The Discovery of Coffee
One of Ethiopia's most unique features are its abundant Arabica coffee forests, and freely-growing coffee plants. No surprise then, to hear that this is where coffee began.Stories about the discovery of coffee are abundant. Most tell the tale of how goatherds spottedtheir goats prancing about after eating the berries of a particular tree, grew curious, and tried the berries themselves. Thus coffee was born. But this is a rather simplistic explanation; a more probable one is offered by Jeff Koehler in his wonderful book on coffee, Where the Wild Coffee Grows: The Untold Story of Coffee from the Cloud Forests of Ethiopia to your Cup.
Koehler quotes Ethiopian historian, Bekele Woldemariam, when he writes of the discovery of coffee in what was probably the 2nd C. "A shepherd of goats and later his family noticed the special smell of coffee from the breath of goats. The shepherd was called Kalli or Kalliti. Kalli followed the route of the goats and noticed the type of plant leaves which the goats anxiously ate. Kalliti then picked some of the leaves, took them home and told the story of how he had discovered them. The family of Kalliti curiously and eagerly put the leaves later to be known as coffee in the boiled water. When they tasted the water they found it to have a pleasant and unique taste. The discovery of this taste soon spread throughout Kaffa. The leaves of the coffee were ground and boiled for drinking purposes for an uncertain period of time; i.e., before the beans of the coffee were discovered." In other words, the leaves came before the berry. The veracity of this is borne out by the fact that even today, many Ethiopians brew the leaves of the coffee plant as well as its beans. It is also quite likely that coffee was first eaten; only later did it meander into its better-known beverage form.
Ethiopian Coffee CultivationThe centre of origin of Arabica coffee in Ethiopia is its forests, especially those of the highlands of Kafa, which presumably is what the word 'coffee' evolved from. Coffee grows happily here, twined with fruit trees, cardamom, pepper and bamboo - a nourishing ecosystem. To this day, forested coffee remains one of the country's means of cultivation. It is most likely from here that coffee spread, out of Ethiopia, first to Yemen through trade, later spidering its way throughout the world.
However, by far the largest method of coffee cultivation in the country is that of small family plots. Everywhere I travelled to, the people I spoke to, had their own garden plots of land: drivers, tourist guides, shopkeepers, almost everyone I spoke to told me that they helped on their family coffee plots. All of rural Ethiopia seems to be dotted with these, making it all the more special whenever I was invited into people's homes for a cup.
Here are some cultivation statistics from Koehler -- "Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa, and the fifth largest in the world. Its 2016-17 crop was around 390,500 metric tons of green coffee. It produces purely Arabica coffee. Usually referred to as Ethiopian heirloom, the variety is a wily mix from wild, old-growth trees, taken, over time, from the forests and raised in gardens, and seeds selected from the best-producing trees and passed around. This gives Ethiopian coffees the broadest spectrum of flavors found in any producing country."
Coffee in Addis Ababa
No matter where you go in Ethiopia, coffee shops liberally pock the landscape. Nowhere is this truer than in Addis Ababa, its bustling capital city. Hands down, the most popular place to drink and buy Ethiopian coffee is at Tomoca Coffee, the first coffee company of the city, and consequently the best known. In its oldest outlet (it hasseveral), customers stand side by side, sipping coffee (regular black or Italian style, such as macchiato or espresso) from tiny glasses. Addis' answer to Starbucks is Kaldi Coffee -- outlets have sprouted across the city, some of them offering wavering WiFi, and all of them packed with young people. Finally, there's Alem Buna. Go to its Kazantchis outlet to buy packets of its special highland blend for the friends back home who were unfortunate enough to miss out on this coffee cornucopia.About the Author:Meher Mirza is an independent writer and editor, with a focus on food and travel. Formerly with BBC Good Food India, she loves anime, animals and artsy things but also comics, technology and death metal.Disclaimer:The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.