You probably start every day with a cup of coffee. It can be from the kitchen you have converted into your own personal café, set up with a brew machine or a portable espresso machine. Or, you may choose to venture to your local coffee shop. Regardless, coffee is an integral part of our daily routines. We love coffee so much that over 2.25 billion cups of the beverage are consumed around the world every day.
So, where exactly did it come from? How did it spread around the world to create its own culture, eventually becoming one of the most-consumed drinks?
While we can’t be entirely sure where coffee was first discovered, it is believed to have originated from the Ethiopian plateau in eastern Africa, around 850 AD. According to the famous legend, an Ethiopian goat shepherd found his goats behaving strangely after eating fruits from a particular bush. The goats were dancing and full of energy after consuming the foreign contents.
The shepherd, Kaldi, tried the bush fruits for himself, and also experienced the same jolt of energy as his goats. It was from here that coffee plantations started to form in Ethiopia.
Coffee’s effects were mostly concentrated in the eastern region of Africa, until it began to spread to the Arabian peninsula, most notably Yemen. Yemen's climate offered the perfect conditions to cultivate coffee and earliest sources mention that coffee was present in the country around the 15th century. It was from there that coffee began to spread around the world and become one of our beverages of choice.
Coffee started to get popular not only in homes, but in coffee houses. People would discuss news together, as well as play games and listen to music. These coffee houses, known both as “qahveh khaneh” and “Schools of the Wise,” are what helped to spread information and admiration for caffeine.
Because of the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, information surrounding coffee and its benefits spread all around the world. Once coffee arrived in Europe in the 16th century, it spread across the continent. Coffee houses, like in the East, continued to thrive and be spaces where people could congregate and discuss ideas and politics.
After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, coffee started to become the more favorable beverage in the United States. By the 18th century, the significance of coffee was known all over the world and plantations had been built in various countries. It had become one of the world’s most profitable crops.
The Coffee Belt
Today, most of the world’s coffee is produced in Central/South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. This region of coffee production is known as the “coffee belt,” which consists of over 70 countries. The most common coffee plant species that grow here are Robusta and Arabica, where a majority of the coffee you drink most likely comes from. Respectively, the countries that produce the most coffee are Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia.
The main benefit of the coffee belt is the climate. Everything from altitude, rainfall, and temperature can play a role in coffee production and these needs are especially met in the coffee belt, geographically speaking. Probably the most important factor to consider is soil, and the volcanic activity that occurs in the coffee belt countries makes the soil richer for the coffee plants to grow.
The Coffee Industry Today
Coffee is one of the most-consumed beverages in the world. More than 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world every year. As of 2019, over 30,000 Starbucks franchise locations exist around the world. An estimated 25 million coffee farmers depend on coffee for the economy and their livelihood. The coffee industry isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
As of 2018, the industry is estimated to be worth over $100 billion. After crude oil, it’s the most-sought after commodity in the world. Over the next few years, its market is expected to grow, as well as the increase of niche coffee shops and convenient on-the-go chains.
Given these optimistic statistics, what does this mean for coffee over the next several decades?
The Future of Coffee
The coffee industry is perhaps as big as it has ever been, and only continues to grow around the world. As our admiration and demand for coffee increases, will our thoughts to preserve it grow as well?
Because of climate change, we could see up to 50% of land used for growing coffee species unusable in the coffee belt. In recent decades, climate change has started to affect coffee plants more and more in terms of humidity and altitude. The weather patterns have also become more unpredictable for coffee farmers to anticipate, making the process a challenge. This video goes more in-depth into the struggles farmers face regarding the future of coffee production.
While countries, such as Ethiopia, are taking steps to prevent such an event from happening, as it would be detrimental to many countries’ economies, we are all going to have to play our part in the coming decades to ensure that that cup of coffee continues to brighten up our mornings.