Health & Medical Food & Drink

An Early History of Coffee - From Ethiopia to the Middle East

Ethiopia, considered by many archeologists to be the birthplace of the first Homo sapiens some 400,000 years ago, is also believed to have given his descendants a very popular, energizing, and stimulating drink -coffee.
The first coffee plants are said to have come from a region called Kaffa in southwestern Ethiopia.
Some lexicographers actually consider "Kaffa" to be origin of the English "coffee", although others do not agree.
This is because the plant, including its fruit, is called bunn or bunna* in the Kaffa area.
As an alternative to "Kaffa", the Turkish word "kahve" is often presented as the root of "coffee", passing though the Italian language as "caffe" before in became "coffee" in English.
Rooted, in turn, in the Arabic word "qaha", "kahve" refers to a drink that curbs the appetite, something that coffee is believed to do.
Legends dating as early as the 1st century relate how coffee was first discovered.
There are at least two legends from Ethiopia, one of which points to the goatherd Kaldi as the first man to taste coffee, while the other mentions the Yemenite Sufi mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili.
and a third comes from Yemen.
The legend of Kaldi was preserved for posterity when it was written in 1671 CE.
There probably was, however, an earlier oral tradition about the story.
The legend says that he lived in 9th Century Ethiopia among the Oromo people.
He was a goatherd who noted that his flock always became agitated and restless each time they eat the red berries of the bunn plant.
Convinced that it was the berries from the bunn plant that was making his goats hyperactive, he sampled a handful and, true enough, he started dancing and running around with his goats.
Kaldi was a spiritual man who believed in Allah and the imams.
Wanting to share and consult with the Muslim imams about his discovery, he gathered more berries and presented them to the holy men.
The first imam he related his story to, however, convinced that the berries were the devil's trap, hurled them into the fire.
Having been roasted, the berries released a fragrant and appealing smell, attracting the attention of the other imams.
They gathered the roasted seeds and ground them, perhaps coarsely.
Water was poured over the grounds, perhaps to see if the devil would float out of it.
Kaldi and the imams, thus, created to world's first cup of coffee.
There is another legend which also proclaims Ethiopia as the origin of the coffee plant.
This time, however, it involves a Yemeni who was traveling in Ethiopia.
He noticed that birds that ate the berries of the bunn plant became very lively and energetic.
Perhaps feeling tired from his travels and needing energy, he tried the berries himself and immediately felt revitalized.
Another story claims Yemen as the place where coffee was first discovered.
It is recounted in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript, which speaks of Omar, a follower of the Sheik Abou'l Hasan Schadheli from Mocha, who was deported to a desert cave close to Ousab.
While looking for food, he found the red berries of the coffee plant, but he could not readily eat them because they were too bitter.
Throwing the berries into the fire, he hoped to rid them of their bitterness.
This, however, only had the effect of hardening them.
As the berries were too hard to bite, he hoped to soften them by boiling.
He found out, however, that the water turned dark brown and had a very pleasant aroma.
He drank it instead, felt refreshed and revitalized, and is now remembered by Yemenis as the first man to taste coffee.
Stories about Omar and his berries reached Mocha in no time.
Soon, he was ordered to return.
Taking along with him plenty of the red berries, he re-entered Mocha.
He gave some to the people, who, after experiencing its invigorating and stimulating effect, hailed it as a miracle drug.
Owing to the many illnesses Omar's berries cured, he was soon considered a saint.
The legends are quite interesting.
While they do reflect the Ethiopian origin of the coffee plant and the fact that by the 13th century coffee was widely drank in the Sufi monasteries in Yemen, there is, however, no way to determine if there was truly a Kaldi, or Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, or Omar.
The stories, though, indicate the importance of coffee.
If they were not, nobody would have talked about them.
Today we can be certain that coffee was drank in Arabia by the 13th century.
A few scholars even suggest an earlier date, pushing it back to the 10th century.
Perhaps thinking that it would be more economical to grow their own coffee plants, the Yemenis of the 15th century began importing not only coffee berries and beans from Ethiopia, but also the plant The Sufi mystics are known to conduct lengthy prayers in the early mornings and late nights.
It was coffee that kept them awake at such hours.
The drink also helped the Whirling Dervishes keep spinning during their rituals.
Coffee soon became a religious drink because of its association with prayers and rituals.
It became a prescribed drink for all Sufis and Whirling Dervishes.
From Yemen, drinking coffee spread like wildfire to Mecca and Medina in the Arabian peninsula, to Cairo in the northwest and, further up north, to Damascus, Baghdad, and Istanbul.
From the 15th to the 17th centuries, Mocha, a Yemeni port city on the Red Sea coast, rose as major coffee trading center.
Mocha is still an important source of coffee beans today, and of course, it has given its name to a popular coffee and chocolate drink.
Drinking coffee was not limited to the religious world.
Coffeehouses, or kahve kanes, were popular not only in Yemen but in most major Muslim Arab cities.
Indeed, the Yemenis actually encouraged drinking coffee.
Drinking coffee, however, was not the only activity in the kahve kanes.
Like our coffeehouses and bars today, they were centers for socialization and entertainment, complete with music, singing, and dancing.
They, too, became places where people discussed things that matter to them, including politics.
Politics being a touchy issue, the kahve kanes were, in the end, shut down.
A number of orthodox Muslim Imams in Mecca also played a role in the repression of coffee-drinking.
In 1151, they declared that the drink is the devil's product.
The Ottoman Turkish Sultan Selim I eventually ordered the Grand Mufti Mehmet Ebussuud el-Imadi to issue a fatwa lifting the ban of the Imams in 1524.
Although coffee is said to have originated in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church did not allow their people to drink the brew, at least not until the middle of the 19th century.
By the 17th century, Venetian merchants were already trading with the Muslims of North Africa and the Middle East.
Thanks to these merchants, the Europeans, and eventually the world, learned about coffee.
You can read more articles about coffee and coffee machines, such as the Cuisinart DCC-1200 Coffeemaker by clicking the link.
*Bunn Corporation, a maker of coffee and tea machines, was not named after the Kaffa term for coffee.
It was named after is founder, George Bunn.

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