I remember having to look this specific topic up for a book I was working on. Initially my research was inconclusive. There didn’t seem to be a direct answer to the question. Today, I was very curious, so I thought let me see what I can dig up.
So let’s look at it’s some of its origin stories. Now, there are quite a few stories telling us who used it first. Some say it was discovered in Egypt others say it was in Yemen. I’ve even heard it said that someone saw monkeys in India eating the berries and observed how peculiar they acted afterwards, but the most common story seems to be a legend about its discovery in Ethiopia. So let’s take a look.
This story seems to originate on the Ethiopian plateaus in the region of Oromia, later to become known as the “coffee forests” of Ethiopia. The story is that an Ethiopian goat herder, by the name of Kaldi, saw his goats acting erratically after eating the red berries from an Coffea arabica tree. After watching the goats, he began to investigate, and soon discover, the usefulness of these berries. He observed the fact that his goats didn’t sleep after eating the berries. He then brought them to a local monastery and showed the beans to the abbot. After mixing them with warm water, he discovered that it helped him stay awake through the long hours of evening prayer. He then shared his discovery with the other monks in the monastery and news of this brilliant drink began to spread. However when the religious leaders got wind of this, they tried to burn the beans in a hearth, but when they smelt the smell the beans made when burned they soon changed their minds and decided to give this beverage a chance. Once this discovery reached Arabia, news spread to every nation across the world and they slowly began to invent their own ways of brewing and mixing coffee. This would lead to the coffee we know and love today.
Another story in Ethiopia talks of a mystic who came across the beans while on his travels. He discovered this drink by observing birds in the area eating the berries and noticing how unusually lively they were. Once he tried these berries himself, he soon discovered how lively he, himself, felt. Another version of this is that his disciple, Omar, discovered them while in exile near the Ousab city. He became desperately hungry and consumed the berries, soon beginning to feel the vitality that these berries produced when consumed.
The earliest noted mention of coffee was in the 10th century CE. This was noted by the literary coffee merchant Philippe Sylvestre Dufour. This beverage was mentioned by a Persian physician in his writings in the 10th century. It’s also important to note that more information for this dates back to the compiled works entitled Umdat al Safwa fi hill al-qahwa recorded in the year 1587. It reports that the sheikh Jamal-al-Din al-Dhabhani, mufti of Aden was the first person to discover the use of coffee.
It would appear that there is a lot controversy around this drink. I’ve only mentioned the three most common stories behind it. However, all the research I’ve done comes back to these stories: Kaldi, Omar and the sheikh. These three men seem to be at the very center of the discovery of coffee. Something I noted in my research was that because of its vitality benefits Muslims used it during Ramadan to not only remove their appetite, but also to keep them awake for their prayers. This is what caused it to become associated with Muhammed’s birthday.
I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted a proper article, but I have another one in the pipeline, so expect to hear from me again very soon.
God bless all of you, my darling avidReaders