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Coffee – Where It Came From

Some 400,000 years ago, Homo sapiens appeared in Ethiopia. About 399,000 years later, one of the first man's descendants discovered coffee beans and gave the world one of its most loved drinks.

Historians and researchers agree that coffee plants were first found in Kaffa, a region in southwestern Ethiopia. Owing to the similarity of the name "Kaffa" to "coffee", some experts are convinced that the name of the region is the etymology of the latter word. However, there are others who are skeptical. The plant was called bunn or bunna* in the Kaffa area so that, the doubters reason, when it was introduced outside of the region, it is likely that it was also called as bunn or bunna by the outsiders. Instead of "kaffa", the Turkish word "kahve" is also pointed to as the origin of "coffee". Kahve is believed to have first been absorbed by the Italian language as "caffe" and eventually became "coffee" in English. "Kahve" itself is rooted in the Arabic word "qaha". It means "to have no appetite", which is believed to be caused by drinking coffee.

There are ancient stories about who and how coffee was first discovered. One of the stories claim that the Ethiopian goatherd Kaldi is the first to learn about coffee, while another mentions the Yemenite Sufi mystic with the impossibly long name of Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili. A third story comes from Yemen.

The legend of Kaldi was preserved for posterity when it was written in 1671 CE. There probably was, however, an earlier oral tradition about the story. The legend says that he lived in 9th Century Ethiopia among the Oromo people. He was a goatherd who noticed that his flock always became agitated and restless each time they eat the red berries of the bunn plant. Unable to restrain his curiosity, he ate some of the berries and soon found that he, too, became like the goats, restless and spirited.

Like most men of his time, Kaldi was religious. He picked a few more berries and brought them to a Muslim imam and related his experience with them. The Imam, however, reacted with disgust and cast them into the fire. Having been roasted, the berries released a fragrant and appealing smell, catching the attention of the other imams. The holy men extinguished the fire, gathered the roasted berries and ground them. Perhaps they wanted to see if the devil was inside. Not really knowing what to do with the grounds, one of holy men poured water over them and, unintentionally, brought forth the world's first cup of coffee.

Another story declares that it was a Sufi mystic from Yemen on a journey in Ethiopia who discovered coffee. He noted that birds that ate the berries of the bunn plant became very lively and energetic. Curious about the effect of the bunn plant berries on humans, he tried them out himself and discovered their invigorating properties.

There is a third tale pointing to Yemen as coffee's origin. It is recounted in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript, which speaks of Omar, a follower of the Sheik Abou'l Hasan Schadheli from Mocha, who was exiled to a desert cave close to Ousab. Searching for food, he found the red berries of the coffee plant but he soon discovered that they were too bitter. He roasted the berries, hoping to rid them of their bitter taste, but this only hardened them. To soften the seeds, he boiled them, and because of the pleasant smell of the now brown water, he drank it and became the first man to taste coffee, feeling refreshed and invigorated in the process. Shortly, the revitalizing and reinvigorated effects of Omar's berries became the talk of Mocha. Omar was soon recalled to the city. He returned to the city with plenty of the red berries which the people considered a miracle drug. Eventually, because his red berries cured many illnesses, Omar was made a saint.

The stories are quite charming. Kaldi, Ghothul Akbar Noorudin al-Hassan al Shadhili, and Omar may or may not be real persons, but the stories reflect what is generally accepted by scholars and historians --that coffee came from Ethiopia and that the Sufi mystics of Yemen drank the beverage. The myths, nevertheless, prove that coffee was an important drink among the Ethiopians and Yemenis because myths and legends are only created to explain important people, events, or things.

Today we can be certain that coffee was drank in Arabia by the 13th century. A number of researchers even propose the earlier date of the 10th century. What is equally certain is that in the 15th century, Yemeni traders were only trading in coffee berries or beans from Ethiopia, but also the plant. Yemeni farmers thus began cultivating them.

As it kept them awake during their nighttime prayers, the Sufi mystics found coffee to be very useful. And so did the Whirling Dervishes who had to be attentive as they spun around during their rituals. The Sufis and Whirling Dervishes soon proclaimed coffee to be a religious drink, urging their members to partake of it. From the Sufi monasteries in Yemen, the use of coffee spread to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and as far away as Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, and Istanbul. Mocha, where Omar lived if the legend about him is to be believed and lying on the Red Sea coast in Yemen, rose to become an important coffee trading port from the 15th to the 17th centuries. The city still trades in coffee beans today. And in its, honor, a popular coffee and chocolate drink now bears its name --cafe mocha.

It was not only the Sufi and Whirling Dervishes who enjoyed drinking coffee. So did the laity. Kahve kanes or coffeehouses sprang not only in Yemen but all over the Muslim world. The Yemenis actually promoted drinking coffee and the growth of the coffeehouses to support trade. Drinking coffee, however, was not the only activity in the kahve kanes. Music, singing, and dancing were also offered, making them hubs for entertainment and for meeting friends, not unlike modern-day coffeehouses and bars. They, too, became places where people discussed things that matter to them, including politics. Owing to this, the kahve kanes were eventually suppressed.

The use of coffee was repressed not only by the political authorities. In Mecca, in 1511, certain Muslim Imams preached that coffee is a product created by the devil. Directed by the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Selim I, the Grand Mufti Mehmet Ebussuud el-Imadi revoked the Imam's ban with a fatwa in 1524. Similarly, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church also banned coffee until the middle of the 19th century.

North African and Middle Eastern traders were engaged in business with their Venetian counterparts by the 17th century. It was these traders that brought the Italian people their first coffee berries and beans. Eventually, coffee spread throughout Italy, then Europe, then the world.

*Bunn Corporation, a maker of coffee and tea machines, was not named after the Kaffa term for coffee. It was named after is founder, George Bunn.

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Authors: Super User...

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