There is no shortage of mysterious legends surrounding the origins of coffee. As with any other food that has been around for many centuries, story tellers have been out-talking each other regarding the cultural origins of coffee.
Perhaps the most popular of all stories about the beginnings of coffee is that of the humble goat herder Kaldi. The story itself traces back to 800 AD and takes place in the Ethiopian plateau.
One day, the legend goes, a goat herder noticed his goats to be very playful and full of energy. On the next day, Kaldi found out that his flock of goats was eating the red fruit of the coffee shrub. The shepherd tried the fruit himself, and spent the night wide awake.
It is said that after witnessing the over-exciting behavior of the goats and the shepherd, a passing monk took some of the fruits back to his fellow monks at the monastery. He then made a drink out of the fruits and shared with the rest of the abbots. The coffee shrubs had the same affect and the monks spent the night wide awake.
Spending the night awake after introducing such high dosage of caffeine to your body for the first time is quite possible. I am just very curious to see how goats act when they get “high” on coffee beans.
It is believed that the word about coffee was spread east towards the Arabian Peninsula. From there, a journey to bring the energy drink around the globe begun.
The cultivation and trading of coffee in the Arabian Peninsula did not begin until mid-15th century. I guess the word sent from Ethiopia travelled real slowly.
The first region to begin serious harvest and production of coffee was the Yemeni district of Arabia around 16th century. It is only after that coffee became known to Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. Which are some of its biggest producers and consumers right now.
Around the same period of time, the first coffee houses begun to appear. Such places of gathering were called gahveh khaneh and were popular in many cities around the Near East. The popularity of these places grew quickly, and they became prevalent social hubs.
In the beginning coffee houses were available only to patrons. They would go there to enjoy some music, play chess, exchange gossip and stay current on the news. In some cities coffee houses became known as Schools of the Wise due to the constant exchange of information and type of people who went there. Later on, however, these places became popular social gathering for whoever could afford them.
Coffee makes its way to Europe
It was not until 17th century, that coffee finally made its way to the shores of Europe. It was European travelers who consistently retold stories about a rare and uncommon dark beverage. Some stories more exaggerated then others, but nevertheless, the word was spread and coffee started flowing to Europe.
As always, there was no shortage of religious drama in Europe. At first, suspicion and fear made people call the beverage “the bitter invention of Satan”. Supposedly the guy had nothing to do all day, but to grow coffee beans.
In 1615 in Venice the local clergy went as far as to condemn coffee. This sparked such a great controversy, that Pope Clement VIII himself had to intervene. Curiously enough the Pope decided to taste the beverage himself. Not surprisingly, he loved it so much, he gave it its papal approval. This is perhaps something similar to nowadays FDA approval. With the little exception that there is a little bit more science behind what we approve as consumable goods in modern days.
Much like in the Near East, it did not take long for coffee houses to start showing up in city centers. England, Austria, Holland and Germany boldly led this new coffee house revolution across Europe. With the blessing of the Pope, of course. Reportedly, by the end of 17th century there were over 300 coffee houses in London alone.
Soon after coffee was introduced, it began to replace the usual breakfast beverages. Which at that time were wine and beer, by the way.
The New World
Coffee was welcomed to the Americas shortly after it was introduced in Europe. After all, Europeans had to be alert while colonizing and massacring Indigenous populations.
Interestingly enough, tea remained the number one choice of beverage in the New Continent. At least that was the case until King George III introduced a heavy tax on tea. This led to a revolt known as the Boston Tea Party. Soon after, coffee became the preferred drink of the New World.