coffee shops


How one goat herder started humanity's centuries-long coffee craze

The world's favorite drink has a rich, robust history.

Representative Image from Canva

Goats are the GOAT for discovering coffee.

Had a cup of coffee today? If yes, you are part of the world’s 4.83 billion coffee drinkers. That’s approximately 60% of our entire adult population.

Coffee is virtually everywhere, in various different forms. A dark roast americano at the press of a button at home. Fancy lattes at the nearest coffee shop, of which there are two more across the street. The cheap, diluted stuff from the gas station. The possibilities are endless.

Coffee is so commonplace now that it’s almost hard to fathom a time before it…a time when people had to either take a nap or surrender to being tired all day (those were the real dark times).

But just like every modern day convenience, coffee has an origin story. And a pretty interesting one at that.

As a video from Ted-Ed explains, coffee is said to have been discovered by a goat herder.

So sayeth the Ethiopian legend: A goat herder named Kaldi noticed that when members of his flock began to eat the berries off of a certain tree, they’d get bursts of energy. When Kaldi decided to try the berries himself, he too got a jolt.

Considering Ethiopia is where most agree that coffee originated, why not go with their legend? Coffee was being foraged here by the 1400s, but instead of roasting the beans, the leaves would be brewed just like tea. Or the berries would be combined with butter and salt for a quick energy snack. (I’ll stick to my chocolate covered espresso beans, thank you very much.)

Eventually the berries would be made into an “energizing elixir” and traded along the route to the Middle East. By the 1450s, coffee was already popular in Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Yemen and Persia.

By this time, coffee was also used for ritual worship in Yemen, which brought about the new brewing methods of roasting and grinding the beans. Dark roast lovers…you can thank the Ottoman Empire.

There was even a period in the 1500s when authorities tried to ban coffee, for fear that it was too much of an intoxicating drug (which, scientifically speaking, isn’t too inaccurate). But eventually that concern was ruled out, and coffee houses began popping up all over the map, spreading to Istanbul, Damascus, and beyond.

Not only more coffee shops, but coffee bean farms. And this is where we got certain names for coffee drinks, like Mocha and Java.

By the 1650s, at the dawn of the Enlightenment Period, coffee shops were opened in Europe. This had an especially powerful effect on London culture, as tavern-going was replaced by attending coffee houses, dubbed “penny universities.” For just one penny (the price of a cup of coffee), customers could not only get a burst of energy, but exposure to new ideas from academics, artists, and intellectuals.

Of course, new ways of thinking didn’t really sit well with King Charles II at the time. Fearing that it might become a threat to his throne, he attempted to “close coffee-houses altogether,” an order which he went back on two days before it would go into effect, as Brian Cowan writes in “The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse.”

By 1906, when the world’s first commercial espresso machine and industrial roasting machine were introduced, we began getting our first coffee brands, which would slowly make their way into many homes around the globe. Only a few short years later, coffee breaks were introduced to a majority of workplaces. And here we are today, in a land where PSLs (pumpkin spice lattes, for the uninitiated) are an expected annual delight and you can take your cup of joe with a zillion different kinds of alternative milks. What a time to be alive.

Luckily, the ways of creating and consuming coffee continue to evolve in ways that are more ethical and sustainable. It’s no secret that, historically, slave labor was used to harvest the product, and Indigenous peoples have been displaced to secure more growing land. Today, there are certification efforts being made to right those wrongs, including livable wages and incorporating different farming techniques like agroforestry. There’s certainly more progress to be made here, but progress is being made nonetheless.

There you have it, folks. Next time you’re enjoying a nice cuppa joe, savor all the history that goes into every single sip.

Watch the full video below: