Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Coffee Legend of Kaldi

It is believed that coffee trees were first discovered in the highlands of Kenya and the mountains of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). The natives of the forest traveled northward, towards the Arabian peninsula, and carried with them fruits and seeds of the coffee tree. There is some evidence that by the year 575 A.D. some coffee trees were found in the foothills of the lava-rich mountains of Yemen. The Arabians and the Persians developed a palate for the ripe cherries.

There are some mythological stories that some historians trace back to the times of the Old Testament; in I Samuel, Chapter XXV, when Abigail brought a present to David to appease his wrath, five measures of parched seeds were offered to him, which very well might have been coffee beans.

The legend of Arabia, however, is the tale of Kaldi, the goat herder and his happy goats, confirmed by age and oral tradition, which narrates how coffee was first discovered. It has been said that, one day, Kaldi noticed his goats behaving in an unusual and strange manner; prancing and cavorting. Kaldi thought that his goats were possessed and he decided to follow them into the forest to find the source of this mystery. Kaldi watched attentively as his goats ate some strange small red cherries.

Kaldi tried some of this fruits and found them to be sweet and pleasant. As a result, he was stimulated and became happy and energized. One day, an imam passed by and watched Kaldi in wonderment, as the goat herder and the goats were dancing and hoofing. The imam, a devout but curious man, inquired about the situation. Then Kaldi explained and gave some cherries to the holy man.

The imam did not recognize the cherries or the trees and, decided to take some of the fruits to his monastery. After a prolonged discussion, they decided to pray to Allah for guidance and revelation. The devotional dragged on until they fell asleep. An angel whispered into the imam’s ear, telling him that the cherries when boiled in water, promoted wakefulness, and wakefulness promoted prayer. And prayer was better than sleep, said the angel. The imam and the monks did as the angel said, and the monastery and the concoction became famous throughout Arabia.

The monks gave to this spirited praying drink the name of “Qahwah”, which has two meanings: a stimulating and invigorating drink, and the “Wine of Arabia”. And this is the story as to how Kaldi, his goats and coffee beans were immortalized in history.

Yours most truly,

Mariano Ospina

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