Monday, May 25, 2015

Glimpse of Yesteryear
April 3, 2014 by Jacquie Foote | No Comments

Coffee, the first "patriotic beverage" of an emerging nation, came on the scene almost 2,000 years after tea ... in the year 850 A.D., to…

Coffee, the first “patriotic beverage” of an emerging nation, came on the scene almost 2,000 years after tea … in the year 850 A.D., to be exact.

The story goes that an Ethiopian herdsman named Kaldi observed his goat frolicking in quite a chipper mood near a bush. Since his goat was a bit of an old goat (and not at all a kid), Kaldi kept an eye on him and saw that the goat chewed on the red berries of a wild plant, which prompted him to let out an exuberant “Baaaaaaahhh!” (“him” being the goat, not Kaldi.)

Kaldi sampled the berries himself and a feeling of elation consumed him. It is written that he immediately declared to his goat, “These berries are heaven sent.” So excited was he that he betook himself some of the berries and the goat to the nearest monastery at top speed. He told of the miraculous effect of the red berries. The goat presumably chimed in with “Baahhhhh! Baahhhhh!” The chief monk was not amused and replied, “Are you possessed?” The story goes that he, thereupon, condemned the berries as the Devil’s work and promptly threw them into the fire.

But soon after, the smell of fresh roasted coffee filled the quiet halls of the monastery, catching the attention of the monks. After the chief monk dozed off, (likely due to the lack of caffeine), a young rebellious monk snatched the cooling beans from the fire pit and, for whatever reason, mixed the beans with water … and drank it.

Word of these fragrant, energizing berries traveled to another corner of Ethiopia and caught the imagination of the Gayle tribe. The Gayle mixed the berry with “chee,” a clarified butter, and pressed the mixture into something we would call a “power bar.” Gayle warriors marched into battle with their new, energizing snack and were invincible. (Similar bars are still eaten in Sidamo, Ethiopia, to this day.)

Only 150 years later, we find physician and philosopher Avicenna Bukhara becoming the first person known to have written a description of the medicinal properties of coffee. By 1100, Arab traders brought coffee to their homeland, a place we would call Yemen. There the plant was cultivated for the first time on plantations. More and more people made and enjoyed a most satisfying, invigorating drink by boiling the beans in water. It was called “qahwa,” which means, “that which prevents sleep.”

By the way, qahwa, also written as “kahwah,” is one of many words Arabs used for wine. You see, in the process of stripping the coffee bean’s cherry-like husk, the pulp can be fermented to make a potent, alcoholic beverage with quite a kick to it. Now, the Koran forbids wine or other such intoxicants, but Muslims entranced with coffee argued that the brew is merely a stimulant.

Time passed and coffee traveled … carried along by its admirers. By 1453, the Ottoman Turks introduced coffee to Constantinople, then a busy, powerful city. The Turks are credited with adding clove, cardamom, cinnamon and anise, producing a spicy, energizing concoction… one that is still popular today.

In 1454, the Mufti of Aden traveling the Ethiopian countryside saw his citizens drinking a beverage we would recognize as coffee. He tried it and credited it with curing him of a lassitude he had. His heartfelt approval of this beverage helped spread coffee’s popularity all the way to Mecca where the first coffee houses were then established. They were known as Kaveh Kanes and were used for religious meetings, gossip, singing and storytelling. They were much like coffee houses today, but without the religious meetings. Coffee shops opening in Constantinople around this same time become hotspots for lively discussions and political debates.

In general, coffee became an important part of Turkish culture. It was widely held that coffee was an aphrodisiac. Perhaps related to this, the Turks passed a law that made it legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he failed to provide her with her daily quota of coffee.

Of course, with such a stimulating drink, trouble was bound to come. And, in 1511, Mecca’s Governor Khayr Bey banned coffee, calling it inflammatory and fearing its influence promoted discussions and debates that could lead to opposition to his rule. Naturally, this backfired. Riots broke out and unrest spread. And just when it appeared a coffee revolution was inevitable, the Sultan of Cairo intervened by sending word that coffee was sacred. For good measure, the Sultan had the governor executed.

For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit

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