Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Adventure of Gabriel de Clieu

Gabriel de Clieu
The largest coffee producers in the war is located in the Americas. Brazil produced about 2 million tons of coffee. Coffee originated from Ethiopia and later spread to neighboring Arabian Peninsula. It became a hit throughout the Islamic world. It was through diplomacy and trade that coffee spread in Europe. But how did coffee arrived to Americas had a lot of stories. Among of these stories was filled with adventure, patience, and hardships. The story of Gabriel de Clieu became well-known for its “impact” and the toils he experience to bring coffee to the other side of the Atlantic.

Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu was a naval officer that would be the subject of the introduction of coffee to the Caribbean or for some, the whole New World. His date of birth is disputed. Some said it was 1686 but some said it was in 1688 in the Anglequeville-sur-Saane in Normandy, France. He became a naval officer and stationed to Martinique. De Clieu yearned for wealth.

During 1720’s, Clieu saw fortune from coffee. Europeans crazed over coffee. It was a luxury item. The Ottomans and Arabs had a monopoly over the supply and trade. In France, it was during the reign of King Louis XIV that coffee came. The Dutch had sent Louis XIV a precious gift – a coffee plant. The opulent king, however, did not show too much interest over coffee. When the Ottoman ambassador, Suleiman Aga, came to Versailles to give courtesy to the king, he brought coffee with him. But the King showed little attention to the caffeinated beans. And so, when King Louis XIV received the shoots from the Dutch, he sent it to the royal greenhouse in Paris – in the Jardin des Plantes. It was the only coffee tree found in France. And to steal from the royal greenhouse was a grave crime punishable by death.

Nevertheless, de Clieu wanted to get some shoot of the tree, smuggle it out of France, and plant it in Martinique. In 1720, he made his first attempt but failed even before he began. He then got another opportunity in 1723. This time he would be successful. He seduced a lady who knew someone in the royal greenhouse. Later on, he persuaded the lady to ask a doctor to get a clipping from the coffee tree. Dr. M. de Chirac was a doctor serving in the Jardin des Plantes. He was allowed access to the greenhouse because of his profession. As a doctor, he was in charge of studying the plants inside the greenhouse for medicinal purposes. Dr. de Chirac was then asked by de Clieu’s female friend to steal some of clippings of the coffee tree. Dr. de Chirac succeeded and gave it to the woman who gave it to de Clieu. De Clieu, in turn, placed it in a glass box and quickly took a ship back to Martinique.

If the stealing a clipping was hard enough, the transporting of the plant across the Atlantic was even more adventuristic. On his way back to Martinique, he faced a lot of problems. First problem involved a passenger. De Clieu always kept the glass box near him. He had it in his quarters but took it out in the day for some time to give it exposure from the sun. In the process, however, he got the attention of a curious Dutch passenger. One night, during de Clieu’s sleep, the Dutchman sneak into the room and snapped a piece of the coffee shoot. When de Clieu discovered what happened, the Dutch already disembarked in Madeira. 

But a curious and jealous passenger was least of de Clieu’s problems. After the Dutchman incident, de Clieu’s ship faced an attack from the marauding Corsair pirates. If the Corsairs managed to board the ship, de Clieu might lost his coffee plant, or worst, his life. But the captain of their ship was brave and skilled enough to lose the pirates. However, because of the maneuvering needed to evade capture, the glass box of the coffee shoot was damaged. Although well, de Clieu had a broken glass box. He then asked the ship’s carpenter to repair the broken box.

After the pirate attack, in the middle of the Atlantic, de Clieu ship was truly unlucky. In the middle of nowhere, the ship was confronted with a violent hurricane. Once again, the ship survived. But de Clieu’s cargo was not. The box was again damaged. In addition, the box filled with salty seawater. It made de Clieu worried that the plant might die. 

The ship, however, lose one thing from the violent storm – fresh water. During the storm, much of the supply of fresh water was either lost in sea or contaminated by seawater. The ship faced shortage and had to ration the supply among the passengers and crew aboard. De Clieu cherished his coffee shoot like his life. Even though he had little fresh water as ration, he shared it with his coffee shoot. 

Even with such great hardsips, the de Clieu arrived in Martinique. He felt optimistic and relief. In a plantation in Precheur, he planted his coffee shoot, and waited it to mature. Along the way, he had loyal and trustworthy slaves to guard the shoot 24/7. De Clieu’s patience bore fruit. The coffee tree matured and became a source of the seeds of even more coffee trees. Almost a decade later, in 1730, Martinique began to export coffee to France. In addition, de Clieu shared a shoot of the coffee tree to his friends. In turn, his friends brought it Jamaica, Santo Domingo and Guadeloupe where coffee plantations also rose. It was even said, that a shoot from de Clieu’s tree reached Brazil and became the ancestor of many coffee trees there. But this was disputed and considered a legend only. Eventually, the King of France noticed the coffee industry in the Caribbean. King Louis XIV was dead already and King Louis XV, a coffee enthusiast, summoned de Clieu. For his deeds for developing the coffee industry in the Caribbean was awarded. His act of stealing from royal greenhouse was, off course, over look.

Although the story’s authenticity is question, perhaps the story provided a good moral lesson. Patience and determination of de Clieu is exemplary. To pursue his dreams, even with his life and safety at stake, he continued to care for his little shoot of coffee tree. And when he planted it, it bloomed bared a lot of fruit for de Clieu. But not only for the de Clieu that the tree bloomed for, it also brought the rise of coffee in the region.

See also:
Dark Gift from Spain to France - Louis XIV and Chocolate
Dinning with King Louis XIV
Louis XIV and Coffee
Tragic Death of Francois Vatel

Snodgrass, M. Encyclopedia of Kitchen History. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004.

Standage, T. A History of the World in 6 Glasses. New York: Walker Publishing Company Inc., 2005.

Ukers, W. All About Coffee: A History of Coffee from the Classic Tribute to the World’s Most Beloved Beverage. Massachusetts: Adams Media, 2012. 

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