The short answer is that coffee originated in Ethiopia. The exact details on coffee’s origins, however, depend on who you ask. Legend has it, though, that the story involves a forest, a herder, and a goat with insomnia.
History of Coffee: How was Coffee Discovered?
“Where does coffee come from,” or “Where is coffee originally from,” are questions that comes with admittedly cloudy answers. But there is plenty of guesswork.
The running story goes a bit like this: Kaldi, a ninth-century goat herder in Ethiopia, found himself among coffee forests near a high-altitude plateau. He led his goats into the forest where they bit off coffee cherries from the plants; at the time, thinking they were food, he thought nothing of it. When the goats began to stay up through the night and burst with energy, however, he connected the change to the plants and the red berries where coffee beans come from—what we know of today as coffee cherries. After consuming the berries himself and feeling the instant perk-up, he rushed off to a nearby monastery to share his discovery with monks.
Put off by the effects of the coffee, and convinced they were the devil’s work, they tossed the berries into the flames. Bewitched by the aroma, however, they began to brew them regularly and use their effects to enhance their religious studies and prayers.
Another story addressing where does coffee originate comes from Yemen, though it still locates the origin of coffee to Ethiopia. In short, it speculates that a Sufi mystic was intrigued by a group of birds in his travels that seemed unusually energetic. Curious, he tried a berry he noticed they’d picked up and was enamored by the feeling it gave him.
The final legend on coffee origins also comes from Yemen and says the coffee plant was discovered in Yemen, not Ethiopia. That tale tells of an exiled priest and doctor who, nearly starving, found a coffee plant and ate its fruit. Finding the berries too bitter, however, he experimented by tossing them in a fire to cook them. But, because that simply roasted the cherries, he decided to boil them afterward to soften them. What came of that, of course, was the pleasant smell of coffee being brewed. His discovery saved him from exile and he was able to return home.
All this in mind, the only definitive knowledge of coffee’s origins comes from a more recent time period.
When was Coffee Discovered?
The most commonly accepted knowledge of coffee’s first uses date back to the 15th century in Yemen.
Sufis, who belonged to monasteries, are believed to have consumed coffee to practice their devotions—not totally unlike what was recalled in the Ethiopian legend. It’s thought that the coffee came to the Sufis from Yemeni merchants from who received the coffee as an export from Somali merchants by way of Ethiopia. Coffee would not make its way to Europe until the 17th century.
How Did Coffee Become Popular?
Modern history shows us how popular coffee has become over a fairly short period of time. That’s thanks to the quick spread of coffee in the 16th century—largely northward—to Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey, after being cultivated in Yemen and centrally traded from the city of Mocha.
So, where did coffee come from? Largely Yemen, but possibly Ethiopia. Where was coffee originated remains, again, an admittedly cloudy question to answer.
To boot, this was also the time period coffee houses were first introduced, with coffee drinkers developing not just a cultural taste for the drink but introducing a social element to it. These gathering spots with the new wine-like substance built a reputation, thanks to their association with arts and culture, as havens for wise people.
News of the beverage spread to Europe after pilgrims took notice during a voyage. They, like the religious men of the Ethiopian legend, doubted the drink as the work of Satan, and continued to believe so until Pope Clement VIII deemed it an acceptable drink. From there, it began to replace alcohol during some meals as a sort of dark-colored and bitter alternative to beer or wine.
In the Americas, meanwhile, coffee is thought to have become popularized as an alternative to tea during the tea taxes.
The history of coffee is just as rich as its aroma and taste. So, which story is the right one? Just like your favorite coffee, feel free to choose your favorite one.