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How Africans discovered Coffee for Europe and the World

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From tiny beginning in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in the sixth century AD, coffee has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and is now grown throughout the world’s tropical zones. The coffee plant was first discovered growing wild in Ethiopia’s Kaffa province around 1,000 years ago. Legend has it that a goat-herd tasted the plant when his goats began bouncing around in a cheerful state after munching on the berries.  

He took the berries to local monks who declared them “devil’s work” and tossed them on the fire. Soon the aroma of roasting coffee beans filled the air… and the rest, as they say, is history. Coffee was originally consumed as food by Ethiopian nomadic mountain tribes who ground the beans up and mixed them with fat. But it may not have been until coffee arrived in Yemen that it first became popular as a drink. Its popularity soon spread throughout the Middle East and to Europe by the 17th century.

Coffee has remained popular in Ethiopia – especially coffee ceremonies, which play a vital role in social and cultural life. At an African festival in Sydney, an Ethiopian woman told the audience, “In the West, you have counsellors and psychologists … In Ethiopia, we have coffee ceremonies”. So important is this gathering that women often complain of headaches and depression if they miss an event. The ceremony follows important ritualistic steps in which coffee are roasted, ground, and boiled in a clay pot over charcoal. Smoke from the roasting beans and incense provides thanks to God. They are also important social occasions where people chat and gossip as they sip on their three rounds of coffee.
As well as coffee ceremonies, Ethiopia has hundreds of bun abets (coffee houses) where espressos, cappuccinos, and short blacks are served in tiny glass cups. Although Italian influenced, Buna beats have a distinctive Ethiopian flavour with their hand-painted murals, retro furnishings and Ethiopian jazz-pop playing. They are colourful places, attracting people from all social classes and backgrounds: from young people in jeans and leather jackets to elderly farmers draped in traditional shawls.
Coffee remains a major export for Ethiopia. The Coffee Arabica varieties are the best known, particularly Harar coffee which is often used in Mocha Java blends.The beans, green at first, are found in the beautiful highlands of Ethiopia, which later ripe to dark red and hang in clusters from coffee plants. With the outer skin and flesh removed, many coffees will improve if kept for up to 10 years. Before the beans are ready for use they are roasted, and it is this process that gives us the warm, inviting aroma that greets us when we walk into our favourite coffee shop.

About the country Ethiopia:
The potential for coffee production in Ethiopia is very high thanks to the country’s suitable altitude, ample rainfall, optimum temperatures, appropriate planting materials and fertile soil.
Ethiopia is located between 3˚30’ and 14˚55’ north, and 33˚ and 48˚ east. It is part of the Horn of Africa, and is in the north-east of the continent of Africa, bordered by Somalia to the south-east, Djibouti to the east, Kenya to the south, to the west and Eritrea to the north-east. It occupies the high plateau region between the Nile plains of Sudan and Eritrea. Ethiopia is one of the largest countries in Africa, with an area of 1.13 million km². It has a rugged topography, with altitudes ranging from around 100m below sea level in the Danakil Depression to 4,600m above sea level in the Semen mountain massif.

History of coffee
Settled agriculture began in Ethiopia some 2,000 years ago. Since time immemorial, coffee Arabica L. has been grown in the wild forests of the south-western massive highlands of the Kaffa and Buno districts of the country. Ethiopia is the primary centre of origin and genetic diversity of the Arabica coffee plant, earlier known as Jasminum arabicum laurifolia.
Coffee is described as bunna (in Amharic, native Ethiopian language). The word coffee has passed into the English language by the year 1700. The French and Spanish call coffee café, the Italian caffe, the German kaffee and so on. All are phonetic approximations of the original Ethiopian, Arabic or Turkish word.

A popular legend about the discovery of coffee tells of the goat- herd Kaldi. Kaldi noticed that his goats pranced excitedly after chewing the berries from coffee bushes, so he also tasted them, and found he enjoyed their stimulating effect. A monk who found Kaldi thus invigorated tried the cherries himself, and then took some to his monastery, where he roasted and brewed them, and tried out the resulting beverage on his brethren. As a result, they stay awake during their long prayers at night; coffee was accepted as a stimulant drink.

Coffee might have been introduced to Arabia-Felix, now Yemen, by either the Ethiopians, but the exact year of the coffee’s introduction to Arabia is not well documented; various estimates put it as early as 575 or as late as 850AD. All, however, agrees that Yemen is the secondary dispersal centre.Coffee domestication continued until coffee until coffee attained an important place in the social and cultural life of the people of Ethiopia. By 1500, coffee was one of the commodities produced in the Harar and Dawaro areas of the south-eastern part of the country. It was then transplanted from the south-western part to the north with the movement of the Oromos in the latter part of the 16th Century. In the early 17th Century, it was planted in Azazo, near Lake Tana.

Its cultivation expanded and, by the early 19th Century, coffee-growing was fairly extensive in several parts of the north-west, in Bahir Dar, Zegue, and in Gondar, Agewmider, Korata, Wollo and southern shoa. Some farmers in the Harrage, Wonago and Anifilo areas still have coffee trees more than 100 years old.

Coffee export in Harar and Gerri goes back to earlier than 1810. In1838, Rupell recorded the export of 100 quintals of Enarea-coffee (now Limu-Seka, Jimma) via Massawa. In the 19th Century, two coffee types, “specialty coffee”, were exported as first and second-grade Harari coffee (i.e. coffee produced in Harar) and Abyssinia coffee (i.e. wild, or the produce of other areas) to London, Marseilles, New York and Trieste.

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