Coffee has been around so long we don’t remember our lives without it. We have memories of our grandparents drinking Turkish or American coffee and we have experienced the sudden market takeover of espresso through the innumerable cafés that have sprung up.
It is interesting to note that the first written botanical mention of the coffee plant was in 1591 by Prospero Alpini in his documentation of plants found in Egypt, during his three-year stint as the physician for the Venetian consul in Cairo.
We will explore the mysterious legends of this phenomenon we call coffee, brought to you by coffee buff, Leonardo Vaquero Otero.
One version, as all good fairytales go, is about a handsome young man named Ali and Princess called Jasmine. Ali was a medical man of sorts and worked in the Gondar market in East Africa. One day as Princess Jasmine was passing through the market, their eyes met...and it was love at first sight.
The king did not approve of her relationship with a commoner and even ordered the young man to be detained and banished.
Ali thought that maybe an exceptional gift could convince her father. For three years he sought after what he could offer the monarch. So that he wouldn’t fall asleep in his search, he began to drink something he discovered accidentally when a bean from a bush fell into a jar of boiling water.
At the brink of desperation, it dawned on him that his drink was precisely the kind of gift he was looking for. Ali took his drink to the king, who he was so pleased that, in return, he gave him his daughter Jasmine’s hand.
A less romantic version says that an Abyssinian goat herder named Kaldi noticed his animals became energetic when they ate the berries of a wild bush. Kaldi tasted the fruits and experienced euphoric effects. He presented some of the berries to a monk at the monastery in Kaffa, who began to experiment with them. One of his creations was a sort of tea, initially quite horrible, the legend goes.
In a fortunate accident, some of the beans were roasted, releasing a hypnotic fragrance. It was then that the beans’ delicious potential was realised. The beans were thereafter roasted before passing them through water.
A divine origin
The third legend is Saudi and gives the coffee a divine origin:
One day Allah saw his prophet Mohamed was troubled by the many problems faced. He sent the archangel Gabriel a gift that would encourage and comfort him: a drink as "black as the black stone of the Kaaba."
What we do know about it
The botanical origin of the coffee plant is in northeast Africa, Ethiopia, specifically in Kaffa (from where it may have received its name). Initially, the inhabitants developed a fermented alcoholic beverage from coffee beans. Similarly, since ancient times, man chewed coffee because its stimulant effects generate a feeling of well-being.
*Keep an eye out for our upcoming coffee calendar tasting tour around the popular chain, hotel and independent cafés in Cairo and Alexandria.
Leo Vaquero Otero, the co-author is a connoisseur of many things, including coffee. He has been the executive director of various 5-Star hotels, including in the exotic Canary Islands and acclaimed Anfi resorts. To his Bachelor’s degree from the Centro Superior de Hostelería in Galicia (Spain), his certificate from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and Ecole Hôtelière in Laussane (Switzerland), Otero adds real-world experience and a gleaming reputation. Today he is a sought-after consultant for multi-million dollar tourism and hotel projects around the world. He offers Ahram Online his expertise stemming from his exposure to all kinds of delicacies, both in the kitchen and at the table of world-class restaurants.