The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries

by Salah Zaimeche Published on: 11th October 2010

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The history of coffee goes at least as far back as the 9th century. From Eastern Africa, coffee spread to Egypt and Yemen. The earliest credible evidence for either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen, where coffee beans were first roasted and brewed, in a similar way to how coffee is now prepared. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. From the Muslim world, coffee then spread to Italy, and to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia, and to the Americas. Many think that Muslim food and cuisine are confined to Curry, Biryani, Kebabs, Chapati and sweets such as Kulfi and Baklawa. This article traces the Muslim origins of coffee and its recent Cappuccino variety.


FSTC Research Team*

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Early Muslim sources

3. Coffee in Turkey and the Balkans

4. The Transfer of Coffee to Europe

4.1. Coffee in Italy
4.2. Coffee in England
4.3. Coffee in France
4.4. Coffee in the rest of Europe
4.5. Coffee in the Americas

5. From Turkish Coffee to Cappuccino and Croissant

6. Conclusion

7. References

8. Further resources


Note of the editor

A first version of this article was published on in June 2003 by Dr Rabah Saoud. The present version was revised and expanded by FSTC Research Team, and new illustrations were added.


1. Introduction

Much of the writing about the history of coffee highlights the wide differences in opinion concerning how and when coffee was discovered. Historians have failed to reach a consensus and it is still difficult to establish a credible date. The earliest manuscripts known to study the history of coffee were of Muslim origin, dating from the 15th century. As we shall see, these works provided a comprehensive amount of information about the social nature of this beverage as well as the process of its spread to various parts of the Muslim world, an event that took place during the century when these books were produced. In relation to its first discovery, however, there are some considerable gaps as these manuscripts relied on their contemporary eyewitnesses who did not go back beyond a few generations in tracing its historical chronology. Because of this, historians who followed these manuscripts argued for the late introduction of coffee into the Muslim world. Hattox [1], for example, put it in the15th century. Quoting these Arabic sources, he claimed that Yemeni Muslims brought it from Ethiopia around the 1400s.

As we shall see below, other testimonies, such as those of Al-Razi and Ibn Sina, let us conclude that coffee was known, at least in medical circles, as early as the beginning of the 10th century.

2. Early Muslim sources

In one account provided by Fakhr al-Din Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Yazid Al-Makki [2], he referred to a group of Sufis under the name of Shadhilya order who used to make Al-Qahwa from Kafta using the leaves of Al-Gat, a stimulating plant well known in Arabia. Due to sudden shortages of Al-Gat in Aden, Sheikh al-Dhabhani (d. 1470-71) instructed his followers to use bunn, coffee beans, instead [3]. However, this does not necessarily prove that the first use of coffee in Yemen was in the 15th century. Coffee could have been known before, but substituted for the Al-Gat on that particular occasion.

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries
Figure 1: Geographical distribution of production for the different kinds of coffees (r : robusta, a : arabica, m : robusta & arabica). (Source).

Hattox provided other Arabic sources, which he claims set the introduction of coffee to the mid-15th century at the earliest [4]. This theory echoed that of John Ellis [5] (1774) who quoted Ibn Shihab al-Din (15th century), attributing the first introduction of coffee drinking into Yemen to Jamal Al-Din, the Mufti of Aden, who was nearly his contemporary. During one of his travels to Persia, Jamal Al-Din saw some of his countrymen drinking coffee. At the time, he did not pay much attention but on his return to Aden, he fell ill and decided to try it to see whether it would improve his condition. On so doing, not only recover his health, but perceived other useful qualities. These included relieving headache, enlivening the spirits, and preventing drowsiness. Consequently, he recommended the drink to his fellow Sufis to enable them to pass the night in prayer. The example and authority of the Mufti established the reputation of coffee, spreading it throughout the population and slowly replacing the Al-Gat drink.

The Turkish sources, however, provide earlier dating. Brisel in his Kahvaler Kitab [6] put the first discovery of coffee to 1258. His account refers to a certain Sheikh named Omar who discovered it accidentally through hunger, which made him eat the beans. There is a circumstantial evidence which endorses the Turkish view and suggests that coffee was indeed known to the Muslims long before the 15th century. The presence of ceramic and silver pots and ewer shapes, that can only refer to the presence of coffee, were established in the Islamic world, since the 13th and 14th centuries [7].

There is further evidence which indicates that coffee was known to Muslims even before Brisel’s date of 1258. We know that the scholar and physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) administered coffee as a medicine around the first millennium. There is a reference and a description of its medical effect in his Al-Qanun fi al-tib in which he described coffee as “a material that comes from the Yemen. It is said that it is produced from the roots of the Thorn Aegiptia which drops at maturation. The better type is yellow and light, of good smell. The white and heavy one is instead bad. It revives the body, cleans the skin, and dries up the humidities that are under it, and gives an excellent smell to all the body.” The quote clearly established the presence of coffee in Yemen, at least, sometime in the 10th century. Before him, the early 10th-century known physician Al-Razi (Rhazes) also mentioned some medical properties of coffee. However, both authors used the name bunn, the Arabic contraction of the Ethiopian name for coffee.

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries
Figure 2: World map based on coffee importation by country in 2006, showing gross imports. Some countries re-export significant portions of their coffee imported. Based on the statistics of the International Coffee Organization: see here and here (Source).

The English word “coffee,” however, comes from the Turkish kahveh, which in turn stems from the Arabic qahwah. But in classical Arabic, coffee is called bunn, a word which in modern Arabic refers only to the bean itself. This is the term used by Al-Razi, who is credited with the first written description of the medicinal properties of coffee. He refers to the bean and the tree as bunn and to the drink as bunchum—which, he adds, is good for the stomach. Shortly after him, around 1000, Ibn Sina also mentioned the value of bunchum, claiming that coffee fortifies the members, cleans the skin and gives an excellent smell to all the body [8].

Ukers [9] brought the discovery of coffee back to year 750 CE when an Arab shepherd, named Khalid, living in Ethiopia observed the behavioural changes on his goats on eating from a particular bush. That bush became known as the coffee tree. This story is widely repeated and accepted by most historians.

From the above, it appears clear that coffee was discovered by the Muslims sometime around the 10th century. It was first used and cultivated in Yemen. Instead of eating the beans, the Yemenis boiled them, creating the famous drink of Al-Qahwa. There is also consensus that the first users of coffee were the Sufis who used it as a stimulant to stay awake during late night Dhikr (remembrance of God). Coffee spread to the rest of the Muslims of Yemen and eventually to all the Muslim world via travellers, pilgrims and traders. It reached Makkah and Turkey sometime in the late 15th century.

It is reported by Abd-Al-Qadir Al-Jaziri [10] (around 1558) in his book ‘Umdat Al-Safwa, Argument in Favor of the Legitimate Use of Coffee, a manuscript produced sometime before 1587, from Fakhr al-Din Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Yazid Al-Makki who maintained that al-Qahwa did not reach Makkah until the end of the 9th century of Hijra (15th century CE). He later provided another source, which gave details on how coffee reached Cairo. Ibn Abd Al-Ghaffar reported that in the first decade of the tenth Hijri century (middle of the 16th century CE), coffee was brought to the Yemeni students of the Alzhar Medrassa who used it to boost their performance in various Dhikr circles [11]. From Al-Azhar, coffee soon entered the streets, shops and houses of Cairo. By early 15th century CE (in 1453), coffee reached Turkey with the first coffee shop, Kiva Han, opening in Istanbul in 1475.

The text of Al-Jaziri was written in response to a religious debate over the merits and legality, under Islamic law, of the beverage that was sweeping Ottoman society. It is the oldest existing document about the history, preparation, use, virtues, and benefits of coffee drinking. Once coffee had become established in Makkah and Madinah, it wasn’t long before pilgrims and traders disseminated it to the far corners of the Islamic world. From there, coffee also came to Europe in the 17th century through Venice, Marseilles, Amsterdam, London and Vienna.

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries

Figure 3: Table of top ten countries producing green coffee in 2006 (by millions of metric tons). Source: UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO). (Source).

As a result, Yemen’s coffee export business boomed during the first Ottoman presence between 1536 and 1636. As the beverage gained popularity, the port of Al-Mukha enjoyed an increasingly powerful monopoly as the world’s only source of bunn until the 18th century.

In addition to dating the first Muslim use of coffee, much of the writing about coffee in the West has highlighted the controversy of coffee and coffee-houses in the lands of Islam, claiming that Islam condemned the use of coffee due to its addiction. It is true that coffee-houses were disliked because of the wasteful and playful nature of its activity, especially in places where it was associated with female singers and dancers and the like. But the social controversies about them did not prevent the steady and continuous spread of coffee-houses through the urban centers.

3. Coffee in Turkey and the Balkans

The famous Turkish coffee is prepared by boiling finely powdered roast coffee beans in a pot (cezve), possibly with sugar, and serving it into a cup, where the dregs settle. The name describes the method of preparation, not the raw material. Turkish coffee is common throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Caucasus, and the Balkans. It is also served by the Turkish, Balkan, and Middle Eastern expatriate communities in the rest of the world. Coffeehouse culture was highly developed in the Ottoman world to the point that coffeehouses have become a distinct and prominent trait of the social culture. Coffee has affected Turkish culture so much that the Turkish word for breakfast, kahvalti literally means “before coffee”, while the Turkish word for brown is kahverengi, (the color of coffee) [12].

An English traveler by the name of Charles Mac Farlane, who had witnessed some of the most tumultuous years of early Ottoman efforts to reform during the reign of Mahmud II in Istanbul, made many insightful observations about the cultural texture of an urban life that was undergoing a metamorphosis. Charles Mac Farlane has completed his travel guide with these words; “The Turks cannot live without coffee.”

This conclusion by an orientalist pen made a reference to the social habits generated by the widespread of the consumption of coffee in coffehouses through the cities of the Ottoman empire. The circles of chatting people arrayed around a coffee brazier shaped new philosophies of life that were woven jointly by those who had been captivated by the pleasure imparted by this mystical beverage. From there, they formed a network of cultural dissemination that became increasingly more comprehensive, resulting in the launching of a process of socialization that encompassed all elements of society.

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries
Figure 4: Illustration of Coffea arabica plant and seeds in Kohler’s Medicinal Plants: Franz Eugen Köhler, Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen mit kurz erläuterndem: Atlas zur Pharmacopoea… (Gera-Untermhaus, 1883-1914). (Source).

By bringing together the diverse elements of society –government officials, tradesmen and artisans, the pious and the profane– out of their own closed circles and into the common ground of the coffeehouse, coffee mediated the development of a social design to which everyone could contribute his own knowledge and experience. In that respect, the habit that coffee created in the Islamic world may be said to have laid the foundations of a new civil model that was based on socialization [13].

Istanbul was introduced to coffee in 1543, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent by Özdemir Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Yemen, who had grown to love the drink while stationed in that country. In the Ottoman palace a new method of drinking coffee was discovered: the beans were roasted over a fire, ground and then boiled in water. With its new brewing method and aroma, coffee’s reputation soon spread even further afield.

Coffee soon became a vital part of palace cuisine and was very popular in court. The position of Chief Coffee Maker (kahvecibasi) was added to the roster of court functionaries. The Chief Coffee Maker’s duty was to brew the Sultan’s or his patron’s coffee, and was chosen for his loyalty and ability to keep secrets. The annals of Ottoman history record a number of Chief Coffee Makers who rose through the ranks to become Grand Viziers to the Sultan.

Coffee soon spread from the palace to grand mansions, and from grand mansions to the homes of the public. The people of Istanbul quickly became enamored with the beverage. Green coffee beans were purchased and then roasted at home on pans. The beans were then ground in mortars and brewed in coffeepots known as cezve.

Most of the general public became acquainted with coffee through the establishment of coffeehouses. The first coffeehouse (named Kiva Han) opened in the district of Tahtakale and others rapidly cropped up all over the city. Coffeehouses and coffee culture soon became an integral part of Istanbul social culture. People came there throughout the day to read books and beautiful texts, play chess and backgammon and discuss poetry and literature. Thanks to the efforts of merchants and travelers who passed through Istanbul, Turkish Coffee soon spread to Europe and ultimately to the whole world [14].

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries

Figure 5: A 16th-century manuscript showing a coffee-house with men drinking coffee. Reproduced in part in 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World, editor in chief Prof. Salim T. S. Al-Hassani (Manchester, FSTC, 2006, p. 13).

The Ottoman chronicler İbrahim Peçevi reports the opening of the first coffeehouse in Istanbul: “Until the year 962 (1554-55), in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffeehouses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hâkem (Hakam) from Aleppo and a wag called Sems (Shams) from Damascus, came to the city: they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee [15].”

In the Middle East, Turkish coffee until recently has been called simply ‘coffee’ in the local language. In Turkey “kahve” was assumed to be Turkish coffee until instant coffee was introduced in the 1980s. Today, younger generations refer to it as Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee). In many languages, the term “Turkish” coffee has been replaced by the local variant name (for example in “Armenian Coffee” (haykakan surj), “Greek coffee” (ellinikós kafés), and “Cypriot coffee” (kypriakós kafés), or dropped altogether. The words for “coffee” and “coffee shop” remained unchanged in Greek as in the other Balkan languages, using the Ottoman Turkish forms kahve and kahvehane: such as in Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Slovenian, Romanian, Greek, and Albanian.

In the Arab world, “Turkish” coffee is the most common kind of coffee. It is called Arabic coffee (qahwa ‘arabiyah) or Shami (Levantine) coffee. Only occasionally will Arabs refer to Turkish coffee as being from their native country, so constructions such as “Egyptian coffee,” “Lebanese coffee,” “Iraqi coffee,” and the like are heard to draw a distinction in the flavor, preparation, or presentation of two different kinds of Turkish coffee; for instance, an Egyptian using the term qahwa Arabiya as distinct from qahwa Masriya would be distinguishing the Levantine from the Egyptian style of Turkish coffee.

Similarly, in all the regions which were under the Ottoman and Turkish influence in the past centuries, the name of local coffee preparations reflect until today the trace of this Turkish impact. In Cyprus, local coffee is called Cypriot Coffee (kypriakós kafés); it is served either unsweetened, medium sweet, or very sweet. In Armenia, Turkish coffee is called (sourj coffee) or (haykakan sourj, Armenian coffee). In Romania, Turkish coffee is called ‘cafea turceasca’, ‘cafea caimac’ or ‘cafea la ibric’. The pot is called ‘ibric’, and in Dobrogea it is made in a copper kettle filled with sand – this kind of coffee is called ‘cafea la nisip’.

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries
Figure 6: Miniature of a portable coffee stall dated to 1582, taken from Sürname-i Hümayun (Imperial Festival Book), where the artisans of the coffee maker/seller participating in the festival procession were depicted in great detail. Source: Nurhan Atasoy, 1582 Surname-i Hümayun: Dügün Kitabi, (Istanbul: Koçbank, 1997).

But it is in the habits and languages of the Muslim communities of the Balkans that we find a stronger influence. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkish coffee is also called “Bosnian coffee”, which is made slightly differently than its Turkish predecessor. It is usually made with Bosnian coffee brands (including Zlatna Džezva, Minas, and Saraj Kafa). Coffee drinking in Bosnia is a traditional daily custom and plays an important role in society, especially during social gatherings.

In Croatia, it is called turska kava, i.e. “Turkish coffee”. Otherwise, it is known as simply kava, unless when referred to in cafes, in order to avoid confusion with other types of coffee drinks. In Albania this is known as Turkish coffee (Kafe Turke) and it is a very popular drink even though lately it has lost some of its appeal on the young who prefer Italian style espressos. This coffee constitutes an essential element of the Albanian social scene. In the Republic of Macedonia, it is called more plainly Tursko kafe, otherwise, it is known as simply ?ursko.

Turška kava is the name for Turkish coffee in Slovenia. Otherwise, it is known as simply kava, unless when referred to in cafes, in order to avoid confusion with other types of coffee drinks. Especially strong coffee (without sugar and milk) is often referred to as crna kava (black coffee) [16].

4. The Transfer of Coffee to Europe

Through various channels of contact, Muslims inside and outside Europe played a major role in transferring new ideas, customs, foods, arts, various sciences and technologies. Most people in the US, Britain and Europe would associate the influence of Muslim cuisine with curry and donner kebab, as being meals introduced by the new immigrants. Very few would know of the Muslim origin of coffee and cappuccino. The story of the transfer of the tradition of coffee as a beverage, to Europe is just one example.

Figure 7a-b: Early 20th-century photos of coffee from Palestine: (a) A coffee-house in Palestine around 1900; (b) The traditional mode of grinding coffee in Palestine around 1905. (Source).

4.1. Coffee in Italy

Historical sources indicate that coffee arrived in Europe through Italian links. The active trade between Venice and North Africa, Egypt and the East transported Muslim goods including coffee to this leading European port. After discovering the taste of coffee, Venetian merchants were convinced of its commercial potential and subsequently embarked on its importation after 1570. As with any new custom, the rich were the first to indulge in this beverage. At a later stage, coffee was sold in the markets of Venice; eventually becoming widely available for the general public. The first coffee-houses of Venice opened in 1645. By 1763, Venice had no less than 218 coffee outlets. Eventually, coffee became the object of trade between Venice and Amalfi, Turin, Genoa, Milan, Florence and Rome, from where it was transmitted to the rest of Europe.

Another source of transmission was the writing of travellers and diplomatic missions to the Muslim world. An example of the latter is Gian Francesco Morosini, an ambassador of the Venetian Republic to the Ottoman Sultan, in 1582. In a report from Istanbul, he described how in the East (Turkey) there were some business premises where the public used to meet several times a day over a dark hot beverage. Another source revealed that Paduan Prospero Alpino, a famous Italian botanist and physician, brought with him some sacks of coffee from the East (mostly from Egypt) and in his History of the Egyptian Plants, published at Venice in 1591, described the coffee tree and its fruit which he saw in the garden of a captain of the Janissaries [17].

Like many items imported from the Muslim world, coffee was initially rejected by the religious establishment. Pope Clement VIII (1536-1605) was urged to ban its consumption. The story is told that after tasting it, the Pope approved and blessed it [18]. This approval gave the green light for the consumption of the beverage, opening the door for coffee to reach all European houses.

4. 2. Coffee in England

The English interest in coffee (as well as Turkish baths and flowers) took hold in the 17th century, when the West was fascinated with the prosperous Turkish lifestyle. The coffee beans came from Mokah on the Red Sea (Yemen) imported by the East India Company and from Aleppo by the Levant Company. Its early association with England was in medical use; a two-page pamphlet by “An Arabian Physician” (Dr Edward Pococke) appeared in Oxford in 1659 [19].

The first coffee-house in England has been dated to 1650, although drinking coffee started a few years earlier. Burn [20] reported that an Oxford student named Nathaniel Conopius was the first to make the coffee drink for his own use while staying in Oxford. He is known to have left Oxford University in 1648. In relation to the establishment of the first coffee-house, Burn also connected it to Oxford, with a Jewish businessman named Jacob opening the first house in 1650, at the Angel in the Parish of St. Peter, East Oxford.

According to Darby [21], the introduction of coffee was through a Turkish route. He reported that a certain Turkish merchant named Pasqua Rosee first brought it. This must have been before 1650, the date when a café named Pasqua Rosee’s Head, after the Turkish merchant, was opened in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill and London. However, Ellis [22] put it after 1652, as he provided a detailed account about Mr. Pasquae Rosee. He was a Greek servant of a certain Mr. Edwards, a Turkish merchant who brought him to London. Mr Pasquae knew how to roast and make coffee the Turkish way. He was the first to sell coffee in a coffee-house in George-yard, Lombard-Street. Later, in 1658 another café under the name “Sultaness Head” was opened in Cornhill; and by 1700 there were about 500 coffee-houses in London [23].

Coffee-houses gained notorious popularity in Britain in the period between the 17th and 18th century. This popularity can be seen in the voluminous works of literature, dealing with the subject. From these remarkable works one can conclude that coffee-houses were used as a leisure venue usually associated with reading newspapers, playing games, smoking tobacco, as well as drinking tea and coffee. They were also venues for political and social debates of the hot topics of the day [24]. Because of this latter function, the houses were first required to be licensed by a 1663 regulation. Later, in 1675, a proclamation described them as “seminaries of sedition” and ordered their closure, only to be allowed to re-open a few days later [25].

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries

Figure 8: Miniature of an Ottoman coffee shop in Hungary. (Source).

Coffee-houses were dubbed “penny universities” describing the social view of these premises as centres of knowledge, a sign that they were frequented by students, scholars, artists and people of talent. The penny referred to the price of a cup of coffee [26].

Another feature associated with English coffee-houses is the spread of the use of Muslim inspired signs, usually depicting a head of a Muslim person, posted outside the premises to attract customers. Portraits and names such as The Saracen’s Head, The Sultan’s Head or The Turks Head [27] decorated most English streets showing the British fascination with Muslims.

Related to this feature illustrating such a wide appreciation is the issuing of tokens, which spread particularly in the 17th century. Tokens were issued by businesses to counter the lack of small denomination currency. Even though they did not emerge only for promotional purposes, they were related to it. Tokens were prints representing the sign (logo) of the coffee-house or tavern depicting the portrait of the Muslim figure or name. These tokens were sold to loyal customers who collected them. A few of these signs still decorate the façade of some British taverns and inns.

Image AImage BImage C
Figure 9a-c: Three different Arabic and Turkish coffee sets, including pots, cups and decorated trays.

4.3. Coffee in France

Antoine Galland, in his 1699 book De l’origine et du progrez du café [28], accepted the Muslim association with coffee, tea and chocolate. He reported that Monsieur de la Croix, the interpreter of King Louis XIV, had informed him that a certain Mr. Thévenot, who had travelled through the East, brought coffee to Paris. On returning to that city in 1657, Thévenot had used the beans he had brought for his own consumption and had shared coffee with his friends, amongst them Monsieur de la Croix. La Croix confirmed that since then he had continued to drink it buying mainly from Armenian merchants who settled in Paris, and by degrees established its popularity in that city. However the real boost to the spread of the beverage in Paris came after 1669. In that year Paris received Suleiman Agha, the Ambassador of Sultan Muhammed IV, who, with his entourage, brought along a considerable quantity of coffee beans. They not only treated their French and European guests to the coffee drink, but also gifted some beans to the royal court. During his stay (July 1669 to May 1670), the Ambassador firmly established the coffee drinking habit among the Parisians. Two years later, an Armenian named Pafeal, set up the first coffee-house in Paris, but without success. Other Armenians and some Persians tried their luck but without much success either. Finally, some Frenchmen opened spacious and elegant premises ornamented with lustre works, tapestry, glass and beautiful decor, selling coffee, with tea, chocolate, and other refreshments. They attracted from among the Parisians wealthy merchants, people of fashion and men of letters, and soon the number of coffee-houses in Paris alone exceeded three hundred.

Figure 10: The cappuccino coffee is an Italian coffee drink prepared with espresso, hot milk, and steamed-milk foam. It is said that the cappuccino was invented by mixing Turkish coffee, left in Vienna by the defeated Turkish army, with cream and honey.

Galland traced the first introduction of coffee into France back to 1644, the year when some Frenchmen from Marseilles, who had accompanied Monsieur de la Haye to Constantinople, brought back with them not only some coffee, but also the proper vessels and apparatus for making and drinking it. In 1671, the first coffee-house was opened in Marseilles in the Exchange District. The coffee-house was a success, becoming crowded particularly by Turkey’s merchants and traders to the Levant who found it very convenient for discussing and settling matters relating to commerce. This success encouraged the appearance of other coffee-houses in Marseilles, spreading later through the whole of France.

4.4. Coffee in the rest of Europe

After Italy, France and England, the rest of Europe followed suit and embraced this new beverage. In Germany, for example, sources indicate that Leonhard Rauwolf, a German physician and botanist who visited the Levant in 1573, was among the first Europeans to mention coffee in his book published in 1582 [29]. Rauwolf noted coffee in Ottoman Aleppo, and he called it chaube; he was closely followed by descriptions from other European travellers. In relation to Vienna, historic sources provide an account related to the military conflicts between Austria and the Ottomans. After the defeat of the Turkish Army besieging Vienna in 1683, it left behind sacks of coffee beans. The European armies defending the city, which included German and Polish armies as well as many other European volunteers, claimed this bounty and took it to their home land. However the first coffee-house to appear in Berlin was dated back to around 1720.

Figure 11: A Kipferl, the precursor to the croissant, a small wheat twirl-bread with poppy-seed. It is said that the croissant was invented to celebrate the defeat of the Ottoman army in Vienna.

The Dutch managed to set up large plantations of coffee in their colony of Java in Indonesia. Although it is not known from where they obtained the seeds one can expect it to have been from any part of Muslim southeast Asia, and probably India. From Java, the Dutch directed a successful business, as they became importers and distributors of coffee beans to Europe. It is reported that the spread of coffee planting is attributed to the Dutch. They gave King Louis XIV of France a coffee tree for his Paris Royal Botanical Gardens, the Jardin des Plantes. However, such a suggestion needs to be treated cautiously as King Louis XIV also received gifts of coffee from the Turkish Ambassador, as mentioned above.

4.5. Coffee in the Americas

The introduction of coffee to the Americas is attributed to France through its colonisation of many parts of the continent, starting with Martinique and the colonies of the West Indies where the first French coffee plantations were founded.

Gabriel de Clieu brought coffee seedlings to Martinique in the Caribbean circa 1720. Those flourished and 50 years later there were 18,680 coffee trees in Martinique enabling the spread of coffee cultivation to Haiti, Mexico and other islands of the Caribbean Sea. The territory of San Domingo saw coffee cultivated from 1734, and by 1788 it supplied half the world’s coffee. The French colonial plantations relied heavily on African slave labourers. However, the dreadful working conditions of the slaves on coffee plantations were a factor in the soon to follow Haitian Revolution. The coffee industry there never fully recovered [30].

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries
Figure 12: Coffe Baum relief over the door of a Leipzig coffee shop showing a sculptural representation of a man dressed in Turkish-style clothing receiving a cup of coffee from a boy. The man is sitting in front of a coffee tree. Café und Museum “Zum arabischen Coffe Baum”, Leipzig, Relief über dem Eingang. Photo taken in December 2007 by Andreas Praefcke. (Source).

Coffee also found its way to the island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The plant produced smaller beans and was deemed a different variety of Arabica known as Bourbon. The Santos coffee of Brazil and the Oaxaca coffee of Mexico are the progeny of that Bourbon tree. Around 1727, the Emperor of Brazil sent Francisco de Mello Palheta to French Guinea to obtain coffee seeds with which to start the cultivation. Francisco initially had difficulty obtaining the seeds but he captivated the French Governor’s wife and she in turn, sent him enough seeds and shoots to start the coffee industry of Brazil. In 1893, coffee from Brazil was introduced into Kenya and Tanzania, not far from its place of origin in Ethiopia, 600 years before, thus ending its transcontinental journey [31].

Although coffee had been introduced to Brazil around 1727, its cultivation did not gather momentum until the country achieved independence in 1822 [32]. After this time, massive tracts of rainforest were cleared for coffee plantations, first from the vicinity of Rio and later São Paulo [33].

Cultivation was taken up by many countries in Central America in the latter half of the 19th century, and almost all involved the large-scale displacement and exploitation of the indigenous Indian people. Harsh conditions led to many uprisings, coups and bloody suppression of peasants [34]. The notable exception was Costa Rica, where lack of ready labour prevented the formation of large farms. Smaller farms and more egalitarian conditions ameliorated unrest during the 19th and 20th centuries [35].

5. From Turkish Coffee to Cappuccino and Croissant

The consumption of coffee in Europe was largely based on the traditional Muslim method of preparation of the drink. This consisted of boiling the mixture of roasted coffee powder, sugar and water. However, in 1683 a new way of preparing and drinking coffee was invented. The name “cappuccino” comes from the religious community of the Capuchin friars, possibly referring to the colour of their habits or to the aspect of their tonsured (white) heads, surrounded by a ring of brown hair. The Cappuccino coffee was inspired by a certain Marco d’Aviano, a priest from the Capuchin monastic order, who was sent to rally Catholics and Protestants against the Turks on the eve of the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The legend relates that following the victory of the Europeans, the Viennese made coffee from the abandoned sacks of Turkish coffee.

Finding it too strong for their taste, they mixed it with cream and honey [36]. This made the coffee turn brown resembling the colour of the Capuchins’ robes. The Viennese named it cappuccino in honour of Marco d’Aviano’s order. Since then, Cappuccino has been drunk for its enjoyable taste, though originally was also drunk to celebrate the European victory over the Ottomans.

Another symbolic item associated with coffee is the Croissant pastry, often eaten at breakfast. Popular culture has it that its invention goes back to 1686. Hungarian bakers made a cake in the shape of a crescent, referring to the crescents on the Turkish flags, to celebrate and later commemorate the defeat of the Ottoman army. This version of the origin of the croissant is supported by the fact that croissants in French are referred to as Viennoiserie, and the French popular belief that the Vienna-born Marie Antoinette introduced the pastry to France in 1770 [37].

The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries  The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries
Figure 13a-c: Front covers of three recent books on the history of coffee and its social use: (a) Coffee and Coffeehouses by Ralph S. Hattox (University of Washington Press, 2000); (b) Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast (Basic Books, 2000); and (c) Coffee and Coffee Houses by Ulla Heise (Schiffer Publishing, 1997).

6. Conclusion

It was shown in the long historical account that brought us from the 10th century to the 18th, from Yemen to the heart of major European cities, that the influence of Muslim civilisation extended beyond science, technology, art and architecture to European traditions of eating and drinking. The story of how coffee (and cappuccino) and coffee-houses came to Italy, France, England and the rest of Europe is but one example of many. The history of coffee and the intricacies of its social and cultural background is an informative model for cross cultural history between the world of Islam and its neighbours, especially the European continent.

From Eastern Africa, coffee spread to Egypt and Yemen. The earliest credible evidence for either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen, where coffee beans were first roasted and brewed, in a similar way to how coffee is now prepared. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. From the Muslim world, coffee then spread to Italy, and to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia, and to the Americas.

7. References

  • Abd-al-Qadir ibn Muhammed al-Ansari al-Jaziri al-Hanbali (circa 1558), ‘Umdat al-Safwa fi hill al-qahwa, 1826 edition by Sylvestre de Stacy in Chrestomathie arabe, 2nd edition, 3 vols., Paris.
  • Arnold, N. and Patel, V. (1993), “Coffee is one of our favourite drinks. Find out where it is grown and how it first came to this country”, The Guardian Education, September 7, 1993.
  • Birsel, Salâh. (1975), Kahveler kitab. Istanbul : Koza Yayinlari, 1975 (Olaylar-belgeler-anilar ; 8).
  • Burn, J.H. (1855), A Descriptive Catalogue of the London Traders, Tavern and Coffee-house Token, Arthur Taylor, London, 2nd edition.
  • Chew, Samuel C. (1974), The Crescent ad the Rose, Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Darby, M. (1983), The Islamic Perspective, An Aspect of British Architecture and Design in the 19th Century, Leighton House Gallery, London.
  • Ellis, Aytoun (1956), The Penny Universities: A History of the Coffee-houses, Secker & Warburg, London.
  • Ellis, John (1774), An Historical Account of Coffee with an Engraving, and Botanical Description of the Tree: To Which Are Added Sundry Papers Related to Its Culture and Use, as an Article of Diet and of Commerce. Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, London.
  • Galland, Antoine (1699), De l’origine et du progrez du café, Édition originale par J. Cavelier, La Bibliothèque; reprint coll. L’Écrivain Voyageur, Paris, 1992.
  • Hattox, R. S. (1988), Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.
  • Ibn al-‘Imad, ‘Abd al-Hayy ibn Ahmad, (1623-1679), Shadharat al-dhahab fi akhbar man dhahab li-‘l-mu’arrikh Abi al-Fallah, Maktabat al-Quds, Cairo, 1931.
  • Sweetman, J. (1987), The Oriental Obsession: Islamic inspiration in British and American Art, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. (Cambridge studies in the history of art).
  • Ukers, William H. (1935), All About Coffee, The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal Company, New York, 2nd edition.
  • Willis, John E. Jr. (1993), “European Consumption and Asian Production,” Consumption and the World of Goods, edited by John Brewer and Roy Porter, Routledge, London, pp. 133-147.

8. Further resources

  • Akyazici Özkoçak, Selma, “Coffehouses: Rethinking the Public and Private in Early Modern Istanbul”, Journal of Urban History, vol. 33, No. 6, 2007, pp. 965-986. [Read online here).
  • Al-Arnaout, Muhammad M., Mudakhalat ‘arabiya balqaniya fi al-tarikh al-wasit wa-‘l-hadith [Arabian and Balkanic connections in medieval and modern history], Damascus: Publications of the Union of Arab Writers, 2000. See chapter 2: Min al-tarikh al-thaqafi li-l-qahwa min al-Yaman ila al-Busna [About the cultural history of coffee from Yemen to Bosnia], online version here.
  • Isin, Ekrem, “A Social History of Coffee and Coffeehouses,” Selahattin Özpalabiyiklar (ed.), Coffee, Pleasures Hidden in A Bean, Istanbul: Yapi Kredi Yayinlari, 2001.
  • Kafadar, Cemal, A History of Coffee, The XIIIth Congress of the International Economic History Association (IEHA), Buenos Aires, 22-26 July 2002, Session 64: “Commodities: understanding the global economy through the history of things, 1000-2000 CE” (see Introduction to session 64 by Sven Beckert and Cemal Kafadar).
  • Law, William, The History of Coffee, including a chapter on chicory, London, 1850.
  • Markman, Ellis, The Coffee House: A Cultural History. Orion Publishing, 2004, Hardcover.
  • Milton, Ed. S., Coffee: A Cultural History from Around the World (Astonishing Facts About” Series), Astrolog Publishing House; illustrated edition edition, 2003, Paperback.
  • [], Social History of Turkish Coffee (retrieved 12.05.1020).
  • Pendergrast, Mark (2001) [1999]. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. London: Texere.
  • Yasar, Ahmet Osmanli Kahvehaneleri: Mekan, Sosyallesme, İktidar, İstanbul: Kitap Yayinevi, 2009.
  • [Video Documentary Film], The History of Coffee (Part1); The History of Coffee (Part 2); The history of Coffee (Part 3); The History of coffee (Part 4); The History of Coffee (Part 5). [Part 2 is about the the discovery of coffee in the Muslim world and its social history).
  • Weinberg, Bennett Alan; Bealer, Bonnie K., The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug, Routledge, 2002.
  • [Wikipedia], History of Coffee (retrieved 12.05.2010).


[1] Hattox, R.S. (1988), Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East, Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.

[2] ‘Abd al-Hayy ibn Ahmad ibn al-‘Imad (1623-1679), Shadharat al-dhahab fi akhbar man dhahab li-‘l-mu’arrikh Abi al-Fallah, Cairo: Maktabat al-Quds, 1931, vol. 8, p. 40 (cited in Hattox 1988, op. cit.)

[3] Hattox, op. cit, p. 18.

[4] See ibid, chapter 2, pp. 11-28.

[5] Ellis, John (1774), An Historical Account of Coffee with an Engraving, and Botanical Description of the Tree : To Which Are Added Sundry Papers Relative to Its Culture and Use, as an Article of Diet and of Commerce, Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, London.

[6] Salâh Birsel (1975), Kahveler kitab, Koza Yaynlar, Istanbul. The translation of some parts of this work is credited to Coskun Yorulmaz.

[7] J. Sweetman (1987), The Oriental Obsession: Islamic Inspiration in British and American Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, coll. “Cambridge studies in the history of art”.

[8] See Al-Razi, Manafi’ al-Aghdhiya, Al-Dar Al-ahliya li-‘l-‘ulum, Beirut, 1982, p. 74; and Eric Hansen, Yemen’s Well-Travelled Bean, Saudi Aramco World, September/October 1997, pp. 2-9.

[9] William H. Ukers (1935), All About Coffee, The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal Company, New York, 2nd edition.

[10] Abd-al-Qadir ibn Muhammed al-Ansari al-Jaziri al-Hanbali (ca. 1558), ‘Umdat al-Safwa fi hill al-qahwa, 1826 ed. by A.I.S. De Sacy, Chrestomathie arabe, Paris, 3 vols., 2nd edition. Al-Jaziri’s manuscript work is of considerable interest with regards to the history of coffee in Europe as well. A copy reached the French royal library, where it was translated in part by Antoine Galland as De l’origine et du progrès du Café (Paris, 1699; recently reissued (Paris: Editions La Bibliothèque, 1992). See also Dufour, Traitez nouveaux et curieux du café, du thé et du chocolat (Lyon, 1684).

[11] Ibid, vol. 1, pp. 147-48.

[12] [Wikipedia], Turkish coffee (accessed 7 July 2010).

[13] See Social History of Turkish Coffee (accessed 7 July 2010).

[14] [], History of coffee (accessed 7 July 2010). For a detailed study of the coffehouse in Turkey, and especially in Istanbul, see Ahmet Yasar, The Coffeehouses in Early Modern Istanbul: Public Space, Sociability and Surveillance. Thesis submitted to the Institute for Graduate Studies in Social Sciences in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History, Boǧaziçi University, Istanbul, 2003. [Abstract: This thesis aims at examining the urban experience in a manner of the use of public space and the surveillance over it within the context of early modern Istanbul. Particularly, it focuses on the coffeehouse as a new public space in urban scene and as a site for the theatrical forms of sociability, and also as a confrontation zone between the authority and subjects. It argues that the coffeehouse created a viable public domain for adult-male, by its heterogeneous clientele, theatrical types of expression, political lampooning, and popular political discourse].

[15] Quoted in Cemal Kafadar, “A History of Coffee“, Economic History Congress XIII (Buenos Aires, 2002).

[16] Adapted from [Wikipedia], Turkish coffee, op. cit. For other resources on Turkish coffee and the Ottoman history of coffee, see: Turkish Coffee – A Historical Background; Turkish Coffee Articles about its History & Culture; Coffee’s Historical Journey – Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi; Social History of Turkish Coffee; From Mythology to History – Turkish Coffee. See also Turkish Coffee during Ottoman Empire Era where you can learn more about the history of coffee during the Ottoman Empire Era, and Turkish Coffee Dictionary, an ongoing project developed with the aim of creating the first and largest Turkish Coffee Dictionary online.

[17] See Ellis John (1774), op. cit.

[18] Arnold, N and Patel, V(1993) ‘Coffee is one of our favourite drinks. Find out where it is grown and how it first came to this country’, The Guardian Education, September 7, 1993.

[19] See Samuel C. Chew (1974), The Crescent and the Rose, Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 184-185.

[20] J.H. Burn (1855), A Descriptive Catalogue of the London Traders, Tavern, and Coffee-house Token, Arthur Taylor, London, 2nd edition, pp. 109-110.

[21] M. Darby (1983), The Islamic Perspective: An Aspect of British Architecture and Design in the 19th Century, Leighton House Gallery, London.

[22] John Ellis (1774), op.cit.

[23] Sweetman (1987), op. cit., p. 49.

[24] John E. Willis Jr. (1993), “European Consumption and Asian Production”, Consumption and the World of Goods, edited by John Brewer and Roy Porter, Routledge, London, 133-147; p. 133.

[25] Burn (1855), op, cit. p. 109.

[26] Aytoun Ellis (1956), The Penny Universities: A History of the Coffee-houses, Secker & Warburg, London.

[27] Other examples include Sultan Solyman’s Head in Aldersgate Street (London, 1666), Sultan Morat’s head in Barbican (London after 1666), and Turk’s Head in Chacery Lane (London 17th century). For more details, see Burn 1855, op. cit.

[28] Antoine Galland (1699), De l’origine et du progrez du café, Édition originale J. Cavelier Paris: La Bibliothèque, 1992 (coll. L’Écrivain Voyageur).

[29] W. H. Ukers, All About Coffee, op. cit., p. 2.

[30] Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World, Basic Books, 2000, p. 16.

[31] Kenneth Davids, Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2001, p. 13.

[32] M. Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds, op. cit., p. 19.

[33] Ibid, pp. 20-24.

[34] Ibid, pp. 33-34.

[35] Ibid, pp. 35-36.

[36] Ibid, p. 10 and Simon Millar, Vienna 1683, Osprey Publishing, 2008, p. 93; quoted in [Wikipedia], Battle of Vienna.

[37] [Wikipedia], Croissant.

* The members of the FSTC Research Team comprises of Mohammed Abattouy, Salim Al-Hassani, Mohammed El-Gomati, Sali Shahsivari, Salim Ayduz, Savas Konur, Cem Nizamoglu, Anne-Maria Brennan, Maurice Coles, Ian Fenn, Amar Nazir and Margaret Morris.

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