Have you ever thought about how coffee got started? I’ve spent some time digging into stories of where coffee originated, how it came to be a staple of the modern world, and how it came to be cultivated in the tropics around the globe. It’s incredible! There’s a lot of information, so in this blog today I will tell you a good sea story.
The coffee plant originated in Abyssinia, what is now modern Ethiopia. There are historical reports of it being used as a drug and medicines in Ethiopia and throughout Arabia, but coffee in its modern form wasn’t widely proliferated until the 15th and 16th centuries. The Europeans in the 17th century loved the stuff so much that they decided to try to cultivate it on European soil. That failed because of the climate, so they sought to bring the plant to their colonies for cultivation.
This brings us to the story of Captain Gabriel de Clieu. A French Naval Officer serving as captain of the infantry of Martinique, Captain de Clieu was tasked with bringing live coffee plants to the Antilles for cultivation. Two previous attempts to bring seeds from coffee plant gifted to King Louis XIV to the Caribbean had failed; the journey from Europe to the new world was arduous and keeping the temperamental plants alive was tedious.
De Clieu took his fledgling coffee plants onboard a merchant vessel in France around 1720. One previous attempt to get the plants abroad failed, so he was determined and extra meticulous. He installed his plants in box with a glass frame to give them sun while keeping them warm. On the voyage, he narrowly evaded capture by pirates in Northern Africa and faced violent storms. According to de Clieu, even some of the crew members were jealous, and he had to “[save] it from the hands of a man who, basely jealous of the joy I was about to taste through being of service to my country and being unable to get this coffee plant away from me, tore off a branch."
The most peril faced by the future of the fledgling plant was when the ship nearly ran out of fresh water. “Water was lacking” he wrote, so he “was obliged to share the scanty ration of it assigned to me” to keep the plant alive. So Captain de Clieu sacrificed his water to ensure that his plant would survive the voyage.
The plant survived, and de Clieu returned the plant to the soil on his estate. By 1777 there were over 18 thousand coffee trees in Martinique, and the coffee plant had spread throughout the region. While I don’t think we can credit him entirely with coffee cultivation in the Americas, it’s an excellent story, and that is the same passion we hope to bring to you every day at Anchor Coffee Roasters.
Interested in learning more? My post was adopted from an awesome resource called “All About Coffee” was published by William Ukers in 1922 and is available for free at this site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/28500/28500-h/28500-h.htm. It’s hundreds of pages of great information about coffee.