Goats With A Buzz May 19, 2008Posted by Michael in History.
We can thank Arabia for one of the great pleasures of life — coffee.
And we owe that discovery to goats with a buzz.
It is only fitting that the history of a beverage so associated with good conversation starts with a storybook-like tale. Native only to parts of subtropical Africa, the stimulating effects of wild coffee beans are said to have been first discovered in about A.D. 800 by an Ethiopian shepherd named Kaldi, whose goats kept him up at nights after feasting on red coffee berries.
The shepherd shared his find with the abbott at a local monastery, where monks first brewed the beans into a hot drink, reveling in the way it kept them awake during long hours of prayer.
That’s cool. Monks got the whole coffee-buzz thing started so they could pray. Well, actually, the goats got it started, but you get my point. Thank you, goats and monks. Those of you who attended the Innocent Bystanders Super Bowl Party have seen that I have a serious coffee machine. I likes my coffee. Apparently, so does this goat:
Romantic exaggeration or not, by A.D. 1000 the bean with a buzz was a favorite among those needing a boost in East Africa as well as across the Red Sea in Yemen, where the crop had migrated over with slaves.
If Ethiopia was the birthplace of coffee, Yemen was where it grew up. The brew first took hold among clerics there too, but spillover into the secular crowd didn’t take long and skyrocketing demand soon led to the world’s first cultivated coffee fields there in the 1300s.
The entire Arabian peninsula became a hotbed of coffeehouse culture, with cafés – called kaveh kanes – on every corner.
By the 15th-century, Mecca resembled a medieval incarnation of Seattle, men sipping steaming mugs over games of chess and political conversations. Coffee houses were such an important place to gather and discuss that they were often called Schools of the Wise.
Eventually, Arabs sold coffee to Europeans, and the effect was revolutionary.
Coffee had much the same effect in Europe when it was introduced there in the 1600s. Cafés were the center of social life, where people with similar interests could gather and talk. The British insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, began as a café popular with sailors who often discussed insurance matters.
But the Arabs sold only roasted beans to protect their lucrative trade. According to legend, this ended when a pilgrim to Mecca smuggled some live beans back to India. The Arabs lost control.
Coffee plants went everywhere that European empires did, taking root in such famous bean-growing regions as Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the Kona district of Hawaii, Indonesia’s Java Island and the rainforests of Brazil, which remains the world’s biggest producer.
The coffee industry is the main source of income for 25 million small farmers, it is estimated.
It is also the second most important commodity on the planet, after oil.