Coffee, quite possibly the world’s most consumed beverage, offers up a mysterious and disputed account to its discovery. While today coffee beans are cultivated all across the globe. Just a few hundred years ago, it was virtually unknown. The history of coffee and its discovery are told through the unexpected adventures of dancing goats, Sufi mystics, and a healer from Mocha. Most experts agree that the coffee plant is indigenous to ancient Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia), but tales of its introduction to the world stage vary by region.

An exiled healer from Mocha achieves sainthood with his discovery of a new drink.

This story begins in the seventh-century near the Port of Mocha, once the most famous market in the world for coffee. A dervish Hadji disciple named Omar, known for his healing abilities was called upon to cure the beautiful princess. With his help, the princess recovered. Entranced by her beauty, Omar attempted to steal her away. Her father, the King, was not thrilled about Omar’s self-chosen reward, so had him expelled from the kingdom.

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While in exile, near starvation, Omar ate red berries he found on a bush, only to noticed that they were too bitter. He then tried steeping the berries in hot water.  Soon a brown liquid with the now well-known aroma of coffee started forming. This new soup turned out to be quite revitalizing! News of this discovery quickly spread throughout the area.

Omar was welcomed back to Mocha as a Wali Allah (Saint for God) who had discovered this miraculous medicine. The drink went on to become vastly popular in the Arab World. This, of course, is only one of many versions of the legend.

Did dancing goats lead us to the first cup of coffee?

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The goat runs on and never tires

A story from the ninth-century plants the origins of coffee in Ethiopia, where, as legend has it, a goat-herder named Kaldi noticed his goats become energized and excited after eating berries from an unknown bush.

He immediately brought them to the monastery abbot, who took the berries and roasted them. Some say on purpose, others that he threw them on the fire in disapproval. In either case, the resulting aroma was more than enough to entice the monks to try this unusual food. Soon news of this wakeful monastery spread to nearby villages where the revitalizing drink would quickly follow.

“O Coffee! Thou dost dispel all care, thou are the object of desire to the scholar. This is the beverage of the friends of God.”

-In Praise of Coffee, Arabic poem from 1511

A fortunate traveling Arab

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Street Coffee Vendor Illustration

A separate story involves an Arab’s travels near Abyssinia in the middle of the fifth-century.

One night he cut down branches of a nearby bush covered in dried berries to place on his fire. Almost instantly he noticed a pleasant aroma coming from the fire. Gathering up the berries he then crushed them only to release even more of their tantalizing essence. While enchanted by the scent, some fell into his stale water, and as if by a miracle, the water was purified! Drinking it, he was rejuvenated with the energy needed to continue his journey.

 

What date can we most accurately pin on the first use of coffee?

1454, when the mufti of Aden (Sheikh Jamal-al-Din al-Dhabhani) recorded calling for the drink he had encountered during his travels to Abyssinia after falling ill.  He not only fully recovered but being so amazed by the virtues of the drink, sanctioned if for the dervishesthat they might spend the night in prayers or other religious exercises with more attention and presence of mind.” While an accurate and valid record of the discovery of coffee might never be known, the legends of its first brewing are wonderfully fitting of this much-beloved drink.

 

What’s your history of coffee?

Really, each of us has our own story as to how we discovered coffee. Maybe it was introduced by a friend during our late-night study groups in college? Or were the familiar fragrances of its brewing something you can recall as always present in your childhood home? We’d love to hear from you! Share your unique story of how coffee became part of your life in the comments below.

About the Author

Jonnie Coffee

Hi, I'm Jonnie Coffee. As a researcher and artist with a massive passion for all things related to coffee, I started this blog as a "digital homage" to my favorite beverage. Feel free to contact me if you have any comments, questions, suggestions, or even, just for some coffee talk.

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