Somewhere around 850 AD, Kaldi, the Ethiopian the goatherd, noticed his goats prancing and bleating excitedly after chewing the bright red berries from some nearby bushes. Kaldi tried some himself and felt so exhilarated that he filled his pockets with the berries and ran home to tell his wife of his discovery. She suggested that he take the berries to the monks in the nearby monastery.

Kaldi presented the berries to the Abbot and related their miraculous effect. With ever an open mind to something new, the Abbot pronounced the berries and their effect as "devil’s work!" and hurled them into the fire. The aroma of roasting beans caused the Abbott, nothing if not pragmatic, to rescue the burning beans and crush them to extinguish the embers. In a novel method of preservation, he placed the burnt, crushed beans in a jar and covered them with hot water. The resulting coffee kept the monks awake during their nightly prayers.

Other accounts have coffee discovered in Yemen’s port city of Al-Mokha (Mocha, Moka, etc.), or on a nearby mountain, from where it spread throughout the Muslim world and, some 600 years later, finally arrived in Venice (or Genoa) and spread throughout Europe.

Other accounts have coffee beans transported by Sudanese captives, who mixed crushed coffee beans with fruit and ghee, or animal fat, to sustain them on the long sea voyage to Arab slave markets.

Many other details are added to the above stories but, since the first written records about coffee date from eight centuries after Kaldi, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction – and unnecessary. It is enough to enjoy what we have and help others enjoy it as well.

For those who want to dig deeper into the origins of coffee, two websites will provide interesting reading.

The Origins & a Brief History of Coffee is a short, scholarly account of the spread of coffee and, among other things, debunks the myth, which persisted until the 1960s, that coffee originated in Arabia.

The National Coffee Association ( relates the Kaldi legend and also describes coffee’s spread throughout Europe and subsequent journey to the New World. Coffee replaced tea after the Boston Tea Party as the main drink of the European settlers.

Leave a comment