There has been a centuries long debate between Yemen and Ethiopia about the origin story of coffee.
Yemen origin story
A Yemenite myth claims that it was a Sufi mystic up in the mountains of Yemen who discovered wild coffee berries growing by his monastery. He tried to eat the berries only to discover he was extremely alert the rest of the day and well into the night. This was a great help for the devout monks in the monastery who aspired to dedicate their days and nights to celebrating god in the Sufi ecstatic dances. With time the roasting and brewing of the coffee beans developed, and the strong black Yemenite coffee came to be.
Other stories coming from Yemen admit that coffee is native to Ethiopia, but claim that Yemen is the birth place of the coffee drinking culture. And indeed, coffee drinking was wide spread throughout Yemen as early as the 15th century, some even say since the 10th century.
Ethiopia origin story
The Ethiopian myth of the coffee origin have many different versions, and the most famous one is known well beyond the borders of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia was then known as Abyssinyia. One day a herder follows some of his goats who out of nowhere started running into the bush and eating berries off an unknown wild plant. For the rest of the day the goats were filled with unexplained energy, bouncing and running much more than usual.
The next day the herder was determined to go back to the plant and try the strange berries himself. He was so alert that day that he knew he was on to something…
First, people chewed the berries for their stimulating affect. Then they started roasting the dry beans and chewing them, and after that came the brewing of the roasted and ground coffee beans.
Finally, the full and elaborate tradition of the Buna ceremony developed- the famous ceremonial coffee making and serving, which is an important part of welcoming guests in any Ethiopian household until this day.
Ethiopia or Yemen?
Where did coffee originate then? Well, it was so long ago, frankly it’s hard to tell. The common view weighs in favor of Ethiopia though.
The two countries have an ancient history of trade back and forth the Bab al Mandab strait across the red sea, and of cultural mutual influence. So it’s only becoming that the coffee origin story would include them both.
Coffee drinking culture did developed first in Yemen. Up until the 18th century, Yemen was the sole grower and distributer of coffee beans in the world!
Read my post on the fascinating history of Yemen coffee.
There’s a lot more to say about Ethiopian coffee too, coming soon…
Ella Harari– the Wandering Goddess.
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I’m wandering around East Africa in search of tribal traditions and African wisdom. See you there