In 850 AD on the dusty stretches of the Ethiopian Plateau, Kaldi the Goatherder was kept up all night by the wild antics of his goats frolicking in their pen. He noted this unusual behaviour and watched the goats the following day, wondering why they might be behaving so.
As the goats roamed, Kaldi saw them consume red berries found on small shrubs, then prance around madly. He took a risk and decided to try the berries himself. Soon he was overtaken by a feeling familiar to us all: the berries energised him, set his heart racing and his blood pumping in his veins.
You’ve probably guessed it: he'd discovered coffee! Perhaps he'd even discovered the ancestral plant to our Ethiopia Sidamo?
He shared this discovery with the local monastery. Through trial and error, the monks settled upon roasting the berries after discovering the delicious scent they made, and diluting them with water. The first cup of coffee can be traced back to this folk tale and Kaldi: the man kept up at night by his restless goats.
How much of this story is fact and how much is legend can’t be determined, however it is widely believed that coffee did originate in Ethiopia over a thousand years ago. Historians think that Ethiopian tribes used to mash up coffee beans, mix them with fat, and eat the result as a stimulant. I personally think coffee beans taste much better roasted and with the coffee extracted, rather than ground and chewed upon.
From Africa, coffee quickly spread to the Arabian Peninsula. In the 14th century, coffee cultivation reached Yemen, which had the ideal climate for growing coffee. From Yemen, coffee was brought into Constantinople, now Istanbul, and became massively popular with the court of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1555. As this popularity filtered down to the lower classes, coffee houses opened across the city and became a key part of Istanbul's culture, providing a place for people to meet to play backgammon, read books, and socialise.
Coffee rapidly spread across Europe in the 1600s, with each major city cultivating their own coffee houses and customs. In London, coffee houses were dubbed ‘Penny Universities’ as admittance was a penny and offered far more than just coffee: lawyers, scholars, writers, poets, and politicians would gather there for intellectual conversation. Traversing the Atlantic, coffee reached North America in 1668, the first coffee house ‘The King’s Arms’ opening in New York in 1696.
At this point coffee had extended its reach further than Kaldi the goatherder could ever have imagined the day he made his discovery. Coffee continued to grow as a commodity and now, in 2019, more than 400 billion cups are consumed per year. It’s hard to walk down a city street and not come across a variation of Starbucks or Costa and the coffee industry is only growing.
Whether your preference is a cold brew, an americano, or a pumpkin spice latte, there’s no arguing that the world would be a different place without the sweet nectar we call coffee.