Origins of Coffee
THE ORIGINS OF COFFEE
Coffee is one of the largest traded commodities in the world at present and it's easy to see why. Today, coffee is a mainstay of our daily diets. Many of us simply cannot start the day without a nice cup of our favorite beverage. However, before this wonderful bean got to each of us all over the globe, it travelled a path through time that can only be described as fascinating.
For centuries, we've had stories of coffee being so valued that it had been stolen from royalty or even smuggled out of countries. But how did we come to find out about this wonderful bean in the first place? Let's look through history to find out where and how it all began.
Where Did Coffee Originate?
The answer to a question of where coffee was first found and used would differ, depending on who you ask. The place of discovery of coffee is something that has been debated over a long time.
There are two main places that the coffee beans are believed to have been originally discovered: Ethiopia and Yemen. Each of these countries have their own unique myths and legends about how the beverage was chanced upon. However, it is generally believed that coffee beans were originally exported from Ethiopia to Yemen and even the myths of the origin of coffee echoed in Yemen give some credit to Ethiopia as well.
Ethiopia's Coffee Origin Myth (This will make you giggle)
In Ethiopia, the story of 'Kaldi and His Dancing Goats' is told. And yes, it is as funny as it sounds. According to the legend, an Arab goatherd named Kaldi was bewildered by a strange behavior he noticed his flock exhibit. He saw them prancing around as though they were dancing. They were also bleating loudly. Puzzled about their antics, he went to investigate the cause of all the trouble. What he found would change history. He came upon a small shrub (or a cluster of shrubs) with some unusual berries. This was the bush from which the goats had been eating. Deciding to sample the berries for himself, he was pleasantly surprised. A warm feeling of exhilarating energy rushed through him.
It was an amazed and excited Kaldi that hurriedly gathered as many of the berries as he could and took them home to his wife to show her what he had discovered. She regarded these berries as heaven sent and urged Kaldi to take his find to the monks. However, the berries did not receive the same reception at the monastery. There, the monks called the goatherd's find "the Devil's work" and tossed the beans into the fire. They did not expect the beans to give off the most tantalizing aroma. The aroma, wafting in the air, caught their attention. The monks recovered the beans from the fire and attempted to preserve them by placing them in some hot water. As you might guess, they had accidentally made the first brewed coffee - the aroma of which intensified their curiously. Finally, they tried it out for themselves. One taste of the coffee brewage gave every one of them a complete change of mind. It became a part of their daily routine to drink it to aid their religious devotions and help with keeping them awake during their prayers…..and that’s a part of the myth.
The Origin of Coffee In Yemen
Meanwhile, in Yemen, several myths of coffee's origin are echoed throughout the country.
One popular one is of the Yemenite Sufi mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili. As is told, the Yemenite journeyed for spiritual matters. His travels took him through Ethiopia where he noticed some birds acting strangely after feeding on the fruit of the bunn (coffee) plant. Needing some of their unusual energy himself, he tried the fruit and discovered its wonderful effects.
There are also stories about a doctor-priest and a follower of Sheik Abou'l Hasan Schadheli named Sheikh Omar. According to a popularly told myth, this doctor-priest from Mocha in Yemen was sent into exile for some wrong doing. The reason for his exile is unclear but what is certain is that, while in exile, he took dwelling in a desert cave close to the mountain of Ousab. There, he had little to eat and was on the verge of starvation. Luckily, this was when he came upon the red berries of the coffee plant and tried to eat them but found them to be too bitter to eat raw. Desperate to make them edible, he put the berries into fire in hopes that it would diminish the bitterness. Instead, all that was accomplished was hardening the berries to a point that they could no longer be chewed. In an attempt to soften the now roasted berries, Omar boiled them. Soon, coffee's signature aroma pleasantly wafted in the air and drew his attention to the brown liquid which he decided to drink. Of course, he discovered the revitalizing effect of the berries and hastened to inform others about his discovery. Omar's invigorating drink earned him pardon and he was allowed to return home from exile.
Don't we all love happy endings?
Now that we have some idea of coffee's origins, how did it get so widespread and well known globally to the point of being one of the world's most valuable commodities in trading value?
The origin of coffee might have many legends, but one common truth is that it gained popularity as a result of its stimulating effect. Following its gradual discovery in Africa, wild coffee plants were taken to southern Arabia and placed under cultivation in the 15th century. In Arabia, coffee spread rapidly and even gave rise to a new social and cultural entity, the coffeehouse.
Europe did not get to know about the discovery of coffee until it was introduced from one European country to another throughout the 16th and 17th century. By the end of the 17th century, coffeehouses were flourishing across Britain, the British colonies in America, and continental Europe. During this period, Coffee was predominantly grown in Yemen. However, coffee cultivation soon spread rapidly from the province of Yemen to the rest of the world.
Sources:  National Coffee Association of U.S.A., Inc. The history of coffee, NCAUSA.org.