A History of Coffee for International Coffee Day

November 16, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
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Enjoying a coffee after lunch in Florence.It’s international coffee day! And although I drink it every day and love it in many forms, I realized I didn’t know very much about it. What is coffee? Where did it originate? Where is it grown today? How is it drunk around the world?

What Is Coffee?

We all know coffee comes from beans, and that they are roasted. The beans actually come from trees – if coffee trees were allowed to grow unabated, they could reach heights of some 9 meters! But they are pruned to keep them short. This is to encourage more bean development and to facilitate the harvest.

So are they actually beans? No! What we know of as coffee beans are actually the “stone” or “pit” of the coffee cherry, which is the fruit that grows on the coffee tree. Who knew?

Drinking coffee on a culinary vacation in Italy.Discover all our foodie tours throughout the world. 

Where Did Coffee Originate?

According the the National Coffee Association (yeah, I didn’t know that existed either), coffee started in Ethiopia, when a goat herder observed how energetic his goats became after eating the berries from a coffee tree. He then shared this with the abbot of the local monastery, who started experimenting with the berries, and violà! There are other similar origin stories featuring birds, but the stories seem to agree that coffee started in what is now Ethiopia.

By the 15th Century coffee was cultivated and consumed in much of the Arabian Peninsula, including Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. European travelers brought it back from their travels, and by the 17th Century coffee was popular there as well. When some attacked the drink as the invention of the devil, Pope Clement VIII reputedly tasted the beverage, liked it, and deemed it just fine. This solidified its spread.

Drinking espresso at the TIK office in Chicago.Coffee spread to the so-called “New World” through British traders and settlers in New York, but it didn’t gain popularity over tea as a beverage until after the famous Boston Tea Party.

Try a tasty coffee crème brulée recipe. 

Coffee cherries on a coffee tree before harvest. Where is Coffee Grown Today?

I know that there is a huge amount of coffee production in the Caribbean and Central and South America: how did that come to be?

It is reputed to go back to one single coffee tree, brought to Martinique by a French naval officer. That single tree reputedly grew to over 18 million coffee trees on Martinique alone, and was then the parent of all coffee production in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Wow!

Roasted coffee beans ready for brewing.Coffee currently grows throughout the world in an area known as the “Coffee Belt.” This imaginary band circles the globe from around 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South and indicates the equatorial area where climate and weather are advantageous to the cultivation of coffee trees: that is, Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

Try your coffee with this wonderful French dessert!


I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.
– Louisa May Alcott


How is Coffee Drunk around the World?

There as many ways to drink coffee, it seems, as there are coffee shops around the world! But here are a few of our favorites.

In Mexico you can drink your coffee flavored with coves, cinnamon, and anise, and prepared in a clay pot (called an “olla”), which is where the coffee gets its name: cafe de olla.

Drink coffee with us in the Yucatan.

A traditional Turkish coffee. In Turkey coffee is served sweetened and is prepared in beautiful copper pots called cezves. They use a super-fine coffee powder which, when properly prepared, produces foam on top. (Learn more about Turkish coffee and tea!)

Enjoy Turkish coffee on our Istanbul food tour.

Moroccan spiced coffee, like cafe de olla, is spiced with cinnamon and cloves, but also cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, and black pepper. It is traditionally made in a French press.

Journey to Morocco on a luxury tour.

A delicious espresso after a big meal in Italy.In Italy of course espresso is the king of coffee, but by no means the only game in town. But we’ve documented that already in our blog about coffee in Italy.

See all our cooking vacations in Italy.

What about Ireland? Do they really drink Irish coffee? Yes! Like in the U.S., it is made with coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar, and whipped cream.

In France you can of course find many different preparations, but the breakfast coffee of choice is a classic café au lait, made with coffee and steamed milk. (But unlike it’s cousin the cappuccino, there is no foam on top.)

Learn about the history of croissants.

A typical small coffee shop in the U.S.And in the U.S. you can enjoy many of these preparations if you search for them. Coffee shops don’t just serve an American brew with donuts anymore, even small town coffee shops (perhaps thanks to the influence of large coffee chains) are serving up all manner of coffee beverages. Here in Chicago there is a vibrant coffee house scene with shops that source their beans from fair trade sources and roast them in house.

Of course, these are only a few of the wonderful ways you can experience coffee on our cooking vacations and culinary tours!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy coffee? Did you learn anything new about what coffee is or where it comes from?

By Peg Kern

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