The Origin Of Coffee Part 2
In 1615 a Venetian merchant introduced the Turkish “drink of black color”to Italy and Europe. Recognizing the value in the brew, many traders wanted the means to mass produce the coffee bean. The Dutch spirited the a coffee plant into Europe in 1616. In 1696 they founded the first European-owned coffee estate, on what was then colonial Java, now part of Indonesia.
Business boomed and the Dutch sprinted ahead to adjacent islands. Amsterdam began bestowing coffee trees on aristocrats around Europe, and in around 1714, Louis XIV received his coffee tree for Paris’s Royal Botanical Garden, the Jardin des Plantes. Several years later a young naval officer named Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, was in Paris on leave from Martinique, a French colony in the Caribbean. Imagining Martinique as sort of a French version of Java, he requested clippings from his king’s tree, but was denied. Undettered, de Clieu led a moonlight raid of the Jardin des Plantes , made off with a sprout, and sailed for Martinique.
On the return voyage to Martinique, a “basely jealous” passenger,wrote de Clieu, “unable to get this coffee plant away from me, tore off a branch.” The ship was then attacked by pirates and nearly captured, then came a storm which nearly sank it. Finally, skies grew clear. Too clear. Water grew scarce and was rationed. De Clieu gave half of his allotment to his stricken seedling. Under armed guard, the sprout grew strong in Martinique, yielding an extended family of approximately 18 million trees in 50 years or so. Its progeny would supply Latin America, where a dangerous liaison would help bring coffee to the masses.
The value of the crop was soon recognized by the Brazilian Governement and in 1727, they dispatched an agent to smuggle seeds from a coffee country. Lt. Col. Francisco de Melo Palheta, was sent to French Guiana, ostensibly to mediate a border dispute. With the coffee farms protected like fortresses, Palheta chooses a path of less resistance—the governor’s wife. At a state farewell dinner she presents him a token of affection, a bouquet laced with coffee seedlings. From these, the world’s greatest coffee empire sprouts. By 1800 Brazil’s monster harvests would turn coffee from an elite indulgence to an everyday elixir, a drink for the people.