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Coffee History 101

Coffee's exact origin is lost in the mists of legend. One story which has been connected with the discovery of coffee is of the goat herder. In the sixth century, an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi was leading his herd of tired, hungry goats in search of greener pastures. Weary of searching and eager to eat, Kaldi's herd began nibbling on sweet red berries off a strange bush. After having their fill, Kaldi's goats began acting very unusual and full of energy. When Kaldi tried some of the strange berries, he was soon cavorting across the hillsides himself.

Kaldi confided his discovery of these miraculous berries to monks at a nearby monastery. Evening prayers for the monks soon became more pleasant, and world of these divine-sent berries spread. One version of this tale says that Muhammad appeared before a monk who was dozing off during prayers and instructed him to boil the red berries in water to create a drink to keep awake.

Until the tenth century, coffee was used as a food in Ethiopia. Rolled into balls with animal fat, coffee was often eaten on nomadic journeys. Later, the berries were crushed and a kind of wine was made with them.

By the thirteenth century, coffee's rejuvenating abilities was well known throughout the Islamic world. The drink became known as Qahwah which means "invigorating and stimulating". Since Qahwah is also the word for wine, which is prohibited by Muhammad, this magical coffee drink became known as Arab Wine. Often used as a medicine and a religious drink to keep the faithful awake during prayers. By the end of the fifteenth century, coffeehouses replaced mosques as local meeting places.

Another legend tells of Omar. Famous for healing others through prayer, he became exiled from the city of Mocha, on the Arabian Peninsula. Living in a nearby cave, he chewed berries from a bush to keep from starving. The berries were so bitter he tried roasting them to improve their flavor. When they became hard and brittle from roasting he tried boiling them to soften the berries. A fragrant brown liquid resulted from boiling, but Omar was so hungry he drank the liquid which immediately revitalized him. Word of Omar's healing brew reach Mocha and upon his return was made a saint.

Muslim expansion from the eleventh to sixteenth century spread coffee’s following throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Spain. Zealously guarded by Arabs to protect their valuable commodity, coffee eventually was spread to India by a religious pilgrim named Baba Budan. From the seeds he smuggled to his home in India, coffee was spread worldwide.

Venetian traders first introduce coffee to Europe. Pope Clement VII, after one sip of coffee, decided this holy drink was worthy of baptism, and coffee became a social beverage of Europe's middle class.

The first coffeehouse opened in England in 1637. Coffeehouses quickly replace taverns as social, commercial and political gathering spots. Men with similar interest would gather at specific coffeehouses. Newspaper, banks and insurance companies were formed around the crowded wooden tables in these houses. Lloyd’s of London began as Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, a place where sea merchants and underwriters met to talk and do business.

Coffeehouses are where tipping started. Brass boxes conspicuously placed about establishments were posted with a sign saying "To Insure Promptness" to encourage customers to pay for efficient service.

Tea was the American drink until 1773 and the Boston Tea Party started the boycott of tea. Coffee was soon adopted as the American drink. An estimated forty-five million cups are brewed each day in the U.S.