coffee and history

Since its discovery sometime in the 15th century, coffee has continually been experimented on – whether that means crafting the perfect brew, growing in previously unheard-of ways, or bringing the famous plant to new lands. The rich history of coffee simply wouldn’t be the same without the work of smugglers, farmers, inventors and enthusiasts from around the world.

Here at Artemis, experimenting on coffee is what we do! We’re always trying to find new ways to extract the most interesting tastes out of our cold brew, so we’ve got massive respect for everybody who’s brought the scene to where it is today. Below, we’ve tried to rank the top 5 most influential people in the history of coffee.

5. Kaldi

It’s hard to imagine a list like this without Kaldi getting at least an honourable mention. The legend goes that Kaldi was a goat herder from Ethiopia who, upon noticing his goats’ increased energy after eating the fruits of a coffee plant, tried them himself. Fully caffeinated, he rushed to a local monk to share his discovery. The monk disapproved, throwing them into a fire, which caused that beautiful, freshly-roasted coffee smell. These roasted beans were apparently collected, ground up, and then used to brew the world’s first cup of coffee.

If this were true, Kaldi would certainly earn the #1 spot as the most influential person in the history of coffee. But the reality is that nobody is certain of the exact origin of coffee, with the myth of Kaldi not appearing until 1671 – 700 years after he supposedly discovered it. Despite this, you can still find reference to Kaldi and his caffeinated goats in coffee culture across the world.

4. Melitta Bentz

Probably one of the lesser known individuals on this list, Melitta Bentz deserves a lot of praise from anybody who drinks filter coffee. In the early 20th Century, coffee was largely made by placing a cloth bag of coffee grounds in boiling water and waiting. The result, unsurprisingly, was a bitter drink full of grit – very different to your morning coffee.

Bentz hoped to improve on this formula by creating a funnel made of blotting paper, which was then punctured with a thin nail. Hey Presto, the world’s first coffee paper filter was born! This proved immensely popular amongst the working classes who didn’t have access to an Italian espresso machine, and a booming business was formed. By 1918, 100,000 filters had been produced, and production had to be moved to a larger factory to meet demand. By the time of her death in 1950, the business had grown to be worth over £2 million.

The effects of Bentz’ invention are obvious today, with paper filters still proving massively popular amongst coffee connoisseurs, with brewing methods now diversifying //mention something about diversification into different brewers, kalitta,v60,chemex etc.//. Her company, now named “Melitta” in her honour, is now worth over €1.3 billion, and has expanded into coffee, tea, espresso and filter coffee machines, as well as the classic paper coffee filter.

3. King Louis XIV

If somebody started talking to me about King Louis of France, my mind would probably drift to the three musketeers. Surprisingly, however, Louis XIV – the fourteenth Louis – had a pretty dramatic role to play in coffee’s place in the West.

It all started with a gift from the mayor of Amsterdam. The Dutchman had recently acquired a coffee plant from the East, and hoped that presenting it to Louis would grant him some favour with the French king. I couldn’t actually find whether or not it worked, but one would assume so, since Louis kept the plant. 

For some history of coffee context, at the time, coffee was fairly new in the West. The Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) had almost exclusive control over the trade of coffee, and was making efforts to introduce it to European nobility to drive sales. Louis didn’t particularly like coffee at first, but as it grew in popularity in his royal court, he started to drink less wine and more coffee. His people, as well as other European Aristocrats, soon followed. Anyway, back to the story. 

King Louis had his newly-acquired coffee plant placed in the hot house of his Royal Botanical Garden where, for the longest time, it remained largely undisturbed. Although the king was petitioned for a shoot of the plant, he declined to share the pride and joy of his hot house. This proved to be a huge mistake.

A Naval Officer, Gabriel de Clieu, wasn’t going to let Louis get in the way of his grand ambitions. That same night, he climbed the walls of the Botanical Garden and stole a shoot of the coffee plant, before making his way to the Americas where he planted it, kick-starting the huge South American coffee industry that we all know of today.

So, all in all, Louis was pretty important to coffee’s adoption in the west, but his greed got in the way of France’s coffee farming potential, as well as a better spot on this list.

2. Angelo Moriondo, Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni

It might seem a little unusual to put three men in one spot, but these Italian stallions are all significant for one reason: the espresso machine. I’m sure that I don’t need to explain what an espresso machine is to you, seeing as they’re the backbone of cafes worldwide.

Coffee culture was thriving in Europe in the 19th century, with cafes opening across the continent. Brewing coffee for customers was slow at the best of times, and Angelo Moriondo sought to change this. In 1884, he patented the father of today’s espresso machines, a steam machine which pushed water through coffee grounds, before being flashed with steam. Hey presto, a hot brew. Genius, right? Unfortunately, Angelo was more of an inventor than a marketing man. Past this, we have very little info about him – we don’t even have any of his machines left.

Enter stage right, Bezzerra and Pavoni. Taking Moriondo’s design and improving upon it, Bezzerra added a lot of what makes up modern espresso machines today; portafilters for easy filtering, group heads to push the water through them and many more. These innovations turned Moriondo’s machine from a batch brewer to a quick, convenient coffee maker. Pavoni improved the design even further, adding a steam wand and a pressure release valve. The machine was a hit, and soon enough similar machines were springing up all throughout Italy. Although Espresso still had a long way to go in becoming the iconic drink that it is today, these three men were massively influential in its development.

1. Francisco de Mello Palheta

Everybody loves a handsome rogue. On the big screen, Jack Sparrow, Han Solo and Indiana Jones have charmed their way into audiences hearts and minds through their daring exploits and charming attitude. Palheta was essentially these three guys combined, minus the space travel but with an added Portuguese accent.

According to legend, some time around 1720, Portugal wanted in on the coffee market. France didn’t want to cooperate, unwilling to export the seeds to them. Around that time, Palheta was dispatched on a diplomatic mission to resolve a border dispute between the Portuguese colony of Brazil and neighbouring French Guiana. Palheta had other plans.

After he’d seduced the governor of French Guiana’s wife, Palheta was presented with a bouquet of flowers – a bouquet that had secretly been spiked with seeds. Aside from being a fantastic story, the legacy of Palheta is, quite frankly, massive. Brazil today is the world’s largest coffee producer and exporter, producing one third of all coffee. Could all this really be down to one charming man? I certainly like to think so.

Do you think we missed somebody important that has influenced the history of coffee? Let us know in the comments below!

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