The True Origins of Coffee: Popularity in Arabia

Posted on Jan 23, 2012

The True Origins of Coffee: Popularity in Arabia

Much of the Arabian history is well documented because of the work of Abd Al-Qadir al-Jaziri, who wrote a comprehensive treatise on the subject in 1587. This work reported that in Arabia, coffee was first used for its energizing purposes in Aden, which is not far from Mocha.

Mocha’s location in Yemen puts it smack-dab on the southwest coast of the Arabian Peninsula, right across the Red Sea from Africa and the Middle Age regions of northwestern Ethiopia. This made exportation of coffee beans from its native Ethiopia to the Arabian world quite easy, and the bean found its way into the Arabian subcontinent through both Yemen and Egypt. Once discovered in Arabia, it was then roasted and brewed so that it took the appearance of coffee that we would today recognize as the beverage. Needless to say, its energizing effects proved to make coffee a favorite morning beverage, as noted by the German physician Leonhard Rauwolf in the 16th century who had taken a trip to the Near East.

Mocha, in Yemen, was the world capital of coffee between the 15th and 17th centuries – and even after coffee had spread farther the Mocha bean enjoyed an enduring popularity that continues to this day. However, it’s no surprise that the energizing beverage started to produce some “buzz” and eventually spread to other places in the Middle East, as well as regions as far-ranging as Persia and Turkey to North Africa.

After encountering the bean first in Ethiopia, coffee growers in Yemen started cultivating the plant in Arabia. It was rarely exported over long distances from Yemen – and when it was, it was usually boiled in order to remain sterilized. In the 17th century, as legend has it, a Sufi named Baba Budan smuggled a few fresh coffee beans (which, as you’ll remember, are actually the pits of the seeds) to India for the purposes of cultivation – an event that could have contributed to the further spread of coffee throughout the world and the decline of Mocha as the coffee “capital” of the world.