Coffee History : Coffee Reaches Europe

The French, Dutch and Portuguese all became interested in the money-making potential of coffee cultivation, but various attempts to propagate coffee in Europe failed because the coffee tree does not tolerate frost. The Dutch eventually carried coffee, perhaps the descendants of the first seven seeds of Baba Budan, to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then to Java, where, after some effort, coffee growing was established on a commercial basis at the beginning of the 18th century.

At this point in history, coffee made its debut as the everyday pleasure of nobles and other Europeans rich enough to afford exotic luxuries. Coffee was available either from Mocha, the main port of Yemen, or from Java. Hence the famous blend of Mocha Java, which in those days meant putting together in one drink the entire world of coffee experience.

Now comes one of the most extraordinary stories in the spread of coffee: the saga of the noble tree. Louis XIV of France, with his insatiable curiosity and love of luxury, was of course by this time an ardent coffee drinker. The Dutch owed him a favor and managed, with great difficulty, to procure him a coffee tree. The tree had originally been obtained at the Arabian port of Mocha, then carried to Java, and finally back across the seas to Holland, from where it was brought overland to Paris. Louis is said to have spent an entire day alone communing with the tree (probably thinking about all the money coffee was going to make for the royal coffers) before turning it over to his botanists. The first greenhouse in Europe was constructed to house the noble tree. It flowered, bore fruit, and became one of the most prolific parents in the history of plantdom.

This was 1715. From that single tree sprung billions of arabica trees, including most of those presently growing in Central and South America. But the final odyssey of the offspring of the noble tree was neither easy nor straightforward.