Most of us can’t imagine a morning without a hot freshly-brewed cup of joe spreading aroma all over the house. Millions of people drink coffee every day all over the world, engaging in a certain ceremony of coffee brewing, drinking, and socializing with other people. The history of coffee dates back hundreds of years and, believe it or not, has quite a religious origin. It is loved by Muslims, Sufis, Christians, and Pagans alike. Here is what you need to know about the fascinating history of coffee.
It all started in Ethiopia
There are no records of the first use of coffee beans, but we know for sure that it happened in Ethiopia. After all, this is the place where coffee originated from! That region is called Kaffa and it’s hard to say whether coffee got its name from there, or it was named after it. Of course, Ethiopians didn’t consume coffee as we do now – they crashed the coffee cherries, mixed them with some animal fat, and created a type of energy balls. All this happened around 850 AD.
Yemen, located on the Arabian Peninsula, acquired coffee plants from Ethiopia as they grew only there. The first coffee plantations were created in Yemen around 15th century and Sufi monks were the first ones to create a hot coffee drink by boiling coffee leaves and cherries. It was nothing like the modern-day coffee, but its energizing properties soon made it an all-time favourite of Sufi mystics, who drank it during their evening prayers. Their practices of chanting God’s name were lengthy and coffee helped them stay awake.
According to historians, coffee played an important part in Sufi ceremonies. It was served in a big clay vessel and the head of the meeting used a ladle to pour it into a small bowl, which was then passed around. Men, women, and children drank it together during the course of ceremony. The objective was to unify people and help them focus on the spiritual aspect of the world. The drink was energizing, but also helped attain the peace of mind.
Soon coffee spread across numerous Arabic countries, creating more hype than any other drink. Muslims don’t consume wine, so coffee became a delicious substitute for the alcoholic drink. Persians came up with the idea to dry and roast the beans, creating a very specific way of preparing coffee we all love so much today. Yet, it was Turkey (Ottoman Empire at that time) that contributed most to spreading the drink all across its vast territory. It often raided the Arabian Peninsula, so something as prominent and important to the local culture as coffee didn’t go unnoticed. They called it kahveh or “wine of Arabia”, and soon special coffee houses started appearing called kaveh kanes. It is believed that the first coffee house was opened in Istanbul in 1554, but they probably existed long before that.
Muslim ban on coffee
Coffee houses attracted the most versatile crowd as people from all backgrounds were allowed to sit and enjoy a hot freshly-brewed cup of coffee. Coffee houses gathered around most popular sacred places and pilgrimage spots, so a heated exchange of ideas was not uncommon. It was also a place where lots of religious word battles occurred and revolutionary atmosphere was formed. Afraid that coffee was creating too much agitation in the minds of men, some Muslim communities banned the drink, stating that its effects were similar to those of wine, which is forbidden. But by that time coffee was already unstoppable.
Christians didn’t immediately fall in love with coffee like many other people. They were suspicious of its origin, so many pegged it as ‘the devil’s drink’ (and it was pitch black, which didn’t help at all). Still, when Pope Clement VIII tried the drink he grew so fond of it that he decided to baptize coffee, making it ‘safe’ for Christians all over the world. Venetian merchants brought coffee to Europe from Arab countries, but then it spread on its own at lightning speed. The first Venetian coffee house opened in 1645 – France and England followed in just a couple of years.
The dark side of coffee
It is true that coffee houses became the gathering spots for revolutionary and enlightened ideas. Voltaire frequented coffee houses in Paris and none other than Benjamin Franklin held all his meetings and political discussions in coffee houses, while living in London. Still, the growing demand for coffee inspired countries to explore ways to grow it themselves, giving unprecedented fuel to the spreading of slavery. The Dutch obtained a few plants and created the first successful plantation on Java, one of their numerous colonies in Indonesia. France and Britain joined the coffee-growing biz soon after, exploiting their own colonies in tropical countries. To do that they needed labour, and the best labour came at no price at all, hence, slavery spread as fast as a forest fire on a dry day.
Coffee and magic
Some pagans use coffee in their rituals and believe it to have magical properties. It is brewed almost like a magical concoction, and the preparation of the drink (from growing the bean, to drying, to grounding, to brewing) includes the use of all five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and aether. The last one is a kind of life force, intangible energy that makes things come to life. It is also very similar to the way alchemists prepared their concoctions, using all five elements as well. Due to its magical aura, coffee is often used to predict the future or make readings about the current situation and problems. Some even use coffee grounds to decipher dreams!