There are several legends concerning the origins of coffee, but they all seem to include Kaffa, an Ethiopian goat herder who was seen in a meadow dancing with his goats by an imam from a nearby monastery. Finding that both Kaffa and the goats had eaten red berries from a small tree, he gathered some of the berries and took them back to the monastery. After some experimentation, parching, and boiling, the imams came up with a palatable drink.
The Early Spread of Coffee
The first recorded mention of coffee comes in the tenth century, from a Persian physician, Razi. Very little more was recorded until the 14th Century when a Kurdish poet, Malaye Jaziri, wrote a book on the history and legal controversies of coffee.
By the fifteen hundreds coffee had spread across the Muslim world. Yemen merchants brought coffee from Ethiopia, grew it themselves, and began exporting their new product northward through the Saudi Peninsula. The first coffee house on record is Istanbul’s Keva Han, in 1471. The spread of this product, however, was not without problems: while it seems the Sufis of earlier times took to this new drink because of its ability to ward off sleep and help in meditation, many imams were concerned about its stimulating effects. Though its acceptance was slow in the Middle East, coffee was to become an important social and economic factor.
Coffee is still widely used in the Middle East, and today there are many different ways to roast and prepare it. Some of the fun of being a roaster is knowing that the coffees we roast come with such a rich and fascinating history, spanning many centuries, and many of the world’s great cultures.
In Part II we will cover the introduction of coffee to Western Europe.