Excerpt from the 2013 May/June issue of Tea Magazine.
In 1873 the New York Times recorded a peculiar finding: coffee plants in many parts of the world were grown not for their berries but for their leaves. The practice originated in Sumatra where reporters were surprised to see valuable coffee berries left to decay on hundreds of plants growing near homes. The growers only wanted the leaves. The newspaper reported that a Mr. Ward, who spent 20 years in this region, “drank the tea morning and evening, and found it invaluable, giving immediate relief to hunger and fatigue, and clearing the brain of its cobwebs.”
Several attempts to introduce “coffee leaf tea” to the West occurred throughout the 19th century with various explorers praising the taste of the infusion, its health benefits and its ease of growth. During the 1850s when China and England were intermittently warring over tea, several markets attempted to introduce coffee leaf tea as an alternative beverage.