Not Your Average Joe: The Grinding History of Coffee

By Natasha Eklund


October 1, 2018 is International Coffee Day, and I’m sure as university students, we can all relate to how wonderful caffeine is. It only seems fitting for October to be the month to celebrate this magical energizing bean as the temperature is dropping and everyone’s desire to stay inside all cuddled up in a blanket with a warm drink in hand is growing. When I started to research the history of coffee, I did not expect to find enough interesting information to write on, and I was very surprised to find out that coffee has had a controversial background! While coffee is widely accepted nowadays in drinking or snacking form, it was not always beloved– it was, in fact, despised in a few places as it spread its way throughout the world.

Let’s start at the beginning. Coffee was discovered sometime in the 9th century by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi had noticed his goats eating berries from a particular tree and that evening his goats had so much energy they wouldn’t go to sleep. Curious about this, Kaldi told an abbot at the local ministry about these berries. This led to the abbot collecting some for himself and making a drink from them. To his amazement, the abbot found himself alert and energized through the long evening prayers. He then spread this news to the other monks and thus the rumors of these magical energizing berries quickly spread. By the 15th century, coffee was being cultivated in Yemen along the Arabian Peninsula. Come the 16th century, coffee had become known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.

Coffee had rapidly been spreading across the world and began to replace the common breakfast drink of beer and wine. Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol in the morning found themselves more alert and was amazed that their quality of work had improved. However, not everyone approved of this change of breakfast drink. In 1777, Frederick the Great of Prussia had issued a manifesto against coffee as he claimed that beer was superior to coffee and said the amount of coffee drinking had put a strain on the country’s beer consumption. Frederick announced that he had been brought up on beer, therefore, it was to be the superior breakfast drink (National Coffee Association). Mostly, it seems that Frederick had believed coffee should not be enjoyed by the common folk and had wanted their money to be going to Prussia and not being spent on imported coffee. Meanwhile, Frederick enjoyed mass amounts of coffee, but he had it banned for the commoners. Here is a fun fact that may make you grimace – Frederick had enjoyed his coffee served with cinnamon sticks and brewed with champagne instead of water (The Herb Museum). Imagine drinking hot champagne mixed with coffee – to each his own, I suppose!

I got a bit ahead of myself though, so let’s go back one century. Travellers had brought coffee to Europe by the 17th century, and here, it quickly became popular. By the mid-17th century, there was a recorded number of 300 coffeehouses located in London (NCA). These coffeehouses were quite similar to the ones we go to today; customers came to enjoy coffee, listen to music or watch performers, play chess, or discuss the local events and news. Coffeehouses quickly became known as “schools of the wise” (NCA) as they were a key spot to engage in politics, and thus the link between coffee and intelligence was quickly established. Around this time, coffee was also brought into New Amsterdam (New York) and while coffee houses were making rapid appearances, tea was still favoured. However, this took a dramatic turn in 1773 when heavy tax on tea was imposed and American colonists revolted by dumping 342 chests of British tea into the harbor; this, as I’m sure you know, is the Boston Tea Party ( Due to this event, the American preference changed from tea to coffee.

Coffee wasn’t immediately accepted in Europe when it made its appearance in the 17th century as clergymen had thought coffee to be “Satanic” and put a ban on it. This caused quite a bit of controversy as many had grown to love coffee by this point in time. Pope Clement VII had decided to address this controversy by trying a taste of it for himself and he found the drink to be delicious and even gave it the papal approval. From then on out, coffeehouses rapidly grew throughout Italy. I saved the most interesting tidbit for last. Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire had banned coffee in 1633. Murad’s approach to this ban was much more severe and quite unfortunate for the people who would partake in drinking coffee. The first time an individual was caught with coffee, they would be beaten. The second time, that individual was sewn into a sack and tossed into the Bosporus waterway. Coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire, like all others, were a common place for noblemen, officers, judges, and other people of the law to gather. This made Murad IV nervous as he had grown to fear that as a result, these coffee houses would create “mutinous soldiers” (hitrecord) and they would rally against him. If you ask me, that is quite the extreme reaction to have to a simple caffeinated bean.

In recognition of International Coffee Day, and to support and learn more about Edmonton’s local shops, Ester Latifi and I went to check out BRU Coffee & Beer House. This welcoming and tranquil coffee shop is located on Jasper Avenue and 119 street. When we were there, we enjoyed their $3 pints, delicious sandwiches and veggie trays, and their espresso bar. I decided to ask the barista and bartender, Matthew, a few questions about BRU Coffee. Matthew told me that the BRU Coffee house was established three years ago and is the only one – there are a few other shops with the BRU name, but they are not affiliated with each other. When I asked about the demographic of customers, Matthew responded that there are lots of students, but during the morning and evenings, more business people. All in all, Matthew said that “it’s a healthy mixture of people who want to get work done.”

Matthew mentioned that BRU always has events going on, whether it’s live music, paint nights, or speed dating. I asked Matthew what sets BRU apart from the chain shops and why he wanted to work there, and he laughed as he answered: “the big difference for me is this place has a distinct vibe to it, it’s more hip.” BRU Coffee & Beer House definitely does have a distinct vibe – it is a very comfortable and inviting atmosphere. As Ester and I sat and enjoyed our visit, we listened to a young man performing acoustic covers and noticed a variety of customers – a few couples on dates, an elderly couple enjoying their coffee and newspaper, students studying, and some friends meeting up. Matthew told me the big reason he wanted to work at BRU was because “I’ve been doing the barista thing for a long time, but I also wanted to do some bartending. This is one of those few locations where I get to do both.” For anyone looking for a new place to study or a new chill coffee or beer spot, I highly recommend you stop by to check it out!BRU coffee and beer house

The other local coffee shop I went to was Little Brick, located on 100 avenue and 90 street. When I walked through the door, I was immediately embraced in a homey and comfy atmosphere. Little Brick was established in 1903 in an old brick yard by J.B. Little, hence the name Little Brick. I spoke with the barista, Taylor, who gave a pretty good description of the café: “It’s an all around pretty cool place. I find everyone has a different experience here. I’ve been told by a lady that comes here regularly that it reminds her of a pub back home in Scotland. Last winter we had a chicken stew, she got it with a beer and it reminded her of home. This place has a lot of character to it – just walking in I feel like I’m not really in Edmonton.” I asked her if there was a diversity of costumers and Taylor replied, “honestly we are all over the place. Mostly locals, a lot of retired folk, since the building beside Little Brick is a 65 plus. Riverdale is a lot of retired folk and young families. Thursdays, we get some elementary kids in here around 3pm getting salted caramels and pop.” 

From looking around the coffee shop, we saw a few people just getting off work coming in for a coffee, some friends chatting, and a student reviewing her cue-cards. Rebecca Bradley noted that “it feels like you are on the east coast of the United States here, like in the Providence area” as she sat and drank her London Fog while enjoying the atmosphere and looking out the window into Little Brick’s beautiful yard. Libby Hildebrand commented that Little Brick is “maybe not so much of a study hub but a good place to bring your friend out for brunch and a coffee.”

Now that you know the history of coffee and of some unique local coffee shops, I hope I have encouraged you to partake in the celebration of International Coffee Day!











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