the origin of coffee

Coffee History: The Legend of Kaldi and the Birth of Coffee

By Joaquim Salgueiro - Co-Founder at BICA

I remember my first taste of coffee like it was yesterday. I was just a teenager, and I couldn't resist the rich aroma wafting through the kitchen. That first sip was nothing short of magical, and it sparked a love affair that has only grown stronger over the years. Today, I want to share with you the captivating history of coffee, starting from its humble origins as a simple berry in the highlands of Ethiopia.

The Tale of Kaldi, the Goatherd

The story of coffee begins with a legendary Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi. As folklore has it, Kaldi lived around the 9th century, tending to his goats in the lush green hills of Ethiopia. One day, he noticed that his goats were behaving quite peculiarly. They seemed to be dancing and frolicking after eating berries from a particular tree. Intrigued by this sight, Kaldi decided to give the berries a try himself, and lo and behold, he felt a burst of energy coursing through his veins.

As a responsible shepherd, Kaldi shared his findings with the local monastery, hoping to provide the monks with the same invigorating experience. The monks, initially skeptical, decided to test the berries by boiling them in water. The resulting drink offered them the stamina to stay awake and focused during their long hours of prayer. And so, the first cup of coffee was born.

Although the tale of Kaldi may be more myth than history, it's widely regarded as the origin story of coffee. The magical tree was none other than the Coffea plant, native to the region that is now modern-day Ethiopia. Over time, the cultivation and consumption of the beans from this plant spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, igniting a love affair with the drink that endures to this day.

The Coffee Ceremony: A Cherished Tradition

In Ethiopia, coffee has become an integral part of the culture. One of the most beautiful expressions of this love for coffee is the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. This elaborate ritual is performed daily in many Ethiopian households and is a symbol of hospitality and respect.

The ceremony begins with the roasting of green coffee beans over an open flame. The hostess shakes the pan gently to ensure an even roast, filling the room with the tantalizing aroma of freshly roasted coffee. Once the beans are roasted, they are ground using a mortar and pestle, and then brewed with water in a traditional clay pot called a jebena.

The coffee is served in small cups called cini, often accompanied by a side of popcorn or bread. The ceremony typically involves three rounds of coffee, with each round signifying a different level of blessing. It is an opportunity for friends and family to come together, share stories, and revel in the joy of coffee.

From Ethiopia to the Arabian Peninsula

The love for coffee did not remain confined to Ethiopia. By the 15th century, coffee had made its way to the Arabian Peninsula, where it was first cultivated and traded. The port of Mocha, in present-day Yemen, became a major hub for the coffee trade. In fact, the term "mocha" still resonates in our coffee vocabulary as both a type of bean and a delicious chocolate-flavored coffee drink.

In the Islamic world, coffee found a special place in society. It was embraced as an alternative to alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam. The invigorating effects of coffee made it popular among religious scholars, who used it to stay awake during their late-night studies.

The spread of coffee throughout the Arabian Peninsula led to the rise of coffee houses, known as qahveh khaneh. These establishments served as social hubs where people could gather to discuss religion, politics, and literature. Intellectuals and artists frequented these coffee houses, and they became centers of innovation and creativity.

The coffee house culture flourished in the Ottoman Empire, where it played a significant role in shaping the society of the time. These establishments were not just a place to enjoy a cup of coffee, but also to engage in chess, backgammon, and even the occasional spirited debate. Coffee houses in the Ottoman Empire were so influential that they became known as the "Schools of the Wise."

The Journey to Europe

As coffee's popularity continued to grow, it eventually found its way to Europe via Venetian traders in the 17th century. Europe's first coffee house opened in Venice in 1645, and soon, other major cities followed suit. The introduction of coffee to Europe was not without controversy, however.

In some circles, coffee was viewed with suspicion and even labeled as the "bitter invention of Satan." The drink faced opposition from conservative elements within the Catholic Church, who believed that the stimulating effects of coffee were the work of the devil. This controversy reached its peak when Pope Clement VIII was asked to weigh in on the matter.

Legend has it that the Pope, after tasting the beverage himself, declared that coffee was so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it solely to the "infidels" (referring to Muslims). With the Pope's approval, the opposition to coffee dissipated, and its popularity soared throughout Europe.

the Arabian Peninsula led to the rise of coffee houses, known as qahveh khaneh. These establishments served as social hubs where people could gather to discuss religion, politics, and literature. Intellectuals and artists frequented these coffee houses, and they became centers of innovation and creativity.

The coffee house culture flourished in the Ottoman Empire, where it played a significant role in shaping the society of the time. These establishments were not just a place to enjoy a cup of coffee, but also to engage in chess, backgammon, and even the occasional spirited debate. Coffee houses in the Ottoman Empire were so influential that they became known as the "Schools of the Wise."

The Journey to Europe

As coffee's popularity continued to grow, it eventually found its way to Europe via Venetian traders in the 17th century. Europe's first coffee house opened in Venice in 1645, and soon, other major cities followed suit. The introduction of coffee to Europe was not without controversy, however.

In some circles, coffee was viewed with suspicion and even labeled as the "bitter invention of Satan." The drink faced opposition from conservative elements within the Catholic Church, who believed that the stimulating effects of coffee were the work of the devil. This controversy reached its peak when Pope Clement VIII was asked to weigh in on the matter.

Legend has it that the Pope, after tasting the beverage himself, declared that coffee was so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it solely to the "infidels" (referring to Muslims). With the Pope's approval, the opposition to coffee dissipated, and its popularity soared throughout Europe.

Thus, the humble coffee bean embarked on a remarkable journey from the hills of Ethiopia to the coffee houses of the Arabian Peninsula and the bustling streets of Europe. This was just the beginning of coffee's incredible global adventure, which would ultimately lead to the beverage we know and love today. In the next installment of this series, we will delve into the role of the Dutch in bringing coffee to the Americas, the rise of coffee plantations, and the transformation of coffee into the global commodity it is now.

Stay tuned, fellow coffee lovers, as we continue to explore the fascinating history of our favorite brew!

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