Over a millennium, coffee has coaxed its way into our economies and cultures. So today, we honor the roasted bean beverage for its pervasiveness and perseverance by exploring five legends, fun facts, and traditions involving the brown-liquid ambrosia that java-whipped the world.
Coffee’s Origin Story: Kaldi Version
According to Ethiopian legend, a goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee’s energetic properties in 850 AD. After eating the red berries from a particular bush, Kaldi noticed an uptick in his flock’s energy. Curious, he popped a few too. Amazed and confused by the post-consumption rush, Kaldi threw a bunch of samples in his sack and rushed to the nearest Sufi monk. He wanted answers!
But after a hasty inspection, the monk condemned the berries and tossed them into a fire. At that point, an intoxicating aroma filled the air. Enchanted by the smell, the Sufi quickly reversed course, extinguished the fire, raked up the coffee embers, and mixed them into hot water.
And that, Ethiopian’s claim, is how their forebearers created coffee.
But coffee’s origin story is a contentious issue, and the Yemenese tell a different tale.
Coffee’s Origin Story: Omar Version
If you ask people in modern-day Yemen how coffee came to be, they’ll likely tell tales about a man named Omar — though some say it’s Umar. Whichever the spelling, everyone agrees he was a 1st-century faith healer who cured the daughter of then ruler King Mocha. But when it came to figuring out a reward, Omar and the king diverged. The medicine man thought to take the princess was within his rights, but the king scoffed and exiled Omar to a desert cave.
To survive, Omar started eating red berries that grew nearby. Finding them intolerably bitter, he roasted them, but the resulting product was too hard. So, Omar boiled them, which yielded a drink that sustained him for days. When word of the “miracle potion” spread, King Mocha welcomed Omar back, and religious clerics canonized the prayer healer.
How America Learned to Love Coffee
America’s meet-cute with coffee happened in the mid-1940s. World War II soldiers, who enjoyed coffee rations overseas, returned home with a yen for the beverage. Recognizing an emotional string ripe for sales plucking, the Pan-American Coffee Bureau launched an ad campaign that urged: “Give yourself a Coffee-Break — and Get What Coffee Gives to You!” Around that time, famed behavioral psychologist John B. Watson joined the Maxwell House, marketing team. They tasked him with popularizing coffee breaks; he excelled at his job, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Iced Coffee: The New Normal
Back when “Mad Men” were molding the nation’s habit, coffee only came one way: hot. But the times have changed, and these days, cold-brew and iced coffees are the new summer norm — especially at beach destinations. But did you know that cold-brew concoctions take much longer to make and that iced coffee and cold-brewed are not the same things?
Pay-It-Forward Coffee Tradition in Italy
Hundreds of years ago, Italians fell in love with coffee, and the passion never faded! According to Illy, a leading Italian coffee producer, there is one coffee bar for every 490 people in Italy — and recently, a new tradition has popped up in nearly all of them: suspended coffee. When a person with disposable income buys a coffee, they often pay for two, allowing for a person of lesser means to enjoy a cup of joe on the house. Che Bello!
So when you’re savoring tomorrow’s inaugural coffee — or today’s seventeenth cup — think of the people who created the divine drink and the pioneers who ensure its survival!