FROM QAHWA TO COFFEE… OR HOW THE ARABS INTRODUCED COFFEE TO THE WORLD

Every day, more than 2 bn cups of coffee are consumed, making coffee the most popular beverage in the world! How did that happen?! The legend says that coffee beans originated in Ethiopia, to then come to the Middle East via Yemeni merchants. One thing is sure, Arabs have left a lasting influence on coffee culture ! Read on and see for yourself: coffee is not just a drink, it is magic, infusing itself into our psyche, stirring conflict and controversy over the centuries…

According to the legend

Apparently, it all started in the Ethiopian highlands, hundreds of years ago. One night, Kaldi, a goat herder, saw one of his goats jumping around in a funny mood after eating unknown berries from a bush. Kaldi then tried the berries himself, and felt energized. He shared his findings with local monks whose first reaction was to toss them in to the fire, calling the berries “Evil”. It is said that the aroma that rose from the fire caught the monks’ attention, and they removed the roasted beans from the fire (world’s first baristas ever ?) and preserved them into water. When they finally tried the drink, they experienced the uplifting effects and vowed to drink it daily to help them stay awake during prayers.

If it is hard to say how much of the legend is true, the story coincides with the common belief that coffee bean cultivation started in Ethiopia during the 9th century.

The facts

Though the legend suggests that the whole discovery happened in one day, historians believe that coffee had been chewed for centuries in the form of a paste as a source of energy for workers and slaves. Apparently, the custom of brewing coffee beans and boiling them into a decoction became the most common form later on, especially in the Islamic world, where it was used as medicine and as a prayer aid.

Later on, Arab traders brought coffee beans back to their homeland and started cultivating the plant and called the uplifting drink “qahwa”, meaning “that which prevents sleep”, or namely, coffee as we know it. When the Ottoman Turks introduced coffee to Constantinople, they cleverly added cardamom, cinnamon and anise to the concoction, turning it into a spicy treat, that you can actually still enjoy today when visiting modern-day Istanbul.

Then came the first coffee houses…

A Mufti visiting Ethiopia got very excited with this new drink that cured his unknown affliction, and brought it back to the Mecca. There, the drink started to be served at Kavesh Kanes, places used for religious meetings or storytelling.

And all that jazz !

Coffee became so much part of the Turkish culture that soon, a law passed, allowing women to divorce their husbands if he failed to provide them with their daily quota of… coffee. Indeed, coffee became highly considered as an aphrodisiac. In Europe, coffeehouses became integral part of social culture, as they were frequented by writers, artists, poets, lawyers, politicians and philosophers.

We could go on forever over each century to recall all the tribulation of that little bean. It saw it all: ban, riots, popularity, death and even baptism… you name it.

What about now?

The world consumes nearly 400 million cups of coffee per day. Try to imagine how many cups each one of us drinks every year ! Coffee comes right after oil as the most traded commodity in the world. Think about that with every sip you take, from now on.

 

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