Coffee Origins: Thank the goats!

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Ever wondered how one the most popular adult drinks was discovered?

Well you can thank the goats for it!

According to popular legend, over a millennium ago, a young goat herder from Ethiopia noticed his goats ‘dancing’. While observing the animals, he realized that it was coffee berries that made them so energized. He tried them himself and was soon found ‘dancing with the goats’! He shared his findings with the local monastery who made a drink from the berries and discovered that it helped with staying awake through their long evening prayers. From there, coffee travelled through the Arabian Peninsula and soon after, all over the world.

The word coffee and café both came from the Arabic word Qahwa, which originally meant wine. Since alcohol is forbidden in Islam, coffee became a good replacement, even promoted by a Sufi mystic for its help in concentration and even ‘spiritual intoxication’ (which is kind of exactly how I feel when I get the first sip of the day). In Turkey it was called ‘kaveh’, then it was known as ‘koffie’ in Dutch before eventually translated into the English word we now know and love – Coffee.

"coffee" by Rafael Saldaña is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Photo from Flickr.com “Coffee” by Rafael Saldaña

The popular drink has been around since 800 AD. But did you know that coffee has been banned a handful of times– in Mecca, Italy, Constantinople, Sweden, Prussia and throughout its history?  Tactics used in the (might say unsuccessful) attempts to destroy coffee’s reputation included racism, religion, fake science and severe penalties such as being beaten and death.

In the 17th century, a supposed group of women made a petition against coffee claiming that it made their husbands enfeeble and impotent, that and it made them too talkative. Although it’s quite difficult to say if it was really the women who made the petition, or if it was another attempt to give coffeehouses a bad reputation since, in those times, coffeehouses became the go-to places for people to socialize and talk about politics and the times. Coffee became known as a stimulant for radical thinking and, in fact, you can owe the success of the French Revolution to coffeehouses!

Another very interesting fun fact about coffee is that it was once labeled Satanic.

Although both the Muslim and Christian world have tried to get rid of the drink on several occasions, one noteworthy chronicle on the “Coffee vs Religion” tales is one from the 16th century.

At that time, clergymen campaigned for the ban against coffee claiming it as the so-called ‘devil’s drink’, ‘liquid heresy’ and (my personal favorite creative name for cup of joe) ‘bitter invention of Satan’. The debate got out of hand that even the Pope Clement VIII had to intervene. Unexpectedly though, the Pope took a liking to the drink, claiming that it was so delicious that it was a shame that only infidels get to enjoy it. He ended up wittily baptizing the drink to cheat the devil. Which is why we sometimes hear coffee being dubbed as the devil’s cup.

Thanks to the Pope’s baptism, coffee was decreed as much of a Christian drink as it is a Muslim one which made it more acceptable in the community. In the present times, coffee is now known as a global drink that people from different races and religions enjoy. It is considered as the second most sought after commodity, just after crude oil, and the coffee industry is worth over $100 billion. After its long and hard history, coffee and coffee houses are thriving, no longer facing persecution but much loved by many all over the world, still a spot where many discussions and ideas are formed. With millions of cafés globally, it has developed it own niche and the industry is still continuing to grow. Statistics show that around 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year all over the globe.

Most adults start their day with a cup, whether it’s for work or study, coffee is the go-to drink to even just to get you through the day, which interestingly is a parallel to its history of of survival. After an interesting couple of hundred years since it’s discovery, I guess it’s safe to say that coffee is here to stay.

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