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History of Coffee

history of coffee

Coffee use can be traced at least to as early as the ninth century, when it appeared in the highlands of Ethiopia. According to legend, Ethiopian shepherds were the first to observe the influence of the caffeine in coffee beans when the goats appeared to “dance” and to have an increased level of energy after consuming wild coffee berries. The legend names the shepherd “Kaldi.” Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian Peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation the world over. From Ethiopia, coffee spread to Egypt and Yemen. It was in Arabia that coffee beans were first roasted and brewed, similar to how it is done today. By the 15th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Italy, then to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia, and to the Americas.

Coffee berries, which contain the coffee bean, are produced by several species of small evergreen bush of the genus Coffee. The two most commonly grown species are Coffee Canephora (also known as Coffee Robusta) and Coffee Arabica. These are cultivated in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Once ripe, coffee berries are picked, processed, and dried. The seeds are then roasted, undergoing several physical and chemical changes. They are roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor. They are then ground and brewed to create coffee. Coffee can be prepared and presented in a variety of ways.

coffee bean sackCoffee has played an important role in many societies throughout modern history. In Africa and Yemen, it was used in religious ceremonies. As a result, the Ethiopian Church banned its consumption until the reign of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. It was banned in Ottoman Turkey in the 17th century for political reasons, and was associated with rebellious political activities in Europe. Noted as one of the world’s largest, most valuable legally traded commodities (after oil), coffee has become a vital cash crop for many Third World countries. Over one hundred million people in developing countries have become dependent on coffee as their primary source of income. Coffee has become the primary export and backbone for African countries like Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Ethiopia as well as many Central American countries.

A coffeehouse in Palestine (1900).Coffee was initially used for spiritual reasons. At least 1,000 years ago, traders brought coffee across the Red Sea into Arabia (modern-day Yemen), where Muslim monks began cultivating the shrub in their gardens. At first, the Arabians made wine from the pulp of the fermented coffee berries. This beverage was known as qishr (kisher in modern usage) and was used during religious ceremonies.

Coffee became the substitute beverage in spiritual practices where wine was forbidden. Coffee drinking was briefly prohibited by Muslims as haraam in the early years of the 16th century, but this was quickly overturned. Use in religious rites among the Sufi branch of Islam led to coffee’s being put on trial in Mecca: it was accused of being a heretical substance, and its production and consumption were briefly repressed. It was later prohibited in Ottoman Turkey under an edict by the Sultan Murad IV. Coffee, regarded as a Muslim drink, was prohibited by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians until as late as 1889; it is now considered a national drink of Ethiopia for people of all faiths. Its early association in Europe with rebellious political activities led to its banning in England, among other places.

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