Legend has it that coffee beans were originally discovered by monks who noticed that their goats became frisky and began to dance after eating a certain berry. Sound familiar?
The place is the Ethiopian highlands where coffee trees grow just as they do to this day. The time is 800 AD – the 9th century. The cast includes a shepherd named Kaldi and his herd of goats.
The day was really hot and Kaldi was resting. To his surprise, when he looked up, he saw his goats dancing. Wondering what was causing this frisky behaviour, Kaldi noticed they had been eating a small red fruit. The fruit had lasting powers; the goats would not want to go to sleep at night after eating the berries.
Kaldi tasted the berries himself and found they gave him a renewed energy. He reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who had the idea of using the berries to make a drink.
The result? He used the drink to keep himself awake for long hours of prayer each evening. The energy-laden berry was slowly shared with others in the monastery: the berries would be dried, shipped to other monasteries and then soaked in water and consumed just before prayer times.
Word traveled east towards the Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopian coffee started a new phenomenon.
The Berry Catches On
When the news reached the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabs began to cultivate and trade the coffee. Some suggest the popularity of coffee in the area was party due to the fact that Muslims are forbidden by the Koran to drink alcoholic beverages; they found coffee’s energizing abilities to be a good substitute.
Public coffee houses – called qahveh khaneh – began to appear cities across the Near East. Just like coffee shops today, people frequented them for the coffee, socializing, listening to music, watching performers, playing chess and keeping current on news. Because of the transfer of information, coffee shops were often called “Schools of the Wise”.
Thanks to the thousands of pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Mecca each year, news of coffee quickly spread beyond Arabia.
The Bitter Invention of Satan
Coffee became popular when it hit Europe. However, there was opposition who declared coffee to be the bitter invention of Satan. Local clergymen in Venice condemned the drink and Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene when the controversy became too much. To settle the dispute, the Pope tasted the drink for himself and finding it delightful, gave it to Papal to approve.
Just like in the East, coffee shops became popular for their social activity and hub for communication. In England, “Penny Universities” were coined for the fact that a penny could buy you a cup of coffee and a stimulating conversation (kind of like going to University).
The New World
By the mid-1600’s, coffee made its way to America, starting in New Amsterdam. Despite coffee houses opening up all over, Americans preferred to drink tea. A heavy tea tax imposed by King George caused tea drinkers to revolt and switch over to coffee.
Today, coffee is known for the same stimulating powers that were first recognized in the Kaldi’s herd of goats. Millions of people around the world consume the beverage and rely on it to keep them alert. Coffee shops around the world, just like in the beginning, use social interaction, music and games to attract customers. Now That’s Coffee!
“The Legend of the Dancing Goats”
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