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Brief Historical Background of Coffee

Coffee Arabica is thought to be indigenous to Abyssinia and was introduced into Arabia over one thousand years ago. It is also believed that in the early ages the Abyssinians went from Arabia to Abyssinia taking the seeds with them, in which case it would have originated in Arabia. Whether the origin be Arabia or Abyssinia, the Arabians must be given credit for discovering and promoting the use of the beverage and the propagation of the plant. It is believed that the first cultivation in Arabia dates back to A.D. 575.

Indian tradition credits BaBa Budan, a Moslem pilgrim to Mecca, with the introduction of coffee into Southern India about 1600. The area in which he settled is currently known as the Baba Budan hills and is still an important coffee producing area of Southern India.

In 1699, coffee was introduced into Java from India. Plants were taken from Java to Amsterdam in 1706 and eight years later the Paris Botanical Gardens secured seedlings from Amsterdam. In 1723, plants, the progeny of those in the Paris Botanical Gardens, were taken to Martinique by the French naval officer Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu. Of these, one plant survived, and from it Arabica coffee was established in Martinique. Its spread to the coffee producing areas of the Western Hemisphere followed rapidly.

In 1728, the Governor, Sir Nicholas Lawes, introduced coffee into Jamaica from Hispaniola, now Haiti, in the parish of St. Andrew. Natural conditions proved to be most favourable and the product was found to be of very high quality. Cultivation expanded rapidly and by 1800, 686 plantations were in operation. In 1814, exports totaled 15,199 tons. With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, followed by the emancipation in 1838, the industry declined rapidly, due primarily to the lack of labour. By 1850, only 186 plantations were in operation and exports had fallen to 1,486 tons. During the last hundred years. The pattern of coffee being grown on a plantation scale has been changed and the industry has been maintained mainly by small holders.

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