Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What’s behind the global obsession?

By Morgan Tarpley
A dark brown drink made from boiling water and roasted and ground bean-like seeds of a tropical shrub. Hint: it tends to be one of a writer’s best friends.
Yep, that’s the definition of coffee all right. And this beloved drink even has its own official day in the USA. National Coffee Day was celebrated here recently with most coffee shops giving big discounts and even free cups of “joe” to their patrons. For coffee lovers though, it was just another day.
So this writer’s question is how did this wildly popular beverage become such a worldwide obsession? The majority of not only Americans but citizens of the entire world drink it off and on morning, noon and night and many treat it as an art form. 
My fiance and I with our special coffee mugs (Photo by Honest Photography)
I’m familiar enough now with a wide array of coffee options beyond the regular drip kind to espresso, French presses and Chemexes and since I work some days at a local coffee shop and I have a fiancé who is quite the coffee aficionado. But I wanted to know what started all this? And oddly enough, according to the National Coffee Association’s website, I discovered it all began hundreds of years ago with goats.
According to the NCA, “In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi, the goatherd, originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries. Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend. It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.

“Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.

“Today coffee is grown in a multitude of countries around the world. Whether it is Asia or Africa, Central or South America, the islands of the Caribbean or Pacific, all can trace their heritage to the trees in the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.
The Arabs were the first, not only to cultivate coffee but also to begin its trade. By the fifteenth century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the sixteenth century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
Cafe au lait and beignets from New Orleans
“Coffee was not only drunk in homes but also in the many public coffee houses - called qahveh khaneh - which began to appear in cities across the Near East. The popularity of the coffee houses was unequaled and people frequented them for all kinds of social activity. Not only did they drink coffee and engage in conversation, but they also listened to music, watched performers, played chess and kept current on the news of the day. In fact, they quickly became such an important center for the exchange of information that the coffee houses were often referred to as ‘Schools of the Wise.’

“With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from all over the world, word of the ‘wine of Araby’ as the drink was often called, was beginning to spread far beyond Arabia. In an effort to maintain its complete monopoly in the early coffee trade, the Arabians continued to closely guard their coffee production.
“European travellers to the Near East brought back stories of the unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Opponents were overly cautious, calling the beverage the ‘bitter invention of Satan.’ With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.
“Despite such controversy, in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, coffee houses were quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication. In England ‘penny universities’ sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation. By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists. Many businesses grew out of these specialized coffee houses. Lloyd's of London, for example, came into existence at the Edward Lloyd's Coffee House.
My fiance drew this on National Coffee Day - which he just calls an average day (haha)
In the mid-1600’s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, a location later called New York by the British. Though coffee houses rapidly began to appear, tea continued to be the favored drink in the New World until 1773 when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George. The revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, would forever change the American drinking preference to coffee.
“As demand for the beverage continued to spread, there was tense competition to cultivate coffee outside of Arabia. Though the Arabs tried hard to maintain their monopoly, the Dutch finally succeeded, in the latter half of the 17th century, to obtain some seedlings. Their first attempts to plant them in India failed but they were successful with their efforts in Batavia, on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia. The plants thrived and soon the Dutch had a productive and growing trade in coffee. They soon expanded the cultivation of coffee trees to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.

“In only 100 years, coffee had established itself as a commodity crop throughout the world. Missionaries and travellers, traders and colonists continued to carry coffee seeds to new lands and coffee trees were planted worldwide. Plantations were established in magnificent tropical forests and on rugged mountain highlands. Some crops flourished, while others were short-lived. New nations were established on coffee economies. Fortunes were made and lost. And by the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the world’s most profitable export crops.”
So what is your favorite way to take your coffee? Do you use any special method? Or perhaps you prefer hot tea (which I love as well)? Which type of hot beverage is your favorite? And why?
Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a historical novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, photography, singing and currently planning a November wedding and honeymoon to Europe.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog ( You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. Interesting history. I don't drink coffee ever, not even as Coffee Crisp, a popular chocolate bar here in Canada. ;) Although I do like the aroma.

    1. Coffee Crisp sounds like a fun place! And I didn't start drinking coffee at all until I started working at the coffee shop. :)

    2. Thanks for weighing in, Sandra! :)

  2. Morgan, thanks for an interesting blog, which was even more special to me for two reasons: 1.) my debut novelette, Helsinki Sunrise, is set in Finland and the Finns are rated as No. 1 coffee drinkers in the world, and 2.) I am currently working on a novelette set in Melbourne and my heroine is a famous Melbourne Barista. When I started on the story, I had no idea that the coffee culture IS Melbourne :)

    My preferred drink is tea (must have something to do with my British heritage)...with the milk in first. It's creamier, and I've proven the fact over and over by blind tastings my husband insists on inflicting on me. He thinks he'll catch me out, but there IS a vast difference :)

    1. Thanks for your input, Marion! That's so neat about the coffee influence in your novels! :) And I love tea too! That's so funny about your husband making you take blind tastings. haha!

  3. Hi Morgan,
    Thanks for a most enjoyable read. Here in South Australia, many people prefer to drink cartons of iced coffee the most, made by a local company called Farmers Union. Our other states don't necessarily share the passion, and it isn't even sold there. But for South Aussies, Farmers Union Iced Coffee is a state icon.

    1. Thanks Paula! And I love iced coffee! I would fit right in! except for my accent of

  4. An interesting read, Morgan. I marginally prefer tea over coffee and drink far too many cups a day of both as I sit and write. And yes, Marion, Melbourne is known for its vast array of coffee shops but here in Sydney, we definitely have lots as well. To us, a coffee shop is a great place to meet up with a friend and chat for an hour or two. And Paula, we do have iced coffee here, but not Farmers' Union, I grant you that!

    1. That's great Jo-Anne! I love a good spot o tea too! Earl Grey and any fruit teas too!

  5. Lovely subject. I can sniff the aroma through your words, Morgan, Now I take a double shot Cappuchino, but my dear hubby likes his "bitter invention of satan" Turkish style, cooked in a copper briki. It is an art form with him...he catches it when the tone changes just before it comes to the boil.- (a terrible sin if it boils!) And best sipped along with a Greek shortbread.

    1. Hi Rita! a double shot cappuchino! nice! And my fiance loves Turkish coffee too! Oh gosh it's awful. To not be rude I had to drink it far too many times in Serbia. :)

  6. Now in the Little Sweden, known as Lindsborg, Kansas, USA, the premiere coffee used to be King Oscar. Alas, it's no longer available (I don't know why). But the Swedes here can't be far behind the Finns, Marion, in their love of coffee. Life revolved around it.
    Coffee first thing in the morning before chores -
    coffee with breakfast -
    coffee at mid-morning with pastry and fruit -
    coffee at lunch -
    coffee mid-afternoon with pastry and fruit again -
    coffee with supper -
    coffee in the evening.
    All this is plain coffee, prepared with an egg.

    1. Absolutely, Judith. Having vacationed in Finland two years ago with a Finn and a Swede, they both have a love of the brew.

      I will never forget how we struggled to get a cup of coffee as we liked it when we were in Brazil. They only do a big cup with milk in the morning, and the rest of the day, if you order a coffee, you will get a small cup of rocket brew. We finally discovered if we ordered cappuccino (they did not understand English at most places we were), then we got something close to what we could drink...until the pineapple type cocktails arrived at our table the one day :)

    2. That's great, Judith! Coffee all day! That's how my fiancee lives his life. lol

    3. And Marion it is fascinating how each country takes it coffee. You never know what you're going to get. :)

    4. or not get as the case may be. lol

  7. Morgan, I drink coffee every day. I'm trying to cut back to just the one in the morning but sometimes need that afternoon pickmeup.

    I have a Nespresso machine which makes the coffee-making ritual a very simple one.

    I also drink a lot of spearmint tea - it's very gentle and is also a good digestive. Herbal teas also add to one's daily water consumption which is an added bonus.

    Having been a coffee lover for most of my life I've always found it strange that I don't like coffee in chocolate or cakes.

  8. Hey, Morgan! I was so excited to see your post pop up in my email inbox. I've never been a coffee or tea drinker though I love hot chocolate. Dark chocolate hot chocolate especially. And it doesn't even have to be cold outside.

    Loved the "penny universities." Fascinating history. Well done!