From the Dutch to the world: The history of coffee

The Dutch drink a lot of coffee. They drink more than any other country in the world, stacking up at 2,414 cups a day. Trailing far behind in second place are the Scandinavians at 1,848 cups a day; a seemingly poor effort? The Dutch may be breaking recent records by gulping down the caffeinated drink, obviously next to the platitudinous windmills and tulips, but the history of coffee is also very much a part of Netherland’s history.

Of course, the history of coffee can’t be traced back to any European countries and I would never attempt to take the caffeinated glory from countries such as Ethiopia or Yemen. However, the Dutch played a big (if not the biggest) role in spreading coffee all over the world. So, to condense a long story, Yemen smuggled coffee plants out of Ethiopia and grew their own coffee plants, it was these crops that were closely guarded and next to impossible to get a hold of. Either way, there was race among Europeans on who could be first to acquire the trees or seeds. And the Dutch won.

Pieter van den Broecke, a Dutch merchant and evidently quite the rebel, stole coffee bushes from Mocha in Yemen. He took them back to Amsterdam and found a lovely home for them in the Botanical Gardens; it’s here that they thrived. Numerous healthy bushes were produced from the initial bushes that were stolen and the strain was named Coffee Arabica. This manifestly major event in the history of coffee got very little publicity at the time. Although, we can’t really blame them for not predicting that coffee exporting alone would become a $20 billion dollar industry really now can we?

Over 40 years pass and the Dutch begin to use their beans to start coffee cultivation in Sri Lanka and Southern India. After a few years, the Dutch coffee farms expanded to Batavia and by the 1700s the Netherlands had consequently become the largest supplier of coffee to Europe. The coffee trade proved to be highly profitable and was under the control of the Dutch colonial government.

Jump to about 1713 and at this point in history Europe loves coffee; all owing to the Dutch and their unmatched skills of thievery. Students at Oxford University have mastered the art of all-nighters and the French have created a linen bag to submerse the ground coffee – no more bitty coffee, merci. However, the Dutch haven’t stopped just yet.

In 1714 the Mayor of Amsterdam (oddly) presented King Louis XIV of France a young coffee plant. Unbeknown to everyone this little coffee plant would change the world. About ten years later the little plant has bloomed into a full-grown coffee tree and it is now that we need to introduce Naval Officer Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu. This gentleman was on a quest to gain clippings from the tree in hope that he could grow the perfect coffee bean in the Caribbean. He played out a long act of being a charming guest to the King before he set out on his robbery. He climbed over the high Royal Botanical Garden, snatched a cutting from the King’s beloved tree and made a swift journey to his vessel, making his way back to the French Colony of Martinique in the West Indies. Gabriel’s journey was, to the say the very least…challenging. Complete with an attack from a crew member, a savage ambush from pirates and a horrible storm, so that by the time he arrives the coffee plant is wilting but, as if by complete fate, it miraculously survives.

Over the next few years the coffee harvests spread all over Martinique, St Dominque and Guadeloupe creating a substantial coffee harvest. So much so that King Louis XIV didn’t just forgive Gabriel but he made him Governor of the Antilles. Perhaps not a good example of crime to tell the impressionable ones?

This little stolen plant would become millions (if not billions) of coffee trees throughout the Martinique, Carribean, South America and Central America. It was also this obvious success from the French which pushed other countries who had decided coffee was the future and became heavily involved. Out of these countries the most notable is probably the coffee goliath that is Brazil. And although it may be a push, if the Mayor of Amsterdam hadn’t have generously gifted that small plant on that fateful day, possibly the greatest heist and the greatest coffee movement never would have happened.

In the 21st century, the Dutch are still at the heart of coffee – and not just with their record amount of cups they drink. The third wave coffee movement has seen many, especially millennials,  perfecting brewing methods, caring more about taste and quality rather than fast and easy coffee. And Dutch coffee fits perfectly with this, pioneering in producing the perfect cup of coffee.

Condensing hundreds of years of history into one post will always be a little difficult, but the story of coffee is a beautifully turbulent one filled with betrayal, thieves, global hostilities and ending nicely with the complete change in economics, attitudes and the world. All of which wouldn’t have been possible without the Netherlands.

Hello, I’m the blogger for Coffee Love Co, writing about everything and anything coffee related (usually whilst drinking a strong cup myself.) Get in touch with me about my writing by clicking on one of the icons below!

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