Introduction of Coffee into Western Europe

Of the world’s three great non alcoholic beverages, cocoa, tea and coffee, cocoa was the first to be introduced into Europe, in 1528 by the Spanish .It was almost 100 years later, in 1610, that the Dutch bought tea to Europe, and Venetian merchants introduced coffee in 1615.

Knowledge of coffee was first brought back to Europe by travellers returning from the Middle and Far East. The first European to mention coffee was Leonhard Rauwolf who left home in Augsburg in 1573 and returned in 1576.

The Venetians were introduced to coffee due to their strong trading links with the Middle East .There was already a great tradition in Arabia and Egypt where in the public houses instead of serving alcohol, coffee was the beverage of choice. The locals attributed many medicinal qualities to this drink, which was noted by those first European travellers. At this time there was an estimated 3000 coffee houses in Cairo alone.

According to legend when it reached Rome it caused much controversy, certain priests denounced it as an invention of Satan. The argument was that the Muslims being forbidden the use of wine were given this hellish black brew called coffee. The Pope Clement VIII was curious, and asked to have this Devil’s drink bought too him for inspection. The aroma of it was so pleasant and inviting the Pope was tempted to try a cupful. After drinking it, he exclaimed "Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity not to have use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it, and making it a truly Christian beverage".

By 1615 it had been introduced into Venice. At first it was used largely for medicinal purposes and high prices were charged for it .The first coffee house was said to have opened in Italy in 1645 but this lacks confirmation. In the beginning it was sold with other drinks by lemonade vendors. By 1645 it was reputed to be in general use throughout Italy and it is certain that a coffee shop was opened in Venice in 1683.The famous Caffe' Florian was opened in Venice in 1720 and remains trading to this day.