10.16.2008

Origins of Coffee


“I’m not addicted. I could quit any day,” said my college roommate while sipping a cup of the magical hot elixir. Many have echoed those words. You’re possibly one of them. Fortunately, I am not! Although, everybody who’s said the aforementioned words would say there’s nothing fortunate about my addiction-free lifestyle! From images of Juan Valdez, to tunes of Folgers being the “best part of waking up,” we are just one among many nations known for our lack of insipid (yes, intended) desire for coffee. We are a nation of coffee addic…I mean we just really like the stuff.

The U.S. coffee market grosses nearly $18 billion annually. (I bet if coffee execs issued “sub-prime” cups of coffee, we’d have a bigger problem than a $700 billion bailout...bloodshot eyes, students missing exams, really bad hangovers, people killing each other at work, and ultimately…rioting that makes L.A. in ‘92 look like child’s play!). Americans also complain about the cost of gasoline, but will pay for a few ounces of something that costs much more. If we pumped coffee at the station, most certainly there’d be riots with a charge of approximately $32 per gallon!

So where does this costly fluid flow from? What are the origins of these TDF (to-die-for) beans? The legend is as follows:
Once upon a time in Ethiopia, there was a staid goat-herder named Kaldi who herded equally staid goats. One evening, the goat-herder was surprised to discover that his goats had failed to return to their stable. He went out into the night to look for them. His surprise was significantly intensified when he finally came upon his herd: his goats were gathered together and appeared to be dancing vigorously in the moonlight.

Perplexed, the goat herder discovered that they were munching on the red berries of a dark leaved shrub. He concluded that this was the cause for their energetic movements. By this time, the goat herder was quite hungry himself, and a fair bit sleepy. Perhaps because this, he decided to throw caution to the wind, and joined his goats in eating the mysterious fruit.

Sometime later, a neighbourhood monk came upon this unique group composed of goat herder and goats dancing about with unabashed glee. Coming to the same conclusion as the goat herder, the monk decided to bring back some of the berries to the monastery. Being more scientifically minded then Kaldi or his goats, he conducted various experiments on the berry before trying it out himself. Trying various preparation methods, he particularly enjoyed one combination where he would boil the roasted berries, leaving behind a steaming brew. After a few sips, the monk found that he could now pray long into the night without getting drowsy. So he spread the word about this wonderful drink across Ethiopia, and across the world.
Certain elements of this story might be embellished, but I think the basic kernel is true viz. the dancing goats part. Everything else is probably mere conjecture.

Nearly 12 million Ethiopians work on either the 300,000+ peasant owned farms or the 19,000 state owned farms. The country has a rich coffee heritage and maintains a current global prowess (2nd in Africa and 7th in the world in exports) in the coffee market.

3 comments:

danielst3 said...

I'm going to have to give you some cash to pick up some of the fresh stuff while your there. I love Ethiopian coffee. My friend Paul brought me some back from his internship in Honduras and I was in Heaven. P.S. if you want to properly introduce the little guy to Ethiopian and Castro culture, you'll need two things in your house: coffee beans and coffee syrup!

Rachael and Jon said...

you also forgot blade meat and meals that make you think it's 10 degrees F outside (thanks Meade), and oh yeah, a lot of hyperbole when explaining ANYTHING!!!

danielst3 said...

I know - so Jon you will have to learn to speak in absolute terms. Rule of Thumb: Include any of the following phrases in any declaration - Always, Never, The best, The worst, cold as Antarctica, Freezing to death, I'm melting,...