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The History of Coffee: From Ancient Drink to Global Obsession

Like many of the beverage discoveries that have shaped civilization, coffee has a story as rich and complex as its flavors. A staple in homes, coffee shops, and office buildings all over the world, the appeal of this time-honored brew transcends cultures and continents alike.

Our caffeinated journey begins in the most unlikely manner - with a flock of overly energetic goats in the remote highlands of 9th-century Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. According to legends, a goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats became particularly spirited after consuming the red berries from a certain tree. Intrigued, he sampled the berries himself and experienced the same invigorating effect. Thus, the legend of coffee was born.

That being said, the actual consumption of coffee as a hot beverage did not start until the 13th century when Arab traders brought coffee back to their homeland. They boiled the beans, creating a drink they called 'qahwa' or that which prevents sleep. The beans were also crushed and mixed with fodder to energize their camels on long trips.

Around the 15th century, coffee spread to the Arabian Peninsula and was cultivated extensively. As the popularity of the drink grew, the first coffee houses, known as qahveh khaneh, began to appear in cities like Mecca and Cairo. These centers of social activity were not merely places to enjoy a hot cup of coffee but also places for community gathering, musical performances, and intellectual discussions.

The 17th century saw coffee making its way to Europe. Initially met with skepticism and branded as the 'bitter invention of Satan,' coffee won hearts over time. By the mid-17th century, over 300 coffee houses decorated the streets of London. These establishments laid the foundation for the modern insurance and stock market, earning the moniker of 'penny universities' as a cup of coffee cost one penny, offering social connection and intellectual stimulation.

From Europe, coffee crossed the Atlantic to the New World. Despite the first attempts to popularize coffee in the US meeting indifference (partly due to the existing preference for tea), the tide shifted during the Revolutionary War. Political factors like the Boston Tea Party made coffee a patriotic choice, and America's obsession with coffee commenced.

The 19th century was transformative for coffee production. Until then, Arabia and Africa exclusively grew coffee. Contrasting fortunes such as threat of disease and an illicit seed smuggling incident led to large-scale coffee cultivation in Latin America. Today, countries like Brazil and Columbia are among the largest producers of coffee beans in the world.

Innovation in the realm of coffee didn’t stop there. The 20th century saw numerous developments: the invention of instant coffee, the first espresso machine, the proliferation of cafe chains like Starbucks, through to the evolution of artisanal 'third wave' coffees focused on origin, brewing methods, and flavor profiles.

Coffee, to this day, remains central to many daily routines, a bonafide global obsession. From its humble beginnings in Ethiopia to the myriad coffee shops that grace practically every corner of the world, coffee’s rich history is a testament to its universal appeal. This beloved beverage has become more than just a drink - it's a cultural institution that stimulates our senses, sparks our creativity, and gathers us together.

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