The fascinating story behind who discovered coffee can be traced back hundreds of years to Ethiopia’s ancient coffee forests, where legend has it that the humble goat herder Kaldi stumbled upon its remarkable powers. These cherished beans have since captivated people worldwide with their aroma and flavour.
The First Origin: Ethiopia
Coffee is a fascinating topic, with one of the reasons being that we are not 100% sure where how it was discovered. If you listen to the legends, though, it goes back to the 9th Century when an Ethiopian named Kaldi was out and about. He was a goat herder, and Kaldi worked every day in the beautiful world of nature, helping his goats through the day.
One afternoon, he noticed that his goats were very active, almost erratic. They seemed needlessly alert and appeared to be quite hyper. They enjoyed berries from the coffee Arabica tree, the most modern African coffee source. Quickly, Kaldi wanted to know if these were the source of the madness in his goats – so he ate a handful himself. Immediately feeling a sense of stimulus and alertness, the excited Kaldi decided to turn to the local monastery, hoping they would be impressed by his finding.
Instead, they have denounced as evil the work of Devi himself. Seen uniquely harmful due to their stimulating effects, they were dismissed and thrown onto a fire to try to rid the world of this evil. The legend is that the coffee beans inside the fruit began to burn at this point, and the roasted coffee aroma was put into the sky.
Naturally, the smell immediately caught the attention of religious minds. So rather than decry it as evil, it was soon treated with the same kind of reverence and respect as tea. It then became a beverage steeped into warm water ala tea leaves, and thus history was born.
The Other Origins
Indeed, there’s enough information and ideas from previous history to show that coffee might have been used long before the legend of Kaldi. Kaldi might be one of those beautiful original stories, but it’s apparently been used as a ground substance long before this particular Century.
Coffee berries would mix with animal fat and butter for long journeys. The fat and the butter would give the body energy, while the power of the coffee would add a pleasing aroma and provide the user with a functional level of alertness.
For that reason, it was seen as a potent substance long before the use that Kaldi supposedly found from the bean. Indeed, there’s a long history of slavery in Sudan, with great stories about the enslaved Sudanese people enjoying coffee beans as a snack to help them stay strong during what would often be a fraught and dangerous journey.
For that reason, it’s hard to know what the true origin is. However, the story of how coffee came to be mass-cultivated and used in the manner that it is today is more agreeable. Indeed, coffee has been a major part of Arabic life for some time, with its origins easily found in the 14th Century as a regularly cultivated and traded product. Syria and Egypt were immense in their coffee production, as was Turkey.
Interestingly, it’s claimed that coffee could not be found anywhere outside of Arabia or Africa in the 1600s. However, a pilgrim named Bab Budan brought coffee back to India in plant form. A Dutchman named Pieter van der Broeck stole some coffee from Yemen and took it to Amsterdam. Before long, the Dutch Empire and its massive collection of colonies soon took over the European trade route for coffee.
The Coffee and the Dutch
At this stage, the Dutch became prime cultivators for the plant across the European continent and beyond. Then, finally, coffee began to go global when the French joined them in their cultivation, moving to the Caribbean to take part. At this point, the Spanish were also running around Central America, and the Portuguese were in Brazil, cultivating and placing coffee as they went.
Before long, the drink was making its way to America. The British colonizers’ arrival in America had far-reaching impacts, including the popularization of coffee. Not only did they bring it to New York City for trade purposes, but it soon became a beloved commodity many across the continent enjoyed. Before long, then, the ambitious European expansionism of the years had seen coffee go from a legendary African and Arabian good to one of the most enjoyable products on the planet.
This ensured that coffee would quickly secure itself as both a trade tool and a popular drink. The Dutch were arguably the first to use coffee in this manner. With most other countries using it for enjoyment and engagement with the wider world, the Dutch sold it en masse.
Their ambitions to create a massive trade empire, with coffee front and centre, were well underway. Backed by enormous demands as the world was swept over by people looking to enjoy coffee, it soon became apparent that coffee would play a critical role in the world.
Whether found by Kaldi or not, it became a drink of legend – with demand soaring and showing no signs of slowing down.
Who truly knows the real history of coffee? It is impossible to verify. The immense passing of time and the lack of trustworthy record keeping from the era means we often need to go on nothing more than fairytales and stories like those listed above.
What is true, though, is that coffee today is well and truly one of the most powerful forms of commodities. Indeed, it has become an industry that is a major part of the American trade industry, with Brazil being the biggest coffee producer on the planet.
Now that coffee today is a $100bn+ industry. It’s easy to see why it is one of the world’s biggest industries. Over 25m people are employed in its development, and hundreds of local and global brands exist for you to pick from. Out of all the commodities in the world that have a genuine use for day-to-day individuals, there is no argument that coffee is among the most powerful of these products. We may never know how it came to be, but we know one thing we couldn’t live without it today!
And so it’s easy to see how coffee has gone from being a product of legend to becoming today’s global commodity. Across different religions, cultures, and traditions, many people have taken part in its popularization and long-term success.
In modern times, its influence can be seen throughout the world and in our everyday lives. Coffee has, quite simply, become a part of the world’s culture – and it looks set to remain that way forever.
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