boys of coffee retail - they're selling a lifestyle not just a beverage - a cappuccino is something of a tame and bland choice for your caffeine (or de-caffeined) fix.

With all the comfy chairs begging to be sat and meditated in over a the day's newspapers and a background noise of cups clinking together and the latest jazz or chill out cds it's very easy to get so very comfy and get lost in thought. But of all the things you think of, when was the last time you looked at the stuff in your cup and wondered "where did this start?" Well, being of an inquisitive nature I did wonder where the stuff to which I'm so addicted originated. I'm not talking about the specific blend - usually from a mountainous region of Colombia if it's my choice - but when did someone first decide that this could and should be drunk.

Cast your mind back to your history lessons and picture this scene: 9th century Ethiopia and a shepherd is watching his flock up in the highlands of the Kaffa region in the West. Picturing it? The robes, the dry heat, the shepherd? According to legends, this particular shepherd was called Kaldi. Kaldi began to notice that some of his flock were returning to the herd and acting a little... unusual. Dancing, in fact and full of energy. Something all of us who have had one too many espressos in the afternoon can relate to. The sheep had been eating the wild coffee berries in their pure form. When shepherds began eating the berries and experiencing the same dose of vitality, the eating of the berries began to spring up in history in other countries.

When the plant made its way to Arabia, the berries were roasted and brewed in a similar style to today. As the 15th century dawned on the world the coffee had made it's way to the Middle East, Persia, Turkey and the northern areas of Africa. From here coffee spread to Italy and our language gained a new word. Coffee as a word originates from the Italian 'caffe' from 'kahveh' in Ottoman Turkish and the Arabic 'qahweh.' History books, as coffee isn't as significant an historic revelation as, say, paper or fireworks, is a little sketch on the origin of 'qahweh' but the best bets point to either a deviation of Kaffa or a shortening of 'qahwat al-bunn' which means "wine of the bean" as it was in Arabia that it was first drunk rather than eaten.

With the origin of coffee as a drink rather than a zesty bean to eat in Arabia, the first coffee house in Europe opened in Italy in 1645 and began taking part in history. Coffee arrived in England in the 16th century through the efforts of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company and Pasqua Rosee opened up the first coffee house with more than 3,000 coffeehouses in the country by 1675, many of which banned women in keeping with the practice in place across Europe at the time.

This article won't even dare to try and estimate how many hundreds of thousands, probably even millions, of people are employed by the coffee industry in a pure production level, though I will suggest only buying those brews that are produced in an ethical and fair way. Brazil alone generates 2 million metric tonnes of the stuff a year. Coffee became an important commodity in terms of economy and history. If it wasn't for coffee would the Americans still have destroyed crates of tea bricks in the Boston Tea Party?

From the Americans love of coffee the coffee drinking lifestyle gradually began to arise. While here in the UK coffee meant filtered or (shudderingly) instant, in America coffee was becoming a way of life, a social gathering. Today seen as the biggest of the Big Boys on the scene with their mermaid logo, Starbucks first opened in 1971 in Seattle selling only beans and coffee making equipment. The founders of the company were joined by Howard Schultz in 1982 and it is with Shcultz that the start of today's coffee drinking culture began.

Howard Shultz had taken a trip to Milan and was inspired enough to suggest that Starbucks should also sell espresso drinks, not just the beans. A great idea. Though one that fell on death ears - the owners rejected the idea believing that coffee should be prepared in the home. Not to be deterred Shultz was convinced by the market and that Americans on-the-go would also be convinced. In 1985 he started the Il Giornale chain. By 1987 Schultz had purchased Starbucks and rebranded his outlets as Starbucks and began to quickly expand with 4 further outlets, including one in canada, by the end of the year. In the five years between purchase and floating on the stock market in 1992, the company had grown to 165 outlets. World domination began in 1996 with a store in Tokyo and the company took over the 60 shops belonging to the Seattle Coffee Company in England in 1998.

So next time you're drinking your brew in you comfy armchair and wondering how Starbucks made sheep of us all with our de-caf-skinny-mochas, think of the sheep that started it all.

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About The Author, Patrick Omari
Patrick is an expert researcher, currently researching Manchester Airport parking