“Coffee – the favorite drink of the civilized world.” – Thomas Jefferson
Coffee has been around for as long as we can remember. Through generations and generations, it is an important part of millions of people’s lives, and many could not do without it.
But what are the origins of coffee? How was it discovered? Who discovered it?
Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. In Ethiopia, depending on who you speak to and where they are from, the legend endures of Kaldi the Abyssinian goat herder who is said to have first discovered the potential of these beloved beans.
Around the year AD850, Kaldi noticed to his amazement, that after chewing the bright red berries from a certain tree, his goats pranced around in an unusually exuberant manner. Curiosity got the better him and he tried a handful of the berries that were growing on the bushes nearby. Feeling a novel sense of elation, Kaldi realized that there was something out of the ordinary about this fruit and, filling his pockets, rushed back to his wife to share his discovery. ‘They are heaven sent!’ she declared, ‘you must take them to the monastery.’ Kaldi then presented the cherries to the chief monk, relating the miraculous effect they had on him, and his goats.
On hearing the story and the cherries’ extraordinary properties, the monk threw them onto the fire denouncing them to be the work of the devil. Within minutes, the monastery began to fill up with the heavenly smell of roasting beans and the other monks gathered to investigate. Raking the spitting and popping beans from the embers, they were placed in an ewer and covered with hot water to preserve their freshness. That night, the monks sat up drinking the rich and fragrant brew and vowed that they should drink it daily to help with their nightly prayers. Word of the cherries’ magical properties spread far and wide. It was not long before the monastic folk across the realm became accustomed to drinking the invigorating beverage as an accompaniment to their nocturnal devotions.
As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would bring these beans across the globe.
There is now a consensus amongst historians and botanists that coffee – especially the genus Coffee Arabica – is indigenous to Ethiopia where it still continues to grow wild in the Bale Mountains, Gamo Gofa, Ilubabor and Kaffa Forest regions. Many etymologists interpret ‘coffee’ from the name of the ancient Ethiopian kingdom, ‘Kaffa’. Coffee cultivation and trade began on the Arabian Peninsula. By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. As demand for the beverage continued to spread, there was fierce competition to cultivate coffee outside of Arabia. Missionaries and travelers, traders and colonists continued to carry coffee seeds to new lands, and coffee trees were planted worldwide.
Despite coffees uncertain origins, one thing remains certain. Coffee has been around and will continue to be around for a long time, and although Kaldi’s reputed discovery continues to remain shrouded in the mists of antiquity, it’s all part of the bean’s magic.