Ever had a day without coffee in urban life? It seems unthinkable, right?
There is more fuss and discussion about coffee than there has ever been before in today's urban societies. Many people start their days drinking a cup of coffee. Many have a habit of drinking coffee before starting work every day, after lunch or in the afternoon.
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the whole world as well as one of the most profitable international commodities, millions of people are drinking coffee every day. However, the path to today's popularity of coffee was not easy.
So, what is coffee actually?
The seeds that are used to produce coffee are roasted seeds of a kind of fruit named "Coffee Cherry". If someone bites the main cherry fruit inside the coffee, the seed will split into two ovals.
Was coffee discovered by goats?
There are many legends regarding the origin of coffee. Many of these legends point to an Ethiopian goat shepherd named Kaldi as the discoverer of coffee.
It is said that one day, Kaldi was herding his goats in a highland area near an Abyssinian monastery. There, he noticed his goats getting excited after eating berries from a tree.
Being curious, Kaldi tried the fruit for himself and felt unusually energetic.
Kaldi rushed home, pockets filled with the fruits and told his wife the story. Kaldi's wife called the fruits "heaven sent" and advised him to share the berries with the monks of the monastery.
The legends say that the monks did not welcome Kaldi's discovery. One monk referred to the berries as "the Devil's work" and tossed them into fire.
But the fragrance coming from the roasting beans caught the monks' attention. The monks then removed the beans from the fire and attempted to preserve them in an ewer filled with hot water. Thus, the first cup of coffee was brewed.
This newly brewed beverage had an aroma that attracted even more monks. After drinking it, the monks experienced the unusual effect for themselves.
Another legend has it that Kaldi was a lonely goat herder. After finding the berries, he told an abbot of the local monastery about his finding.
The abbot threw the berries into the fire but could not resist the fragrance coming from the roasted beans.
The roasted beans were raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water; so was made the world's first cup of coffee.
The abbot and his monks found that the beverage kept them awake for hours at a time – just the thing for men devoted to long hours of prayer. Word spread and so did the hot drink, even as far afield as the Arabian Peninsula.
Or was coffee brewed by a saint?
Many say that coffee was invented by a Sufi saint named Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili in Yemen.
He is said to have spotted berry-eating birds flying over his village unusually energetically. On tasting some jettisoned berries, he too felt the same kind of energy as told in the previous stories.
Was it the Sufi or his disciple?
There is another legend that says - a sheik named Omar, disciple to the Sufi saint Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili was exiled from Mocha (Arabia Felix, in present-day, Yemen).
He used to live in a desert cave near Ousab. One day, being hungry, Omar found some berries and chewed them but the berries tasted bitter.
He first roasted the berries but this made the berries hard. Then he tried boiling them, resulting in a fragrant brown liquid.
After drinking the liquid, he felt a rush of unusual energy.
His "miracle discovery" was held in such great awe that he was allowed to return home to Mocha. He was also elevated to sainthood.
With coffee came coffeehouse
Whatever may be the actual origin of coffee, its unusual effect made it popular. The first person known to have written about coffee was a Persian physician and philosopher named Rhazes or Razi.
Catholic Christians, at first, vehemently opposed it, calling it the "Drink of the Devil". Coffee also inspired a "women's petition" in which coffee was described as "bitter, stinking, nauseous puddle water".
Though Islamic authorities pronounced the drink intoxicating and therefore, prohibited drinking it, many Muslims were attracted to coffee as a substitute for alcohol.
Despite the threat of severe penalties, coffee drinking spread rapidly among Arabs, their neighbours, and even gave rise to a new social and cultural entity - the coffeehouse.
Coffeehouses first appeared in Mecca in the 15th century and in Istanbul (then Constantinople) in the following century.
Health effects of coffee consumption
Coffee has had many uses through history, from spiritual intoxicant to erotic stimulant. The caffeine, an alkaloid present in coffee, is the element that gives the invigorant effect of coffee and it is the main reason behind its popularity.
Coffee consumption has been associated with various health benefits and health risks. Three to four cups of coffee which is known as moderate consumption can reduce risk of various diseases.
Researches have also linked moderate coffee consumption to a longer life span.
Excessive coffee consumption can cause sleep disturbances, anxiety, jittery sensations, and heartburn.