Coffee, and Kaldi’s Goats

Coffee originated in Ethiopia. That is where the plants (Coffea arabica and other species) grow naturally, and it is where they were first cultivated. Ethiopians were the first people to drink coffee.

According to legend, it all began with a goatherd called Kaldi who lived in the ninth century c.e., although it was not Kaldi but his goats who made the discovery. One version of the story states that each morning Kaldi would turn his goats loose to wander in the hills and each evening they would return home of their own accord. Except that one evening they failed to return, and Kaldi grew worried. He searched high and low, and the following morning he found them jumping and frisking around a small patch of bushes with red berries and dark, shiny leaves. He assumed the bushes were responsible for the odd way the goats were behaving, so he tried the berries for himself and very soon he, too, was jumping around with boundless energy. The alternative version says that Kaldi did not turn the goats loose but remained with them all day, and one afternoon he noticed them behaving strangely some distance away.

Kaldi gathered some of the berries and either he met a wise monk on his way home and gave the berries to him, or he arrived home, gave the berries to his wife, and told her what had happened. Convinced that they were a gift from god, she took them to a nearby monastery. One way or another, the berries came into the possession of the monks. Some say that the monks denounced them as products of the devil and threw them onto the fire; others that the monks studied the berries closely and experimented with them. As they roasted, the berries released a delicious aroma, attracting other monks. The monks collected the roasted berries and steeped them in boiling water to preserve them, then experimented by drinking the resulting brew. They discovered that the fragrant drink helped them stay awake during night prayers.

Knowledge of the coffee plant and its properties spread to Egypt, Yemen, and Arabia, where it quickly became popular. The Arabs produced and marketed coffee commercially, and it was from them that it reached Europe. Today Brazil is the world's leading coffee producer, with an annual output of about 1.4 million tons (1.3 million tonnes). Global production is about 7.7 million tons (7 million tonnes).