Time for coffee history: How did Pieter van den Broecke smuggle coffee from Yemen

Keep your coffee cup at hand, because we dive into a story where the smell of tension mixes with the aromas of your favorite mug of Javanese coffee. It's no secret that coffee plays a crucial role in our modern society, but did you know that the history of coffee is closely intertwined with smuggling and forbidden pleasures? And that it all started with a daring traveler named Pieter van den Broecke?

Pieter van den Broecke and the Dutch East India Company

Source: Wikipedia

Pieter van den Broecke was not a weak trump card in the card game of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). His name is part of the golden age of Dutch empire building, a period in which Dutch rule over the oceans and the spice trade were at their height.

The VOC, founded in 1602 in response to Portuguese and Spanish dominance in the East Indies, quickly grew into an unprecedented economic power. With ships full of saffron, ginger and other exotica, the VOC held sway over trading centers from the Indies to Japan, establishing trading posts and forts to strengthen their influence.

It was a period of unprecedented conquest and wealth that attracted both admiration and criticism for its unprecedented impact on world history.

The discovery of coffee in Yemen

Coffee was a precious treasure hidden in the majestic kingdom of Yemen, where locals ground the 'wine of Arabia' to perfection.

This intoxicating drink not only gave them a clear state of mind, but also an uplifting feeling that nourished their souls, as fertile as the rich soil where their coffee beans thrived.

When rumors about this oriental treasure spread, Van den Broecke realized that he had something truly unique on his hands.

The great coffee robbery

The delicious taste of coffee lingered in the minds of the VOC for a long time after they discovered the coffee fields in Yemen. In a daring move of trade and smuggling, Van den Broecke and his men brought coffee plants from Yemen to Amsterdam.

He managed to steal them from the very well-guarded plantations in a very clever way. The coffee bushes were then lovingly cared for in the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam. But unfortunately, due to the Dutch climate it was not possible to grow coffee there.

So what did he do? He brought the coffee plants to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). And from there, Arabica spread across Asia! Exciting, right?

Coffee has now become commonplace in the Netherlands, do you know which coffee is most consumed in the Netherlands?

The impact of coffee smuggling

Coffee underwent a remarkable transformation in the hands of the VOC, from an exotic drink to a valuable trade product that enchanted Europe.

The rise of coffeehouses was phenomenal, springing up like mushrooms, and everyone from peasants to emperors craved a tasty cup of this sensory delight.

This clandestine trade had a profound impact on cultures worldwide, first introducing the West to the Eastern pleasures of coffee.

Legacy of Pieter van den Broecke

Van den Broecke's bold work, although controversial, has been crucial for the world as we know it today.

Its role in the coffee business has left a legacy that is deeply rooted in our modern society, where coffee is not just a drink, but can embody a ceremony, an art form and even a lifestyle.

To this day, we as Dutch people are still one of the most coffee-drinking countries in the Netherlands. Do you know which countries consume the most coffee?


The history of coffee is a story of discovery, adventure and sometimes even duplicity. By telling the stories of pioneers like Pieter van den Broecke, we can better understand the steps in the sands of time and breathe in the aromas of the past while sipping our daily coffee.

Each cup reminds us where this passion for coffee comes from – an age-old desire for the exotic, the new and the forbidden. So take another sip of your coffee and toast Van den Broecke, the pirating pioneer of beans.