Coffee Coffee Coffee!

published january 24, 2024 | written by emily cough | edited by BHHS staff

Welcome back to Way Back Wednesday! For this article we invite you to turn on “Java Jive” by the Ink Spots and grab a cup of Joe as we take you through the history of coffee!

Though the exact origin of coffee is shrouded in legend and mystery, there is a popular tale that attributes the discovery of coffee to an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi.

According to the story, Kaldi observed that his goats became more energetic after consuming the red “berries from a certain tree” (The History of Coffee, n.d.). Intrigued, Kaldi tried the berries himself and experienced a newfound vitality. This discovery eventually caught the attention of monks, who began using the berries to make a drink that helped them stay awake during long nights of prayer. As word spread, more and more people began to try this energizing drink.

Whether or not that’s true, the story makes for an interesting, captivating origin for the beloved drink.

From here, the story leaves Ethiopia, where coffee made its way to the Arabian Peninsula, gaining prominence in the 15th century. The Yemeni district of Arabia, in particular, played a crucial role in cultivating and trading coffee (The History of Coffee, n.d.). Mocha, a city in Yemen, became synonymous with coffee, and by the 16th century, coffee houses, known as qahveh khaneh, were established in response to its growing popularity. They weren’t just places to drink the caffeinated beverage but rather meeting grounds (pun intended) for people to perform, listen to music, or hear the latest news.

As coffee made its journey to Europe, it was marked by controversy. Introduced to the continent in the 17th century, coffee faced initial resistance from Christian clergy members who viewed it as a Muslim beverage.

Coffee cup and saucer, Haviland China. Owned by George B Dorr. White cup and saucer with green band and gold edging. Handle is a delicate 1/2 heart shape.
Haviland China cup owned by George B. Dorr (BHHS Collection)

However, despite the pushback, coffee houses began to flourish in major European cities, becoming hubs for intellectual exchange and social interaction. The first European coffee shop opened in Venice in 1645 in piazza San Marco, paving the way for the widespread popularity of coffee across the continent (The History – Caffè Malabar, 2017). For instance, by “the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted like-minded patrons, including merchants, shippers, brokers and artists” (The History of Coffee, n.d.).

As the demand for coffee grew, European powers sought to cultivate their own coffee plants in their respective colonies. The Dutch, in the 17th century, successfully transported coffee plants to Java, while the French established plantations in the Caribbean. However, it was the Portuguese who played a pivotal role in introducing coffee cultivation to Brazil in the 18th century, transforming the South American nation into a coffee powerhouse.

And while the history of coffee is often associated with distant lands and exotic origins, its influence extends to unexpected corners of the world, like Bar Harbor!

Coffee grinder with wooden box for beans, metal handle and wood drawer for founds. Made by "S.U.R.M Quality Garantie Paris Made in France."
Surm Coffee Grinder (BHHS Collection)

By the time Bar Harbor grew as a resort destination, the fad of coffee houses had begun to die down—but that’s not to say the demand for the drink did.

While Bar Harbor didn’t see a coffee house, it saw cafes, gatherings, and stores that sold either the brewed drink or the beans to make them. For instance, in 1903, the Mount Desert Daughters of Liberty were reported being served the drink, as well as ice cream and cake, “in abundance” (Bar Harbor Record 1903). In 1890, “Hints to the Housekeepers” in the Bar Harbor Record gave the advice that “coffee boiled longer than one minute is coffee spoiled” (Bar Harbor Record 1890). And the “best in the world” coffee by Dwinel-Wright Co. was stocked on the shelves of A. Bird Cough’s store in town (Bar Harbor Record 1902).

Our collection of kitchen and coffee brewing apparatuses at the Historical Society reminds of this bygone era. It causes us to pause and wonder: would they have purchased this Cafe Savoy tin of coffee at Mr. Cough’s store? Would they have taken these beans home and ground them in their Surm coffee grinder? And taking the advice from the Hints to the Housekeeper, would they have brewed the coffee at the perfect time? And once all was said and done, serve it in a China coffee pot and cup? What kind of stories or secrets would have been shared over this cup of coffee?

Lenox china coffee pot. White with gilded edges and handle. Circa 1900 - 1920.
Lenox China Coffee Pot (BHHS Collection)

Today, we still see the influence of coffee and by extension, cafes. Slice of Eden, Mount Dessert Bakery, Choco-Latte, the Independent Cafe, etc. All these places encourage you to sit down, have a cup of coffee, and relax for a while before starting or returning to your day. Look up from your phone and you’ll see locals chatting away, sharing the latest town gossip or giving advice. At the end of the day, sharing a cup of coffee is more about sharing a connection or story; in a world where it’s often hard to slow down, the stimulating cup of Joe still causes us to stop, reflect, and relax with our neighbors. So next time you’re in town, look up from your phone and chat with a local you haven’t seen in a while or make friends with a visitor!

Reference List

Bar Harbor Record. 1903. “Around Town,” April 15, 1903.

Bar Harbor Record. 1890. “Hints to the Housekeepers,” July 10, 1890.

Bar Harbor Record. 1902. “Try our Royal Java and Mocha Coffee,” October 1, 1902.

The History of Coffee. (n.d.). https://www.ncausa.org/about-coffee/history-of-coffee

The History – Caffè Malabar. (2017, October 2). Caffè Malabar. https://caffemalabar.it/the-history/?lang=en