The origin and spread of coffee
Do you count yourself among those whose day only begins after a cup of coffee? According to the latest findings of the International Coffee Organisation, around 1 400 000 000 cups are drunk in the world per day. That’s not a small number. But how did this all start?
There’s no better place to look for the answer than in the country from which coffee spread into the entire world - Ethiopia. The Ethiopians believe in a legend about a certain shepherd named Kaldi, who is considered to have discovered the stimulating effects of coffee by accident. Or, more exactly, his goats have. One day, his flock escaped into the woods. Once he found them, he couldn’t but wonder what happened. His goats were happily dancing and jumping high in the air. Kaldi searched for the source of their excitement, and ultimately figured out it was because of the bright, red-colored berries growing on the bushes. He decided to try them on himself as well. A while after consuming the sweet and sour berries, he started feeling the same excitement he had seen on his flock and he couldn’t help joining them. He brought these berries along with the exciting news upon the monks in the local monastery. They saw these berries as a god’s gift which allowed them to pray all night. They prepared a hot beverage from the pulps, and disposed of the leftover beans in a fire. An amazing scent scent immediately filled the entire monastery, and as such, the coffee as we know it today was born.
There might be some truth to this story, but in reality, the process of discovering coffee was much slower. It is definitely true that the first part of the coffee fruit to be consumed was the pulp, just like with any forest fruit. It is also more than likely that the discovery of roasted coffee was an accident, but it took a long time before our favourite beverage was born. Roasted coffee was first consumed on it’s own as a kind of treat. Later, people started adding them to butter, creating a highly energetic snack.
Dr. Friedrich Bieber, an Austrian anthropologist, studied the inhabitants of the Kaffa kingdom in 1905 and described the traditional process of brewing coffee - the roasted beans were grinded into fine powder with two stones, then mixed with honey and shaped into a ball. This ball would then be thrown and dissolved in hot water. He considered this the most ancient way of brewing coffee.
Besides the beans, the entire coffee plant contains caffeine, and thus the entire plant is being used in various ways. Some cultures in the world prepare a tea out of coffee leaves, and a beverage out of coffee pulps - cascara - is becoming more popular in the world year by year. It is a traditional beverage in Yemen, locally called qishr, where it is mixed with ginger and cinnamon.
Whether it was goats, shepherds or monks who tasted coffee for the first time, it is by all means true that the birthplace of coffee is the Ethiopian kingdom of Kaffa. From here, coffee spread first to Yemen in the 13th century, which has a very similar climate and where it was prepared in the traditional Ethiopian way for about 300 years. In the 16th century, news about this special beverage started reaching Persia, Syria, Egypt and Turkey.
This is also considered to be the beginning of coffee culture as we know it today. The beverage wasn’t just a household drink, coffee shops also started appearing where people would gather for business or social events. These places, called gahveh khaneh, slowly became important social gathering places for exchanging up-to-date information.
In this period, a new method of preparing coffee appears. In the palaces of Istanbul, brewers would grind the beans into fine dust, which would be boiled in a cezve (djezveh) on a fire of powdered wooden coals. From Istanbul, Venetian traders would bring this beverage to their flourishing republic. At this point, coffee trade started exploding. From Italy, coffee spread to the France, Britain, Austria-Hungary or Belgium and the Netherlands, and through these empires’ colonists, coffee reached the Americas in the 18th century, and soon the entire world.
As you can see, the story of coffee is neither as simple nor as short as the original Ethiopian legend. But in any case, we should be grateful. Whether it was goats or pure luck which brought the coffee beans into a fire at some point, it remains a fact that coffee is a beverage that became a daily part of the lives of an entire planet.

image source: Harvard Business School

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