Gone are the days when coffee was just a simple stimulating lift for our mornings. Today, this berry has become a global obsession. So much so, it’s the second most widely consumed drink globally.
And with International Coffee Day on October 1st, we thought it might be worthwhile uncovering where — and how — this global phenomenon was first discovered.
A Shepherd and His Goats
The overwhelming consensus points to one country as the birthplace of this global obsession: Ethiopia.
Coffee was first cultivated in the highlands that surrounds modern day Jimma, southern Ethiopia, sometime around the 11th century. With its rich soil and cool temperatures, the region is perfect for coffee plants to flourish.
How this evergreen shrub was first discovered is much less clear with the boundaries between fact and myth deeply blurred. According to popular legend in Ethiopia, it’s a shepherd and his inquisitive goats that first introduced humans to this magical plant that has grown to become a multi-billion pound global market today.
During a routine day of gazing his goats, Kaldi, a local shepherd, noticed his four legged friends bleating excitedly after eating the leaves and berries of a nearby bush. Intrigued, Kaldi thought it wise to try some of the berries too.
The experience induced such a strange euphoria (who doesn’t love a good coffee high?), Kaldi ran to a nearby monastery to share his great discovery.
And with that, a global obsession was born.
It’s in the name
Today, coffee remains an important part of Ethiopian life, be it culturally or economically. And even though Ethiopian coffee only makes up around 3% of the global coffee market, the Arabica strain which Kaldi first discovered accounts for at least three quarters of the world’s coffee production.
But it’s not just the popularity of Arabica that gives a nod to coffee’s first home. From France (café), to Turkey (Kahve), and China (Kāfēi / 咖啡), its name around the world continues to point to its birthplace: the ancient kingdom of Kaffa, where modern day Jimma lies.