A simple question without a simple answer.
With all the diversity and differences globally, coffee is one of the few things almost all Earth’s inhabitants enjoy. The glorious, caffeinated beverage is home to most countries, integrated into its cultures, loved by its people.
Europeans flood sidewalk cafés for strong espresso, Americans wrap around buildings for Starbucks, South Americans enjoy their locally cultivated beans, and even many Asian cultures find comfort in coffee despite their devotion to tea.
Me? I find solace in a cup of joe. Hot or iced. Coffee is the one constant of my routine, a boost of energy and encouragement needed to face the day. Even now, I sit here typing away, sipping my mug, letting the familiar, bitter liquid slide down my throat and warm my cells. In many ways, coffee powers my creativity. I’m not sure if I’ve ever written an article without a cup nearby, steam rising and dissolving into nothing.
Internationally loved and personally adored, I got to thinking. Who invented coffee? The answer is not so simple.
The coffee plant is native to Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Sudan. Some believe it, however, that drinking coffee originated in Yemen in the 15th century in the Sufi Shrines or dargah, Muslim shrines built above the tombs of religious figures. It’s thought that in these shrines, coffee berries were fire-roasted and then boiled in water, much like modern-day preparations of the drink.
But who gets the credit for the discovery? It depends on the legend.
Some historians attribute the Moroccan Sufi Sheik Al-Shadhili to creating coffee. Sheik Al-Shadhili was traveling across Ethiopia when he noticed certain birds eating seeds followed by an unusual burst of energy. After trying the seeds himself, he experienced a similar vigor and was the first man to discover the power of caffeine.
Others think it was Sheik Al-Shadhili’s disciple, Omar, who discovered coffee. One day, Omar was banished to the desert cave without food. Desperate and hungry, he chewed mysterious berries found in a nearby shrub. Initially, they were much too bitter and inedible, so he tried roasting them, which turned them hard as rocks. He tried boiling the roasted berries in water in a final attempt and was left with a mysterious brown liquid. Omar tried the strange drink and met with a rush of energy that sustained him for days. Once people heard of his creation, Omar was welcomed back into society as a saint.
The third theory involves an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi in the Arabian Peninsula. Kaldi discovered the coffee berries after his goats ate them and became vitalized. He brought the berries to the nearby monastery and told the monks what he witnessed, but they did not believe his outlandish tale and threw the berries in the fire, feeling disrespected. After some time, a curiously deep, and rich scent wafted around the room. Quickly, the monks retrieved the berries and added hot water, and the first cup of coffee was born.
Though these three tales are fascinating, all they breathe is speculation. None are the validated truth of who created coffee and how. Maybe the true origin of coffee will be revealed one day, but until then, we can all lounge back and continue sipping the comforting, classic drink.