Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Coffee trees are native to east Africa, and were probably first valued for their sweet cherry-like fruits and for their leaves, which could be made into a kind of tea. Even today an infusion of the dried fruit pulp is enjoyed in Yemen, where the seeds or “beans” were apparently first roasted, ground, and infused in the 14th century. Our word coffee comes from the Arabic qahwah, whose own origin is unclear. The coffee tree was taken to south India around 1600, from India to Java around 1700, and from Java (via Amsterdam and Paris) to the French Caribbean shortly thereafter. Today Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia are the largest exporters of coffee; African countries contribute about a fifth of world production.