Many people, this writer included, love their cup of coffee in the morning and often many more throughout the day. Coffee is a curious thing.

The word itself came into English in the late 16th century from the Turkish kahveh, from the Arabic qahwa, likely from the Dutch koffie [1]. Interestingly, the word for the awaking chemical within coffee, caffeine, came into the English language in the mid 19th century from the French caféine from café meaning coffee [2]. Tea, another much loved caffeinated beverage, came into the language a century after coffee [3].

According to an Ethiopian legend the coffee plant originated in the Ethiopian highlands. There is probably some truth to this story as even today some of the finest coffee is grown in the Ethiopian highlands. The legend or Kaldi, a goatherd, goes that he discovered coffee when he noticed that his goats were restless and didn’t sleep when they ate the berries of a certain tree. Kaldi shared his discovery with a local monk that brewed a drink from the berries and discovered that it allowed him to prayer for long hours with growing tired. The monk shared this with his fellow monks and from there the story of this magical berry spread east to the Arab peninsula. The Arab traders were the first to cultivate and trade the coffee bean. By the 15th century coffee was growing the Yemeni area of the Arabi. From there over the next century it had spread through Egypt, Persia, Turkey, and Syria. It was so popular that many qahveh kheneh, coffee houses began to appear in major cities of the Near East. The coffee houses of the 15th and 16th centuries were very much like the coffee houses of today. Not only were they a place to have coffee, they were also a place to have conversations, listen to music, play chess, and keep informed on current events. Soon European traders came across the “wine of Arabia” and took it back home. It spread quickly across the continent after it first came to Venice in 1615. Many in the clergy condemned the beverage and even asked Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. However, he decided to tasted the beverage first, liking it he gave it papal approval. Despite this coffee became so popular that by the mid-17th century there were 300 coffee houses in London alone. Coffee first entered the New World from the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, or as it is called today, New York. [4]. Some people believe that coffee has a negative impact on health.

Despite the negative reputation, there are many health benefits of having a cup of coffee. The caffeine in coffee not only makes the brain more alert but more responsive, “smarter.” It helps burn fat, it improves physical activity, provides essential nutrients, and can also help you live longer. [5, 6].  Many people express concern for the poor, “exploited” grows and pickers in the third world that grow and pick the coffee bean.

Many express this concern by buying “fair-trade” coffee. They have the best of intentions at heart; however, as Professor Colleen Haight, of San Jose State University, explains the fair-trade model is not the best way to help the poor. The fair-trade regulations states that some of the extra money spent by consumers goes to the small farmers that grew the coffee. Yet, the regulations define the small farmer as a small land-owning farmer, but most of the poor that work on the farms do not own land and are seasonal workers. The regulations state that these workers, the poorest, get pay their country’s minimum wage, but that’s already the law so buying fair-trade doesn’t really help these seasonal workers. The goals of fair-trade are admirable, it is a completely voluntary system, and it has helped foster consumer awareness. However, if people really want to help the poorest in the coffee growing countries buying gourmet coffee is a better mechanism than fair-trade. This is because the seasonal workers are paid more to worker on gourmet farms, as the product has to be grown with more care and quality control, these wages are often above their countries minimum wage. [7].

So whether you take it black, with sugar, au lait, or iced, brew yourself a cup, sit back, and drink one of the most popular drinks in human history, coffee.


[1] Oxford English Dictionary Editorial Staff (2015). “Coffee.” Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from

[2] Oxford English Dictionary Editorial Staff (2015). “Caffeine.” Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from

[3] Oxford English Dictionary Editorial Staff (2015). “Tea.” Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from

[4] National Coffee Association Staff (2015). The History of Coffee. Retrieved from

[5] Gunnars, K. (2015). 13 Proven Health Benefits of Coffee. Retrieved from

[6] Gunnars, K. (2015). Science Confirms: The More Coffee You Drink, the Longer You Will Live. Retrieved from

[7] Haight, C. (Learnliberty). (2013). Combating Global Poverty with a Cup of Coffee. Retrieved from: