Myths Surrounding the Origin of Coffee

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While millions of Americans consume coffee daily, few speculate about the origin of their favorite cup of Joe. The beginning history of coffee is elusive to even scholars, researchers, and experts. This article explores some of the myths surrounding the origin of coffee.

For one, many scholars believe that coffee enjoyed today originated in modern-day Iran during the classical Arabian medicine period. Some researchers believe that Rhazes—a respected scholar, philosopher, astronomy, poet, and writer—first chronicled coffee in his authored encyclopedia of medicine. In the text, however, Rhazes referred to coffee as “bunchum.” The French coffee merchant Philippe Sylvestre Dufour echoed Rhazes’ accounts of coffee’s history and claimed that Arabs invented the coffee beverage. In fact, one traditional Arab myth claims that the Angel Gabriel revealed the coffee beverage to the prophet Mohammed himself.

Another legend claims that Kaldi, a goatherd, fist discovered coffee in Ethiopia. During the night, Kaldi noticed that his goats and sheep could not sleep after eating certain berries. The goatherd tasted the coffee berries for himself, and enjoyed the feel-good and alert side effects of the concoction. Next, Kaldi relayed his findings to a local monastery. Convinced that the coffee berries were satanic, the head monk threw the coffee plant into a burning fire. Soon, the coffee beans produced an enticing aroma, and attracted the attention of the fellow monks. The monks extracted the beans from the fire and stomped on them, putting out the fire. As a result, the head monk ordered the monastery to cover the burning coffee with water.

Thought to be a gift from the angels of heaven, the coffee concoction, in a unique ember, heated. That night, the monks drank the aromatic, black beverage. Impressed with coffee’s ability to enhance alertness, the monks continued to make and drink coffee in order to stay awake during their nightly prayers. However, experts believe that it is more probable that the monks chewed on coffee berries for centuries before an actual beverage was produced.

Another variation of the origin of coffee claims that Ethiopians brought coffee to Arabia via Sudanese slaves that chewed the berries during their voyage for survival. Some experts believe that the slaves could have ground the coffee and mixed it with butter, eating the resulting food like a chocolate bar. This preparation method was particularly popular with Ethiopian Galla tribes. Even today, this method of grinding coffee and mixing it with ghee is still popular in the coffee-producing regions of Ethiopia.

Finally, another myth accounts the story of Ali Ben Omar, an Arab monk traveling with his teacher to Moka. During the journey, the teacher died. Distraught, Omar was temped to give up until visited by an angel that encouraged him to proceed to the city, which was ripe with plague. With prayers to Allah, Omar cured countless citizens, including the king’s daughter. Because Omar fell in love with the princess, the king banned the monk to the mountains. Here, starving a thirsting, Omar invoked the help of his teacher, who sent him a vision of a melodious bird. When Omar reached for the bird, he instead found a coffee plant. Omar created a tasty coffee concoction, and was welcomed back to the kingdom.

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