Coffee is a beverage that has conquered the entire world, but ¿how did this delicious infusion come about? Despite the studies and the technical information gathered, its origin remains a mystery shrouded in legends and myths.
In this article, I present the most famous and curious stories about the discovery of coffee so that you can learn more about its fascinating history.
1. The legend of Kaldi, the Ethiopian goatherd
Legend has it that Kaldi was herding in the mountains of Ethiopia when he noticed his goats were more active than usual after eating some bright red berries from a nearby bush. Curious, he decided to try the berries himself and experienced a feeling of energy and vitality.
Kaldi took some of the berries to a local monk, who, after tasting them, considered them the work of the devil and threw them into the fire. But soon, the aroma of roasted coffee filled the air, attracting other monks who decided to try the berries as well. They experienced the same stimulating effects as Kaldi and his goats.
The monks began to study the berries, first eating them and then making a decoction of the whole cherry. Only later did they begin to separate the pulp from the seed and roast the beans in a frying pan over a fire. Thus, coffee spread from Ethiopia to other parts of the world.
To this day, in the Ethiopian tradition, families buy the berries raw and roast them at home, following the traditional method.
2. The Legend of Baba Budan, the Indian Monk
The history of coffee has many interesting stories, and one of them is the legend of Baba Budan, the Indian monk who introduced coffee in his country.
The Arabs prohibited the export of raw coffee beans to maintain their monopoly on the cultivation of coffee. But it is said that Baba Budan, an Indian cleric on pilgrimage to Mecca, fell in love with coffee and decided to steal some raw beans to take them home to India.
To keep them safe during transport, he swallowed seven of the seeds. Once back in India, he recovered the seeds (use your imagination to find out how), and planted them in the hills of Chikmagalur, a region in the south of the country.
These hills are known today as the hills of Baba Budan, a lush and green land that became a perfect place for the cultivation of coffee.
Although we do not know if this story is true, what is certain is that India is today one of the world’s largest coffee producers, and Baba Budan is remembered as a saint for his contribution to his country’s trade.
3. The legend of al-Shadhili, the Islamic hermit
According to legend, the first authentic cup of coffee was prepared in 1200 A.D. by an Islamic hermit named al-Shadhili in Mokha, later translated as Mocha. During the 12th and 15th centuries, Mocha was the largest and most important port for the coffee trade.
There are several versions of how al-Shadhili discovered coffee:
- The most famous legend is that he was falsely accused of courting the King’s daughter and exiled to the desert for 20 years. One night, hungry, he discovered a bush from which he picked berries and understood for the first time the powers of the plant.
- Others say that the Archangel Gabriel revealed to him that a diet based on coffee led to sanctity. It is also said that, during a visit to Ethiopia, al-Shadhili saw people drinking coffee and brought the use of coffee to his country.
- In later accounts, a group of sick and malnourished Portuguese sailors landed in Mocha, where al-Shadhili suggested they drink the magic potion he had been drinking for years. The sailors tried it and, within a few days, were strong enough to sail again. As they set sail, al-Shadhili shouted, “Remember the drink of al-Makkha!”.
Thus, the drink that changed the history of mankind was introduced to the West, and the fame of the city of Mocha was forever assured.
The line that separates reality from fantasy in the history of coffee is very thin.
We know with certainty that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the sixth century A.D., in the region of Coffea, from where its name originates.
However, it was the Arabs who were the first to recognize its potential, hence the name “Arabica variety”. Coffee did not reach Europe until the 17th century A.D., from where it spread throughout the world thanks to the colonizers.
Initially, it was used to stay awake during long ecclesiastical prayers. It was used in place of alcohol during periods of prohibition, and later it was allied to soldiers in battle to maintain their strength.
In Europe, coffee became a purely recreational activity until it finally became an integral part of all the world’s cultures.
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