There are many legends that portray the origin of coffee drinking, some of which may be true. There is no real evidence, however, to show exactly when, or how, coffee was first discovered.

It appears to have originated in Abyssinia and certainly has a presence around the Red Sea area by about 700 AD. History tells us that other Africans of the same era fueled up on protein-rich coffee and animal-fat balls (primitive energy bars!) and unwound with wine made from coffee-berry pulp.

The drinking of coffee soon spread to Arabia most likely by Arab traders and by the end of the 9th Century a drink known as qahwa (literally meaning "that which prevents sleep") was being made by boiling the beans. The drinks made from coffee soon became known as Arabian Wine as Muslims, who were forbidden to drink wine, used coffee with its stimulating powers as a substitute. It is known to have been drunk during prayers, in the mosques, even at the Holy Temple at Mecca and before the tomb of the Prophet.

It was not until after coffee had been consumed as a food product, a wine and a medicine that it was discovered, probably by complete accident, that by roasting the beans a delicious drink could be made. This did not happen until sometime between 1000AD and 1200AD probably in Arabia. By the end of the 13th century, however, Muslims were drinking coffee religiously. Wherever Islam went coffee went to: from India to North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Coffee was first cultivated in the Yemen area of Africa between 1250 and 1600 when extensive planting occurred.

The trade in coffee was jealously guarded by the Arabs who made every effort to prevent other countries acquiring their fertile beans. They would not allow coffee beans to be taken out of the country unless they had first been dried in sunlight or boiled in water to kill the seed-germ. In fact, it is said that no coffee seed sprouted outside Africa or Arabia until the 1600s. As a result of this, for many centuries, the Yemen served as the world's primary source of coffee.

Some seed beans or plant cuttings were eventually taken out of Arabia, however, either by being smuggled or inadvertently taken by groups of pilgrims on their annual travels to Mecca.

The first coffee shop that is known to have opened was Kiv Han in Constantinople (later Istanbul) in 1475 after being introduced to Turkey two years early by the Ottoman Turks. Coffee soon became a part of social life as coffee shops multiplied rapidly and within a few years there were hundreds of them in the city. People visited these coffee houses to talk, listen to music, watch dancing, play chess and other games, listen to the tales of wandering storytellers, or listen to other learned conversations and, of course, to drink coffee! Coffee houses in Turkey became known as the "Schools of the Wise", because so much could be learned there.

In the middle of the 16th Century, coffee was already drunk in Egypt, Syria, Persia and Turkey, and coffee shops were to be found in the cities of Medina, Cairo, Baghdad, Alexandria, Damas and Istanbul. Around the same time, Soliman the Magnificent's Turkish warriors introduced the drink to the inhabitants of the Balkans, Central Europe, Spain and North Africa.

Attempts to ban coffee during these early years occurred quite regularly - often to little effect. In 1511, Khair Beg, the corrupt governor of Mecca, was executed after attempting to ban coffee - fearing that it's influence might foster opposition to his rule. The sultan on hearing about this declared that coffee is sacred and ordered the governor's death. Another try at banning coffee came from The Grand Vizir of the Ottoman Empire in 1656. He prohibited coffee and closed the coffee houses of Turkey. The penalty for drinking it, however, was nothing too serious - just a dunk in the Bosphorous in a leather satchel.