The Legends: Where Did Coffee Begin?
The origin of the world’s first single-origin coffee (and, really, the first coffee anywhere) comes from northeast Ethiopia, where legend states that a goat-herder named Kaldi noticed one of his goats chewing on a coffee bean and experiencing its now-famed energizing effects. Though this story supposedly occurred in the 9th century, there is no real evidence that northeastern Ethiopia was even aware of coffee earlier than about the 17th century.
The truth is that the further we rewind the clocks on coffee, the more hazy the story of its discovery becomes. Another account traces coffee’s beginnings to Sheik Omar, an exile who had to turn to eating the berries of a nearby plant and eventually discovered that by boiling them, the brown liquid that resulted made him feel energized.
The best evidence suggests that coffee was first brewed in the Arabian peninsula in the Mokha region of Yemen (yes, this region is responsible for the Mocha bean – but more about that later). There are definitive historical accounts that speak about the coffee brewed in this region beginning in the 1400s, with the popularity of coffee spreading throughout the Middle East within some two hundred years.
According to another legend, the famous Italian explorer, Marco Polo, encountered some Mocha beans in his exploration – even though he didn’t travel to Yemen. Instead, the story goes that Marco Polo was staying in Tyre (modern-day Lebanon) when he came across a merchant who was in possession of some of the Mocha beans. In the story, Polo brought these beans back with him to Europe, though it is now known that coffee did not become prominent in Europe for at least another century or two.