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The Legendary History of Coffee

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Coffee's Amazing Origins

Coffee is undeniably part of the human experience in just about every corner of the world. Each region seemingly boasts its trademark brew and while some coffee is made strong enough to stir itself, others are made to be almost as sweet as pastry.

So, what about coffee makes it magical? Is it the ratio of bean to water, or is it the amounts of added ingredients that make this drink the delight we know it to be? Well, that depends on the kind of coffee each person enjoys – after all, some people love it, others; not so much.

Nevertheless, for centuries people from all over the globe have enjoyed the drink and while its origins can’t be nailed down exactly, we’ve narrowed it down to two likely scenarios.

Here’s the scoop: It’s believed that an Ethiopian goatherd by the name ‘Kaldi’, was the first person ever to experience the signature taste of the coffee bean. He’s said to have observed his goats’ behavior after a ‘berry grazing session’.

Technically, his goats were privy to the flavor before him, but that’s neither here nor there. The goats appeared to Kaldi, to be energized and full of ‘beans’. Coffee beans, literally. This was a defining moment in history as the goatherd was thought to have tried them himself and experienced a similar sort of energy moving through his body. It was apparently enough energy that he made a bit of a spectacle of himself and check this out, Kaldi was himself, being observed – by a holy man; an abbot.

Crazy, right? Anyway, this abbot is said to have gathered up some coffee beans, taken them back to his place, and then boiled them, fine-tuning the amounts of everything. Some say that the coffee itself gave the holy man divinations and religious insights. Whether or not this is factually accurate is up for debate, of course, as most things in history; most things in food history, for that matter. And, on top of that, there are stories about the origins of coffee coming from other parts of the world.

Take for example one such story of a Sheik Omar, who, after being exiled from Mocha in Yemen, to a cave in a place named Ousab, found himself starving. In a bid to find some sort of sustenance, Sheik Omar decided to eat berries he found growing on nearby shrubs. Finding them terribly bitter, he is said to have roasted them to make them taste better.

No such luck apparently, and after an attempt to boil them, he was left with a dark rich liquid that kept him going for days. Sheik Omar was known as a healer in his former homeland of Mocha, with the know-how to cure the sick and once news of this miraculous concoction reached his homeland, he was returned from exile and made a saint.

Coffee Spreads and Gains Popularity

Such is the rich history of coffee it seems. With a finesse so grand it paves the way for people to be appointed positions of sainthood, it’s easy to see how and why the drink has persisted through the ages and become something entirely new today.

Whether a goatherd observing his flock, and followed suit in eating coffee berries, the abbot whose religious intuition became heightened after learning about the beans and trying them himself, or out of sheer desperation and need for food, the fact remains that coffee had remarkable effects.

It eventually made its way around the Arabian Peninsula and became absorbed into the trade routes. Coffee began being cultivated throughout Arabia and soon enough, ‘coffee houses’ cropped up all over the region.

These were places of great importance because they weren’t just social gatherings. There was more than just the atmosphere; the music and dancing and general enjoyment. It became a hub for meetings of the minds. It was an exchange platform, of sorts, where information was relayed in all directions and coffee houses became known, history says, as ‘Schools of the Wise’.

Here’s the kicker though, not everyone was convinced of its tasty goodness and ability to bring people together. What?! We know, right! In fact, some people thought the color and bitterness were a result of it being one of the devil’s “bitter inventions”. I mean, it ushered in such controversy that at one point, the pope was forced to intervene. Tasting the beverage for himself and finding the flavor to be, well, really quite pleasing, it was given papal approval.

With its newfound fame, coffee traveled across the world, throughout Europe, and even replaced the good old-fashioned breakfast beverages people enjoyed at the time – beer and wine. Times have changed some things, but not everything because check this out; we still consider it a breakfast time drink to this very day. While coffee was making its rounds around the world, the demand for it was only increasing.

The World's Favorite Drink

This meant that it needed to be cultivated across more regions than just the Arabian Peninsula. From the Caribbean to South America, coffee plantations sprang up. This was great news for coffee lovers everywhere, however, as is the case with many goods of great value, some were not willing to share. The Governor of French Guiana is said to have refused to share coffee seedlings with Brazil. Somehow, we have a billion-dollar Brazilian coffee industry now.

What’s the secret? Good looks. How do those even relate? Well, the Governor of French Guiana wouldn’t share, but his wife was so taken by Brazil’s emissary to French Guiana, the man who was sent for the coffee seedlings, that she gifted him with a bouquet of flowers in which was – you guessed it: coffee seeds. Et Voila! Brazilian coffee. It doesn’t pay to be greedy.

Now, the act of drinking coffee in America is seen as a patriotic duty. During the Boston Tea Party making the switch from tea to coffee was in keeping with American patriotism, and throughout the Civil War, soldiers drank the beverage to keep them going.

Spreading further west, the coffee bean was sold, pre-roasted to gold miners in California and its meteoric rise to fame only continued. Coffee beans inspired more and more shops to open, and provide greater numbers of people with this delicious drink.

From small seeds, the roots of coffee have grown deep, entrenching themselves in our lives as part of a global culture. It varies from region to region, yes, and how lucky are we that it’s grown into an artistic movement too?

It’s because of this, that we’re able to enjoy different types of coffee. Their flavor profiles might range all along the complexity spectrum, but it still brings the same thing to us that it always has – total satisfaction!

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