Article and Photos by Lawrence Aritao.
An ancient kingdom named Absynnia once ruled the land we now call Ethiopia, part of Eritrea, and at one point, even Yemen. In this kingdom grew the plant which gave coffee to the world.
Where, precisely, did coffee originate? Historical and botanical texts tell us that the coffee plant first took root in the fertile lands of Ethiopia. However, a minority report, found in W. Ukers’ All About Coffee, says that the plant may have grown elsewhere before or at the same time. The coffee plant could have perhaps even originated in nearby Yemen, across the gateway of tears (the narrow strait between Yemen and Ethiopia), and later on made its way across with ancient Abysinnians settlers.
We may never know if the minority report is true, but it’s worth listening to the whispers of history to learn something about humanity and gain insight into the cultures through which coffee came.
For instance, you may have heard of the Ethiopian myth behind coffee’s discovery, the one of Kaldi the goat herder. He found goats of unusual vigor, says the story, and upon investigation found the coffee cherries behind their extraordinary vim, and so discovered coffee. What you may not know is that Yemen has its own counter-myth, citing how one of its Sufi monks discovered coffee:
A monk spotted birds of unusual energy one day. He traced their vigor to the coffee cherries they ate, and tested them on himself. He experienced their power and so discovered the enhancing properties of coffee.
Even in legends, the beloved coffee plant, whose cherry yields two opposing beans, lends itself to two storylines.
There’s a fascinating history to coffee, one that runs parallel to the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms, one that mirrors the light and shadow of human civilization, and it begins with a humble plant crossing the gateway of tears into the wider world. Once kept in the iron grip of its jealous early cultivators, coffee eventually broke free of the Mediterranean basin, and journeyed to India’s Mysore Mountains.
I will save that story for another time (and post). Join me on Monday (Manila time) as we first consider how the cradle of human life also cradled the first coffee cherries- and how recent DNA studies reveal an amazing insight into the cultures that first discovered coffee. You won’t want to miss it.
Bring your favorite mug for that story, and fill it with coffee 😃