Coffea arabica is indigenous to Ethiopia and Sudan. People took the beans on long journeys and chewed them for both nourishment and stimulation. There may have been a fermented drink, called kahweh, which is a word Moslems use for wine but it was viewed with disfavour.
By the fifteenth century a drink made from coffee beans and an infusion of water had became known in Arabia and it spread through the Middle East and reached Turkey by 1530.
Travellers brought the drink to England. The earliest coffee-house was set up in Oxford, at the Angel Inn, in 1650, though individuals had been seen drinking coffee there as early as 1637. Two years later, London had its first coffee-house in St Michael's Alley, Cornhill, and others swiftly followed. They catered to an all-male clientele.
Coffee was expensive,and soon became liable to excise duty, which added tot he cost. A dish of coffee sold for 1d (one penny) and in 1685 powdered beans sold for 3/- per pound. (Three shillings). By 1693, the price had doubled. The coffee houses did not raise the prices, but simply watered the coffee.
The Dutch took the bean to their East Indian colonies at the end of the seventeenth century, and later it was introduced into the West Indies, some Central American states and parts of South America. The Bedford family at Woburn Abbey first started drinking coffee in the late 1670s and they were typical of other families in that their consumption gradually rose until coffee succeeded ale and beer as the breakfast drink of choice. Chocolate, of course, was also taken at breakfast at this time.
Competition arose in the Georgian era, when tea arrived on the scene, and soon became a favourite with the labouring classes. Coffee remained the favoured drink of the gentry. British colonists took coffee with them to Virginia, where it gained popularity after a tax was imposed on tea. Continuing immigrants from Europe kept reinforcing the coffee habit until it became the preferred drink of the country.