The Origin of Coffee; 2

The Origin of Coffee; 2

The Arabic word for coffee, kahwah, is also one of several words for wine. In the process of stripping the cherry husk, the pulp of the bean was fermented to make potent liquor. Some argued that the Qu’ran forbade the use of wine or intoxicating beverages, but other Muslims in favor of coffee argued that it was not an intoxicant but a stimulant. The dispute over coffee came to a head in 1511 in Mecca. The governor of Mecca, Beg, saw some people drinking coffee in a mosque as they prepared a night-long prayer vigil. Furious he drove them from the mosque and ordered all coffee houses to be closed. A heated debate ensued, with coffee being condemned as an unhealthy brew by two devious Persian doctors, the Hakimani brothers, who wanted coffee banned, because melancholic patients who otherwise would have paid the doctors to treat them, used it as a popular cure. The Mufti of Mecca spoke in defense of coffee. The issue was finally resolved when the Sultan of Cairo intervened and reprimanded the Khair Beg for banning a drink that was widely enjoyed in Cairo without consulting his superior. In 1512, when Khair Beg was accused of embezzlement, the Sultan had him put to death. Coffee survived in Mecca.

The picture of Arabic coffee houses as dens of iniquity and frivolity was exaggerated by religious zealots. In reality the Muslim world was the forerunner of the European Café society and the coffee houses of London which became famous London clubs. They were meeting places for intellectuals, where news and gossip were exchanged and clients were regularly entertained by traditional story-tellers.Coffee houses quickly became such an important center for the exchange of information that they were often referred to as “Schools of the Wise.”With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from all over the world, knowledge of this “wine of Araby” began to spread.


Today Ethiopia, is Africa’s major exporter of Kaffa and Sidamo beans, now known as Arabica, the quality coffee of the world, and the variety that originated in Ethiopia. Coffea Arabica, which was identified by the botanist Linnaeus in 1753, is one of the two major species used in most production, and presently accounts for around 70 per cent of the world’s coffee.

The other major species is Coffea Canefora, or Robusta, whose production is increasing now due to better yields from Robusta trees and their hardiness against decease. Robusta coffee is mostly used in blend, but Arabica is the only coffee to be drunk on its own unblended, and this is the type grown and drunk in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia’s province of Kaffa a large proportion of the coffee Arabica trees grow wild amidst the rolling hills and forests of the fertile and beautiful region. At an altitude of 1,500 meters the climate is ideal and the plants are well protected by the larger forest trees which provide shade from the midday sun and preserve the moisture in the soil. Traditionally, these are the ideal conditions for coffee growing.

(Adapted from Selamta, The In-Flight Magazine of Ethiopian Airlines ;edited by Professor Nkiru Nzegwu)

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