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The Goats Behind The First-Ever Cup of Coffee

As National Coffee Day approaches, we take a look at the interesting history of coffee, the most popular beverage in the world after water!

Who doesn’t love coffee? We will be celebrating National Coffee Day on September 29 to appreciate the popular beverage that gets us out of bed in the mornings. Many of us pour or order a cup without thinking  — or more likely to help us start thinking — but there’s actually a fascinating backstory behind the world’s most popular beverage after water. 

No, coffee didn’t originate in Italy or the western world. In fact, coffee has a surprising and interesting history many of us don’t know about which dates back to the 9th century! Here’s what goes into each cup of brewed beans — um, seeds — thanks to rich cultures around the globe.

The legend of the goats

Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. Legend has it that the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of coffee seeds — coffee “beans” are actually seeds, the pits of cherry-like berries found on flowering shrubs.

The story goes that Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing that when eating berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi quickly reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.

As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey that would bring these beans across the globe. By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the 16th century, it was loved in the Muslim world such as Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from all over the world, knowledge of this “wine of Araby” began to spread.

The “satanic” drink of Europe

European travelers to the Near East brought back stories of an unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. 

Interestingly, people reacted to this new beverage with suspicion or fear, calling it the “bitter invention of Satan.” The local clergy condemned coffee when it came to Venice in 1615. However, that soon changed, the controversy surrounding coffee had become so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. He decided to taste the beverage for himself before making a decision, and found the drink satisfying enough that he gave it papal approval!

The social drink

Despite such controversy, coffee houses were quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany, and Holland. Coffee began to replace the common breakfast drink beverages of the time, which was beer and wine. Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and energized, and not surprisingly, the quality of their work was greatly improved.

Today, Brazil produces about a third of the world’s supply, according to the International Coffee Organization, about twice as much as the second place holder, Vietnam. Only two U.S. states produce coffee. Kona coffee is the United States’ gift to the coffee world. Because coffee traditionally grows best in climates along the equator, Hawaii’s weather is optimal for harvesting beans. California also recently got into the coffee game with dozens of farms now churning out pricey premium bags.

What did we do to deserve coffee? It’s literally a life-saver for most people to stay awake! On National Coffee Day, make sure to read up about all of its interesting history and facts as you sip on your morning brew.