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Carte du monde du café

Coffee history: the origin of the first coffees

Every morning, millions of people start their day with a coffee, but do you know the story behind this world-famous drink? Discover the mysterious and legend-filled tale of coffees origin, the world’s second most consumed beverage after water.


First coffees origin tale n°1


There are different stories about the discovery of coffee. The first legend suggests that the true origin of the coffee cherry comes from Ethiopia, in the Kaffa region. The master of the mystical Sufi order, Ali ben Omar al-Shadili, also known as the “Saint of Moka”, is said to have found berries during an exile in the desert. He is said to have once offered a beverage made of coffee cherries infused in hot water to the captain of an Indian ship. The latter, it is said, enjoyed the taste of the coffee.

The story also tells that the Yemenis took Ethiopian coffee plants in the 12th century in order to trade roasted coffee in Harrar, a veritable trading place and historical centre of Islamic development.


First coffees origin tale n°2


Coffee farming in Yemen
Coffee farming in Yemen

Although the real origins of the first coffee are not well known, another legend also feeds popular beliefs. This is the story of the Kahldi shepherd from Abyssinia in the 8th century. The story goes that the first coffee was probably cultivated in Yemen after being discovered by a shepherd who used to let his goats graze in Jebel Sabor, in the highlands of Yemen.

One day, he noticed that his goats seemed much more lively than usual, that they were running and jumping around, day and night. After observing them for several days, he noticed that they were feasting on small red berries that looked like cherries. These came from a shrub: the coffee tree.

Intrigued, the shepherd decided to take his famous treasure back to the monastery of Cheodet to tell the monks of the town about his remarkable discovery. The monks decided to boil the cherries of the coffee tree in water and drink the beverage.

Some time later, the monks Sciadli and Aydrus, who were in charge of harvesting the coffee stones, were surprised by the rain and placed the wet coffee branches in the fireplace to dry them during prayer. When they returned, the roasted cherry stones had spread a delicious smell in the room. The monks decided to grind the cherries into powder and then steep them in hot water. This is how the first roasted coffee was born.


First coffees origin tale n°3


A coffee tree and its fruits: coffee cherries
A coffee tree and its fruits: coffee cherries

The history of the origin of coffee is still relatively unclear, although there is every reason to believe that the first coffee plant, the Koffea Arabica, was planted in Ethiopia in 850 AD.

As with all legends, we will probably never know the true origin of the coffee cherry. Some see the root and origin of the word coffee in Kaffa, the name of a historical region in Ethiopia, others in qahwa (wine in Arabic) or in ka and afa (contraction of ‘God’ and ‘plants of the earth’).

Although it is difficult to know which story is more authentic and to pinpoint its origin, this caffeinated beverage is nevertheless the most consumed, with almost 400 billion cups of coffee drunk each year, or more than 1,600 coffees every second around the world!

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