History of Coffee – Legends of the Coffee Bean


Coffee, as you probably know, is the second most traded commodity in the world (crude oil and derivatives take first place).  But what is the history of coffee?  And how did its turbulent past become such an important part of our everyday lives?

A  timeline of this ancient commodity’s travels gives us an idea of its discovery.  But as it’s so steeped in mystery and legend no one knows for sure of its exact discovery, but we do have a good idea and it makes for enjoyable reading.

Where did coffee come from?

AD 575  Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of coffee and its history.  

The beans are consumed by tribes as an energy food.  The beans are taken from the red berry, crushed and added to animal fat to make what could be the world’s first energy bar.  Seriously sounds disgusting though.

Coffee is exported along withCrushed coffee cherries Ethiopian slaves by Arabian traders to the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.

The Persians also export, or rather smuggle, coffee from Ethiopia across the Red Sea into Yemen.  From here the coffee bean’s journey around the world really begins.

8th-9th Century  There are several legends about coffee’s origin and discovery.  One such myth claims Al-Shadhilli makes the discovery whilst traveling  through Ethiopia.  He observes some energetic birds feasting from the fruit of the bunn tree (aka the coffee plant).  

Tired after his long journey, he tries the berries for himself and soon finds he has a lot more energy.

The other myth about coffee’s discovery surrounds a connection to Yemen where Omar (a follower of Sheik Abou’l Hasan Schadheli of Mocha, Ethiopia) is exiled to a desert cave in Ousab, Yemen.

Close to starvation, Omar discovers the red berries of the coffee plant and tries to eat them but finds they taste bitter in their natural state.  Omar doesn’t give up and hopes that by placing them in the fire they will become less bitter.

Although this became the basis of roasting coffee beans, it left them unsuitable for chewing so Omar tries to soften them by boiling them.  

Omar then decides to drink the liquid, which is a primitive version of today’s coffee and probably didn’t taste too great, but he notices how it invigorates and sustains him.  

The story of Omar and his miracle drink eventually reaches Mocha and he is allowed to return where he is made a saint; his coffee is hailed as a miracle drug and a monastery is even built in his honor.

Although the first two myths are well known, it is the following legend that is more associated with the history of coffee.

What do goats have to do with coffee?

850 It is said that an Ethiopian herdsman named Kaldi saw his goats skipping merrily around a bush and with more energy than usual after eating the red fruit from it.  What have goats got to do with coffee?

Kaldi consumes the fruit for himself, and of course, experiences the same energy boost that we get today from caffeine in the coffee.

Legend then goes on to say that Kaldi took some of these amazing energy boosting berries to a monk at a local monastery.  The monk wasn’t too happy about this and declared they were the devil’s work and threw them into the fire.

The sensational aroma of roasted coffee billows from the fire and travels throughout the corridors, enticing  the other monks to follow the smell.

The monks apparently raked out the roasted beans from the fire, ground them up and added hot water to them.  Was this the world’s first cup of coffee?

But as this account doesn’t appear in writing until around 800 years after it allegedly took place, sadly its authenticity is somewhat doubtful which is a shame because it’s a great story.  

However the following facts provide a more accurate history of coffee:

1000  Avicenna Bukhara (980-1037) an Arabian physician and philosopher is thought to be the first person to actually write about coffee’s medicinal benefits, which he calls bunchum.  

Avicenna wrote: “it fortifies the members, it cleans the skin and dries up the humidities that are under it and gives an excellent smell to all the body.” 

1100  Arab traders return to Yemen with coffee from Ethiopia.   history of coffee | arab traders

The Arabs cultivate the plant on plantations for the very first time.  They crush and boil the green coffee beans to make a beverage known as qahwa (meaning ‘that which prevents sleep’).   

After a time the Arabs improve the taste of their beverage by roasting the coffee beans instead of crushing them raw.

1200  Coffee is introduced to Turkey where they dry the hulls and beans, roast them over an open fire then crush and boil them for drinking as a beverage.

1350  It is thought that the first coffee pots appeared around this time in Turkey and Egypt.

The first coffeehousesOttoman turks in an ancient coffee house

1400s  The first type of coffeehouses are known as kaveh kanes and they are starting to spring up in the Middle East.  

The dancers in these coffeehouses keep their energy levels up with coffee.  

1453  Constantinople gets its first taste of coffee when Ottoman Turks introduce this fine beverage; they give it a twist by adding cardamon, anise, cinnamon and clove to give it some extra spice.

1475  Coffee comes to Mecca and its popularity grows in part due to the Koran forbidding the consumption of wine.

Women in Turkey are allowed to divorce their husbands if they fail to supply them with enough coffee on a daily basis.  


Click here for history of coffee in 1500s


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