The coffee plant has ancient origins. This shrub grew spontaneously in Egypt, Abyssinia, and on the hills of Yemen. Other sources place it first in Turkey, thanks to the semantic origins of the word coffee from the Turkish word “kavhè”, from the Arabic “qahwa”, meaning “exciting, vigorous”.
Coffee beans were first used for medical purposes in Asia. The spread of the first digestive, reinvigorating “black drinks” was slow and met with several obstacles at the hands of religious authorities. They were unhappy about the excitement aroused by the beverage compared with some sacred dogmas.
Despite attempts to limit its spread, coffee continued to be drunk in private until the 16th century, when the first public bars or “coffee shops” began to appear. The first recorded was opened in Constantinople where people went to listen to music or watch popular games whilst tasting. Since then, the spread of coffee has been favored by popular opinion, considering it an alternative to the assumption of natural sedatives already in circulation.
The arrival of coffee in Europe dates back to the second half of the 17th century when, after the expulsion of the Turks from Austria, several sacks filled with beans, whose use was unknown, were found in their fields. A Polish man who lived in Turkey managed to obtain a large number of those sacks before taking them to Vienna and opening a coffee shop. Once he had overcome some initial difficulties in terms of appreciation of the beverage by his customers due to its bitter taste, Kolschitzky changed the drink. He added milk and honey to achieve considerable success in the creation of the first European coffee then known as “Blue Bottle”.
We have to credit Prospero Alpino, from Padua, with introducing coffee to Italy. He was a physician and botanist who, on his return from one of his trips, brought a few sacks of coffee back to Venice with him. Here, coffee was known as “Arabic Wine” thanks to its stimulating qualities. At the beginning, the product was very expensive in Italy and only available in pharmacies. This was until around the 18th century when the first coffee shops opened and prices dropped thanks to the rapid diffusion of the prodigious drink. From then onwards, anyone could buy coffee at a reasonable price.