Coffee is now such a part of modern life, from that first small Espresso of the morning to the last after dinner, that we might forget it is an ancient product which features in many stories over the centuries.
The slow but progressive growth of coffee in various Islamic countries can be traced back to 1300, and many are the ancient legends that exalt its invigorating and exciting properties.
Was it parhaps coffee that black beverage that drove away sleepiness, very useful for long nights of prayer, that the monks of the Chehodet monastery, in Yemen, obtained from roasting seeds found in the red berries of mysterious shrubs that grew spontaneously in that region?
Leaving aside the legends, coffee has its origins in the region of Kaffa in Ethiopia. It is not hard to see that this is where it gets its name although some schools of thought think it originates from the Turkish word “kavhè“ which itself comes form the Arabic “qahwa” meaning “stimulating, vigorous”. In 1500 European travellers and explorers discovered the use of coffee in Turkey. Arabian merchants started to introduce raw materials to the West and in Italy the first cafeterias sprang up. Devoted to intellectual activity they were called “schools of learned people” or “knowledge schools”. The following century saw the rapid spread of coffee across Europe. The Venetians first viewed coffee as a medicine but in 1645 the first “coffee-shop” opened in Venice in the Piazza San Marco, under the “Arcate delle Procuratie”. The legend tells that the Turks were forced to give up the city assault and during their escape they left behind many sacks of coffee.
Demand for coffee was ever increasing and as taxes and transportation costs were high the plant was introduced to other areas of the world. The Dutch established plantations in Giava, the French in Martinique and on the Antilles, the English, Spanish and Portuguese in Africa, Asia and America. A story is told that coffee reached India thanks to Baba Budan, a pilgrim on a visit to Mecca, who stole seven coffee seeds and took them home hidden in the pleats of his clothes.