Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Arabs Love Affair of Coffee

Arab Coffee Merchants (Credit: BBC)
Coffee’s discovery was said to have, according to legends, from a goat herder in an Ethiopian province of Kaffa. The mysterious hyperactivity of his goat led him to find a tree of berries – coffee berries – that led its eater to become very energetic and alive. Ethiopia back then was just a boat ride away in the strait of Aden before going to Yemen and the whole Arabian Peninsula. So it was not a surprise that the Arabs find out about coffee and made it advance into a widely drank beverage throughout the Islamic world.

However, Arabs disputed about the Ethiopian legend of discovery of coffee. There exist an Arabian tale of a Sufi sheikh that was also said to have discovered coffee. His name was Sheikh Omar. Omar was a condemned man. He was punished for unknown reasons to die of hunger and thirst in the middle of the desert near the port town of Mocha in Yemen. In the middle of the desert, with heat making him sweat and exhausted, probably in an oasis, he found a shrub with glistening green leaves, and fruit with red berries. He ate its berries and he became invigorated and felt alive. Because of the red berries, he survived a long time in the desert. So long that, the people of Mocha were amazed and thought of his survival as a miracle from Allah. The city let him return. And he was greeted by the people as a saint.

Weather true or not, the fact is that it was in Yemen that first cultivated coffee plants were grown. And from Yemen, coffee became widely spread across the Arabian Peninsula. It was a tradition to Yemenis to eat the berries of the coffee shrub. They say it gives them energy to stay awake for a long time. However, it was said that Muhammad al-Dhabhani made the coffee berries into a drink. He dried the beans and added it into a hot water, thus coffee drink was made. The Sufis, an Islamic sect famous for their concentration to profess their faith in Allah, had a huge craving for coffee. They say that coffee allowed them to remain focus and remain awake all night for their evening worships to Allah. The rich also had love for coffee. Serving of it were served every day in houses of the affluent and rich. Also, the poor could have also a cup of coffee in their local coffee houses known as qahveh khaneh. First coffee houses were established in Yemen. By 15th century there are coffee houses in Mecca, to Cairo, and then to the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul.

The coffee houses were home of intellectual. Similar from today’s conditions, conditions, coffee was also the beverage for intellectuals. With a cup of coffee they can remain focus and relax and ready take up new knowledge. In Arabian coffee houses, many intellectuals flock and had conversations and debates. New findings and information are shared from one academic to the other. Thus, the coffee houses were known as Schools of the Wise.

Although coffee craze hit a lot of the people, some were disturbed and even enraged by it. Coffee was called Qahwa, which meant wine. In Islamic laws, wine was forbidden. Coffee was given such a name because it gives a similar effect to drinker, they became hyperactive and alive. A debate whether it was to be stop and banned began. In Mecca, the local governor, Kha’ir Beg, eventually, orchestrated a trial to whether coffee was guilty of making its drinkers intoxicated and become a drunkard like coffee. It was literally a trial. A basket of coffee seating in one side and a prosecutor in the other. Preachers slammed coffee as an addicting substance that would make its drinkers lose control of themselves and thus lose vision of Allah. More evidence were presented. Eventually, the Kha’ir Beg banned coffee in Mecca. Coffee houses were closed, seller beaten, drinkers, and punished severely by beating. But, the governor of Cairo who oversee, who loved coffee, overturned the decision and asked for the dismissal of Kha’ir Beg.

However, the debate about banning coffee and its effects continued for a long time. Several ban attempts were made but all failed due to wide support of the people of coffee.

Nevertheless, coffee trade flourished across the Islamic world. The Arabs and their Ottoman bosses continued to loved coffee even though some Sultans tried to ban the substance. Later on, the monopoly of coffee would not last long, because some Europeans, curious of the black gold, would try to smuggle it, and some, proliferate it across the world.

See also: 

Cheung, T. Coffee Wisdom: 7 Finely-Ground Principals for Living a Full-Bodied Life. Massachusetts: Conari Press, 2003. 

Pendergast, M. Uncommon Grounds: the History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2010. 

Standage, T. A History of the World in 6 Glasses. New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2005. 

Coffee and qahwa: How a drink for Arab mystics went global.” BBC. Accessed March 25, 2014. 

“The History of Coffee.” NCA. Accessed March 25, 2014.

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