Coffee Crash Course: History, Business, Types

I love coffee. Like, love coffee. I’m one of those people that will wake up before everyone else just so I can sit in silence and drink coffee. I like to savor it, to really enjoy it, before any distractions start entering my day. Anyone else do this or… just me? Cool. Gotcha.


Photo by Janko Ferlic

Anyway, so I always find it interesting to learn more about this beverage. I’ve known it is one of the most beloved beverages in the world, along with one of the oldest, but there’s so much to coffee that I don’t know. I mean, this drink has been sought after since it was first discovered, it’s got a pretty big history.

And so I thought I would dive into it a little bit and learn more. The history, economic facts, and some of the most common types of coffee. Let’s get into it.


There is no definitive answer to where coffee first came from. When searching this topic, I came across over and over again a tale of an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi observed that his goats, after having eaten certain berries, were filled with energy and vitality. Kaldi decided to try them himself and felt the same effect.

However, there is another tale of a Sheik from Omar. He was known for curing the sick but was exiled into the desert. Starving, he tried eating whatever berries he could but they were bitter. He then tried different methods to eat them by roasting them, (became too hard) then boiling them which created a brown liquid that gave him life again. Rumors spread and the Sheik was hailed as a saint.

Who knows where it really started, but the tales are pretty entertaining!

The Arabian Peninsula is where it really began to take off. During the 15th century, Yemen began to import coffee from Ethiopia. They called it qawha, which means wine. It was used for spiritual practices to keep them focused, alert, and as a spiritual intoxication as they chanted God.

Pretty soon, coffee houses began to spring up in Egypt, Syria, and Istanbul. People would come together to drink their qawha, talk, socialize, and enjoy. Though like everything else good in this world, at certain points throughout history churches and people began to suspect it was “too” good, and coffee was banned. But these bans didn’t last too long and people would soon be enjoying their coffee once again. If you’re interested in this topic, check out this cool article by the National Coffee Blog.

During the 17th century, coffee began to come into Europe. Turkish slaves who were imprisoned in Malta would make this drink, selling it to earn extra money. Word quickly spread, and it wasn’t long before the first coffee house was opened in Europe in Venice in 1645. The love affair with coffee began and more coffee houses were soon opened up around the continent.

Economic Value

Coffee is a big deal, ya’ll. In 2015 the total economic impact coffee has in the US alone was $225.2 Billion dollars. Yes, you read that right. It’s the second most sought-after good in the world, just after crude oil.

Now, this is where it gets really interesting (and heartbreaking). We’ve all seen the Fair Trade coffee, and some of you may know what that is, some not. So let’s break it down.

Fair Trade means the farmers who work to get the beans are being paid a fair wage for the work they are putting in. The thing is, most of the worlds coffee is coming from developing countries. Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, etc. And like has happened in history so many times before, people take advantage of this. Big companies come in, pay barely anything to the farmers because they can, and keep the rest of the money to themselves. Greedy fucking bastards. (pardon my language).  

So fair trade means that the people who roast and sell the coffee are paying a fair wage to the farmers who grow the beans. So, let’s all go buy fair trade now, yeah?

Anyway, I find this interesting because again, just after oil coffee is the most sought good in the world, so why is it that the countries that are producing this good are not more wealthy? I mean, countries with a lot of oil (Saudi Arabia, Russia, USA) are all VERY wealthy countries. They are making money off of this good and getting rich off of it.

This is where there is still a lot of unfairness, a lot of greed, bad government, etc. in this world today. I just want to point this out because as easy as it can be to think slavery and forced labor is a thing of the past when you’re living in a developed country but it’s still very much alive in parts of the world.

Right, moving on.

Now, of course, countries are making money off of coffee. A lot of money in fact. Look at Brazil, the top grower for coffee in the world. According to their government website, they earned $5.4B in 2016, making up %6.4 of their agribusiness for the year. That’s a lot of coffee. Or look at Vietnam, the second-biggest producer in the world. In 2016 they produced 1,650,000 metric tons of coffee beans, creating a lot of money.

Needless to say, coffee has a big economic impact for both the producers and consumers. Just in the US alone the coffee industry employs 1.7 million people. Not too bad.

Types of Coffee

You can drink your coffee different ways and many different areas have their specialty. Espresso in Italy, Ca Phe Sua Da in Vietnam, Cafe Con Leche in Colombia, etc. But let’s get back to the basics; the beans themselves.

There are two major beans used for coffee today and you would probably recognize them; Coffee Robusta and Coffee Arabica.

Coffee Robusta is easier to grow than other varieties, hence the name. It does well through climates and disease, which means less work and less tending. It can be very strong and some people even say it has a “burnt” taste (it can be very bitter let’s be honest). Robusta does have a higher caffeine content, (almost double) than that in Arabica which is one factor for the taste. Caffeine gives a very bitter taste. While it can taste like that, I think it will depend on how the coffee is roasted and the quality of the beans. If you have a Robusta coffee from 7/11, of course, odds are it might not be the best coffee you’ve ever had in your life.

Now Coffee Arabica. This bean takes more work to grow. It’s more prone to disease, is affected by the weather easier, all around just more work. But the efforts are always rewarded. This coffee is brighter and fruitier.

There’s a really great infographic from that I’ll for you to see for more about the differences between robusta coffee and arabica coffee.


Now as you can probably tell by how long this post is, I could go on and on talking about coffee but we don’t have all day, unfortunately. The history and facts about coffee are incredibly fascinating and there’s so much to discover. I’d love to share more with ya’ll about this addicting bean if ya’ll are interested. Leave a comment down below and let me know your favorite types coffee!

**P.S. Bonus song from composer Johann Sebastian Bach all about coffee.

Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!

(Oh! How sweet coffee does taste,
Better than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscat wine.
Coffee, coffee, I’ve got to have it,
And if someone wants to perk me up, *
Oh, just give me a cup of coffee!)





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