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The History of Coffee

The history and development of the beverage that we know as coffee is varied and interesting, involving chance occurrences, political intrigue, and the pursuit of wealth and power.

According to one story, the effect of coffee beans on behavior was noticed by a sheep herder from Caffa Ethopia named Kaldi as he tended his sheep. He noticed that the sheep became hyperactive after eating the red "cherries" from a certain plant when they changed pastures. He tried a few himself, and was soon as overactive as his herd. The story relates that a monk happened by and scolded him for "partaking of the devil's fruit." However the monks soon discovered that this fruit from the shiny green plant could help them stay awake for their prayers.

Another legend gives us the name for coffee or "mocha." An Arabian was banished to the desert with his followers to die of starvation. In desperation, Omar had his friends boil and eat the fruit from an unknown plant. Not only did the broth save the exiles, but their survival was taken as a religious sign by the residents of the nearest town, Mocha. The plant and its beverage were named Mocha to honor this event.

Originally the coffee plant grew naturally in Ethopia, but once transplanted in Arabia was monopolized by them. One early use for coffee would have little appeal today. The Galla tribe from Ethiopia used coffee, but not as a drink. They would wrap the beans in animal fat as their only source of nutrition while on raiding parties. The Turks were the first country to adopt it as a drink, often adding spices such as clove, cinnamon, cardamom and anise to the brew.

Coffee was introduced much later to countries beyond Arabia whose inhabitants believed it to be a delicacy and guarded its secret as if they were top secret military plans. Transportation of the plant out of the Moslem nations was forbidden by the government. The actual spread of coffee was started illegally. One Arab named Baba Budan smuggled beans to some mountains near Mysore, India, and started a farm there. Early in this century, the descendants of those original plants were found still growing fruitfully in the region.

Coffee was believed by some Christians to be the devil's drink. Pope Vincent III heard this and decided to taste it before he banished it. He enjoyed it so much he baptized it, saying "coffee is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it."

Coffee today is grown and enjoyed worldwide, and is one of the few crops that small farmers in third-world countries can profitably export.