You might not give your coffee a second thought when you take that first sip in the morning. But as it so happens, your beloved morning cup of joe has a very interesting backstory. Let’s delve into the true history of coffee, to see where this beverage finds its origins.
Mysterious Origins of Coffee
Regarding the history of coffee, its initial discovery is shrouded in mystery, but there are a few legends. As one story tells it, a traveling Sufi mystic who went by the rather lengthy moniker Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili was trekking through Ethiopia when he noticed that a particular flock of birds seemed to have more than their fair share of vim and vigor. He observed them dining on a particular berry, and upon eating a few of them himself, discovered that it imbued him with the same spunk he’d observed in the local avian population.
Another account credits a Sufi disciple named Omar with discerning the coffee bean’s stimulating properties. Exiled to a desert cave, Omar found himself in desperate need of sustenance. In an act of desperation, he began to eat coffee berries, but found them unpleasantly bitter. So he built a fire and roasted them, but they became too crunchy to eat. Finally, he boiled them and found that the resulting liquid gave him the extra vitality he needed to survive in the desert. Word spread of his discovery, and he was welcomed home to Mocha as a holy man.
Yet another origin story tells of Kaldi the goatherd, who saw his goats frolicking a little more enthusiastically than usual after eating some strange red berries. After trying a few, he gathered some of the berries and took them to a local monastery, hoping the learned monks could explain the berries’ mysterious properties. The monk he met there was leery of these unusual berries, so he threw them into the fire, at which point all the other monks came to investigate the enticing aroma wafting around the monastery. “This smells great! Maybe we can drink it,” they said to each other, and soon, all the monks in the monastery were sweeping the halls with a ferocity not often witnessed in such hallowed locales. Or so the story goes.
Exploring the History of Coffee: Arabian Nights
We’re not sure which of the legendary accounts are true, but one thing is for certain: coffee as we know it did come from the Sufi monasteries of southern Arabia, probably sometime during the 15th century.
The Arabians knew a good thing when they saw it, and they were eager to share it with traders from neighboring lands. Soon, the intoxicating aroma of coffee was filling the air in Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey.
Coffeehouses began to spring up in the more cosmopolitan cities, and the originals were much like the ones we frequent today. There were chess games, gossip, intellectual debates, and the occasional open mic night, only without the microphones, of course.
With Mecca being a popular destination for religious pilgrims, word of the invigorating and pungent beverage soon spread far and wide. The Arabians were fine with visitors enjoying their coveted local flavor, and didn’t mind selling them some beans to take home, but they certainly didn’t want to lose their hold on such a profitable product, so they kept their cultivation and production secrets closely guarded. Or so the ancient history of coffee goes…
The Dawn of European Coffee Culture
Later on in the history of coffee, by the 1600s, the beverage had found enthusiastic fans in Europe. In typical fashion, members of the clergy initially condemned it, but calmed down once the Pope gave it the papal OK. Soon, there were coffee shops all over London, Vienna, Venice, and Amsterdam, and they quickly became popular social gathering places.
Coffee in the Colonies
Coffee’s first introduction to the New World took place in New York City, which was then known as New Amsterdam. The colonists enjoyed coffee, but weren’t completely sold on it at first. Of course, that all changed with the Boston Tea Party. After that, Americans switched to imported Dutch coffee in droves, just to spite the Brits. To this day, we’re still a devout nation of coffee drinkers.