Happy International Women's Day: Thank you to the women of Ethiopia!

Thursday, 9 March, 2017
In the Beginning
The African Origins of Coffee

Words by Jake Easton
Illustrations by Fathima’s Studio


The following represents my research into one of the possible histories as to how humanity first enjoyed coffee and its spread to the rest of the world.

Up until 1990, and the advent testing for genetic lineage, the thinking was that coffee could have come from Yemen via Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

For the 100th anniversary of Probat (arguably the first name in roasters worldwide) they released a book titled, “The Heavenly Inferno” and in this salute to coffee and Probat some fairly astute German writers researched the hell out of coffee, its origin and the legend. This book was written in 1968 but was kept as fact until very recently...and it is this version of our history that urgently needs rewriting.

In an effort to address our world of coffee the Specialty Coffee Association of America & Europe released a great video on Youtube (https://youtu.be/fBZiRPRVYZk) about the world coffee community coming together around our common cause. This video on coffee is a wonderful addition to the world sentiment towards our industry and our history; and, the best part of this video, for me, is the beginning of the video wherein the narrator says, “We don’t know who first made coffee”. This lone statement spells the end of the “History” of coffee and denotes the beginning of a real version of its discovery and its lineage. It may seem sacrilege to question the widely acknowledged story of how coffee was first brewed but hey, it’s coffee and there are no proofs other than those we posit.

The following is my theory and one that I put forward to PechaKucha Cape Town in 2015. As a researcher I love the idea that I can be proven wrong and that my theories might be incorrect so if you have any information I would like to hear it and include its message or use it to refute my claim (info@tribecoffee.co.za).

Science combined with research into human existence; ritual traits & discoveries linked with Ethno-Anthropolgy have led me to discern the following statements regarding a possible history of coffee:

1. Coffee was discovered by a child.
2. Coffee was roasted and then made by a woman.

Further insight as a result of the above statements leads the following statements to be likely as a correlation to the above:
There was no Kaldi.
There was no sufi mystic.
There was no Coffee Man of Arabia.
There was no Imam who’s nose twitched.

Here’s one of the “Histories” as written by the coffee conquerors. “Coffee was discovered about 900 years ago by an Arabic, mystic goatherd”.

Not likely.

For over 5000 years children have been goatherds throughout the world. Why? Well it was a test of manhood, it was a way of keeping warriors nearby and, it was a way of ensuring tribal loyalty through having sons of other tribes guard your animals. In Europe, goatherds were always young men and women...unmarried. In Africa it was the same.

1000+ years ago a young boy or girl goes out with the goats and after a day or so on the hoof realises the goats are acting strange...well stranger than usual for a goat (which is for all intents and purposes possibly really strange). At this point the child realises that the goats were eating cherries from one of the older heirloom varietal from southern Ethiopia or northern Kenya (they can say which one very soon) and probably had a mild heart attack. (Ethiopia was, at this time, both pastoralist and agriculturalist.)

This child, boy or girl, knowing that their goats might die most likely took them all back to the tribal home and told the head of the tribe what had happened, and presented this elder with the cherries and the seeds.

Here’s where things get awesome.

+5000 years ago the world had wine, beer, oils from seeds, and later (from Egypt) yeasts for bread.

The Tribal leader when presented with the fruits and seeds and upon seeing that the goats/animals were not dead most likely either had a slave taste the food or tasted it himself. Upon receiving no ill effects gave the seeds to the community kitchen.

In these kitchens were all of the young men, their uncles and, the grandfathers...wait wait wait NO. Sorry, that’s totally incorrect and silly; we all know it’s the women that belong in the kitchen right? Well maybe not in modern times but back in the day in these kitchens were slaves, young ladies and the lower women of the tribe. And the woman in charge of this kitchen knew how to: crush seeds for oils, reduce a thing to get an extract, make wine, crush herbs, make bread, roast seeds and, make beer.

I posit that these amazing African women tried all of the above with the coffee cherry and the coffee seed when it was presented to them.

If you know how to make beer you know you roast the barley or hops, crush them and immerse them in boiling water to extract the flavours; and then, allow the ferment to occur with natural yeasts.

I imagine these African Women roasting the coffee seed and smelling its aroma and using it instantly in foods and in breads. Further I imagine these same women privately trying to make beer (the men’s domain at the time) and making the black elixir we all love so much. Roasting the seeds, crushing those same seeds, boiling water and drinking it as a private act for the kitchen and the women. Then, probably very shortly thereafter, offering this drink it to a lover or a loving husband in a ceremony designed to seduce (it does).

In modern Ethiopia there is the coffee ceremony, run by women and dating back hundreds of years. Further to this ceremony Ethiopia men were required to be able to provide coffee for their wives as a measure of their marital obligation.

So we can deduce that an African Child (boy or girl) discovered the Coffee Cherry as being edible via their goats. As a further measure of logical deduction and ethnographic historical data we can discern that an African Woman Roasted and made the First Cup of Coffee.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to African Women.

Let me be the first, “To every woman of African descent (that’s all of you by the way), I thank you for saving my life and the lives of every person here at Tribe by inventing this amazing drink and giving it as a gift of love to those men who merit your labours.”

An African child discovered the coffee cherry.
An African Woman discovered roasted coffee and the drink coffee.

Thank you. (*Drops the Mic*)

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