“No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee’s frothy goodness.”
Coffee, is the liquid that gets people going. It helps start days, fuels workouts, and keeps people awake while they are grinding away to achieve their hopes and dreams. Even the name “coffee” is said to possibly derive from the Arabic word “quwwa,” which means power or energy in its most basic definition. But what are the origins of coffee, and who was innovative enough to take the seeds of the coffee cherry, roast them, and turn them into our favorite daily brew? We discovered three interesting tails from two intertwined countries that provide insightful origin stories for coffee. They range from simple stories, to elaborate tales with princesses and jumping goats.
To start, let’s travel across the world to the Middle Eastern country of Yemen and the North African country of Ethiopia. During the 15th century, Yemen was considered the major trade location for Arabica coffee (the coffee that is consumed by 70% of the modern world). A Yemeni Sufi mystic by the name of Ghotul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili was on a long, arduous trek through Ethiopia. After a long day of walking and feeling particularly tired, he came across a flock of hyper birds that were excitedly nibbling away at some red berries on a bush. Hungry and without any food, he decided to that if these berries were safe for birds, then they were safe for humans. Upon consumption, he felt energized and full of vitality, thus providing him with needed nourishment to continue his journey. And those red berries? They were of course Coffee Cherries. The coffee plant eventually made its way to Yemen and the rest is history…or is it?
Our next story begins in the region of Mocha, Yemen (click the link for a quick and interesting history video) and focuses on an individual named Sheikh Omar who was a disciple of Sheik Abou’l Hasan Schadheli. Sheik Omar was told of a princess in the area who was gravely ill and although not authorized by his master, practiced medicine on her. Luckily, Sheik Omar successfully healed her, but unluckily, he became infatuated with her and decided to “keep” her…whatever that means…This angered the king, who exiled him as punishment. One evening, Sheik Omar took shelter in a nearby mountain cave. Alone, tired, and hungry, he cried out to the heavens in frustration. To his surprise, his cries were answered by a bird who flew in carrying a branch with red berries on them (coffee cherries). After trying the leaves and finding them too bitter, Sheik Omar decided to eat the cherries which gave him nourishment and provided him with a surprising tingling sensation. He must have been quite hungry because he also tried to eat the seeds (green coffee beans) but found them too bitter. Out of desperation, Sheik Omar tossed them in the fire to cook them down. While roasting, the seeds began making a popping sound while turning a dark brown color (fast forward to 2:00) and emit a tantalizing aroma. He then took these seeds and mixed them into a boiling water (or soup depending on who you ask) creating a simple form of coffee that is similar although likely less flavorful to what we know today. Hey, like David Lynch said, “Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.” Newly energized, Sheik Omar took the coffee seeds back to Mocha where they were used as a type of medicine. His exile was lifted and Sheik Omar was hailed as a hero in Mocha where a monastery was built in his honor.
That’s the end of part one of our two part series on coffee origins. Check out part 2 where we delve into Ethiopia and the legend of Kaldi and his dancing goats! If you like what you have read or have heard of other interesting coffee origin tales, feel free to comment below or email us.