HomeE-LearningHow Humanity Got Hooked on Coffee: An Animated History

How Humanity Got Hooked on Coffee: An Animated History

Few of us grow up drink­ing cof­fee, but once we start drink­ing it, even few­er of us ever stop. Accord­ing to leg­end, the ear­li­est such case was a ninth-cen­tu­ry Ethiopi­an goatherd named Kal­di, who noticed how much ener­gy his rumi­nant charges seemed to draw from eat­ing par­tic­u­lar red berries. After chew­ing a few of them him­self, he expe­ri­enced the first caf­feine buzz in human his­to­ry. Despite almost cer­tain­ly nev­er hav­ing exist­ed, Kal­di now lends his name to a vari­ety of cof­fee shops around the world, every­where from Addis Aba­ba to Seoul, where I live.

His sto­ry also opens the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed video above, “How Human­i­ty Got Hooked on Cof­fee.” We do know, explains its nar­ra­tor, that “at some point before the four­teen-hun­dreds, in what’s now Ethiopia, peo­ple began for­ag­ing for wild cof­fee in the for­est under­growth.” Ear­ly on, peo­ple con­sumed cof­fee plants by drink­ing tea made with their leaves, eat­ing their berries with but­ter and salt, and — in what proved to be the most endur­ing method — “dry­ing, roast­ing, and sim­mer­ing its cher­ries into an ener­giz­ing elixir.” Over the years, demand for this elixir spread through­out the Ottoman Empire, and in the full­ness of time made its way out­ward to both Asia and Europe.

In no Euro­pean city did cof­fee catch on as aggres­sive­ly as it did in Lon­don, whose cof­fee hous­es pro­lif­er­at­ed in the mid-sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry and became “social and intel­lec­tu­al hotbeds.” Lat­er, “Paris’ cof­fee hous­es host­ed Enlight­en­ment fig­ures like Diderot and Voltaire, who alleged­ly drank 50 cups of cof­fee a day.” (In fair­ness, it was a lot weak­er back then.) Pro­duc­ing and trans­port­ing the ever-increas­ing amounts of cof­fee imbibed in these and oth­er cen­ters of human civ­i­liza­tion required world-span­ning impe­r­i­al oper­a­tions, which were com­mand­ed with just the degree of cau­tion and sen­si­tiv­i­ty one might imag­ine.

The world’s first com­mer­cial espres­so machine was show­cased in Milan in 1906, a sig­nal moment in the indus­tri­al­iza­tion and mech­a­niza­tion of the cof­fee expe­ri­ence. By the mid-nine­teen-fifties, “about 60 per­cent of U.S. fac­to­ries incor­po­rat­ed cof­fee breaks.” More recent trends have empha­sized “spe­cial­ty cof­fees with an empha­sis on qual­i­ty beans and brew­ing meth­ods,” as well as cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for cof­fee pro­duc­tion using “min­i­mum wage and sus­tain­able farm­ing.” What­ev­er our con­sid­er­a­tions when buy­ing cof­fee, many of us have made it an irre­place­able ele­ment of our rit­u­als both per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al. Not to say what we’re addict­ed: this is the 3,170th Open Cul­ture post I’ve writ­ten, but only the 3,150th or so that I’ve writ­ten while drink­ing cof­fee.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Cof­fee and How It Trans­formed Our World

The Birth of Espres­so: The Sto­ry Behind the Cof­fee Shots That Fuel Mod­ern Life

How Caf­feine Fueled the Enlight­en­ment, Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion & the Mod­ern World: An Intro­duc­tion by Michael Pol­lan

The Curi­ous Sto­ry of London’s First Cof­fee­hous­es (1650–1675)

Black Cof­fee: Doc­u­men­tary Cov­ers the His­to­ry, Pol­i­tics & Eco­nom­ics of the “Most Wide­ly Tak­en Legal Drug”

“The Virtues of Cof­fee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethar­gy, Scurvy, Drop­sy, Gout & More

Based in Seoul,Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the bookThe State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video seriesThe City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.



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