The History of Coffee

The beginning of the coffee history is not precise, but there is a legend of a shepherd of Abyssinia, currently Ethiopia, that about the year 800, noted that his goats were in a good mood and hopping when they ate a certain yellowish-reddish fruit. After chewing the fruit the animals were full of energy and walked kilometers and more kilometers through steep terrains.

The shepherd reported the fact to a monk, who decided to taste an infusion of the fruit and found out that the drink helped him stay awake for his prayers and long hours of study. The news spread and generated a demand for the product. Evidences show that coffee was cultivated for the first time in Islamic monasteries in Yemen.

Since the Islamic religion does not allow any alcoholic beverages at all, soon coffee spread among the religious cults of the Arabian region, where the name “coffee”, “qahwa” in Arabic, meant wine. The fruit was roasted for the first time in Persia. The Arabs maintained the monopoly of the product until the 16th Century. But, after 1615, coffee beans began to be savored in the European continent where they were introduced by travelers after their trips to the Middle East.

The European interest in coffee, led the Dutch to smuggle fresh seeds to begin plantations in their colonies in Asia (Java, Ceylon, and Sumatra) in 1699.  In the meantime, the French received some seedlings and started planting coffee in the Sandwich and Bourbon islands. From there, the Europeans brought seedlings to their colonies in Latin America.

The arrival of coffee in Brazil is credited to Sergeant-Major Francisco de Mello Palheta. In 1727, he the governor of the States of Maranhão e Grão Pará assigned him to visit the French Guyana and to obtain seeds of the fruit, which had become a high commercial value product at the time.  To have success in his endeavors, Palheta conquered the confidence of the wife of the governor of the French Guyana capital. At the end of the trip, the first lady offered him Arabica coffee seeds, which he brought to the city of Belém do Pará, hidden in his luggage.

The climatic conditions of Brazil were favorable and soon coffee cultivation spread to other States. The Tijuca forest in Rio de Janeiro was the starting point for the large plantations that spread to Angra do Reis and Paraty in the State of Rio de Janeiro, and arrived in São Paulo through the town of Ubatuba.  Soon afterwards coffee plantations occupied the Paraiba Valley and subsequently the  area of Campinas (SP), the region of Ribeirão Preto (SP), and the States of Minas Gerais and Paraná. In 1830, the beans were the main export product of Brazil.  Coffee drove the economic development of Brazil, especially, in the State of São Paulo, in which new railways  — Sorocabana and Mogiana – were built to transport the goods to the Port of Santos.

The superb coffee crops of the center-south of Brazil were shaken by a frost in 1870, which caused severe losses. Almost 60 years later, in 1929,  coffee crops suffered another shock:  the New York Stock Exchange crash, which forced the Brazilian federal government  to burn millions of coffee bags to avoid an even worse crisis.  The dramatic episode marked the end of the golden cycle of coffee, which went  from 1800 to 1929.  Later, coffee fields were replanted in the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Espírito Santo, Paraná and currently they are present in 15 Brazilian states. Coffee is no longer the most important export product of Brazil, but it is still one of the most important commodities  in Brazilian foreign trade within the agribusiness segment.