How Coffee Was Discovered: Legends and Lore

January 11, 2021Jennifer Lewis
coffee legends and lore

For so many of us, coffee is the single most necessary elixir to jump-start our day. These magic beans manifest us into functional human beings, for without it, well, let’s just say the zombies in The Walking Dead seem mild compared with those without a proper morning caffeine boost. We rely so heavily on our daily fix that Dunkin’ Donuts has created a whole marketing campaign around America’s obsession.

It’s reported that 150 million Americans drink coffee every day, roughly half the population, and as of 2015, the coffee industry raked in about $225.2 billion. Suffice it to say, coffee is quite profitable here in the United States. American coffee consumption pales in comparison, at least on a per capita basis, with countries like Finland or Sweden, where it’s practically unheard of to not be an avid coffee drinker. 

We love the taste, we love the smell, and we absolutely love the jolt of motivation we feel when it finally starts to kick in, so where did this enchanted concoction originate from anyway? 

kaldi, dancing goats, ethiopia, coffee
Were Kaldi and his dancing goats real, or just one among many legends regarding the origins of coffee? Public domain image.

The thing is — no one really knows for sure.

There are plenty of theories, and some interesting folklore, about coffee’s first discovery. So, pour your favorite coffee beverage (or coffee beer, no judgments) and read on as we dive into the strange tales and legends behind the beloved drink’s mysterious origin.  

Kaldi and a case of dancing goats

The first and most popular story concerning coffee’s origin began in Ethiopia around 850 AD when Kaldi, a goatherd, discovered his flock eating bright red berries from an unfamiliar tree. When Kaldi approached the goats, he witnessed something remarkable; this magical fruit had transformed the lethargic herd into dancing, majestical creatures. Intrigued by what he encountered, Kaldi took the berries to a local monastery, where nearby monks began concocting the very first batch of coffee. They claimed drinking these mysterious berries kept them alert, especially during times of prolonged prayer. Word of this acclaimed stimulant began to travel and eventually spread to other parts of the world, resulting in the global phenomenon that still holds true today. The myth of Kaldi and his dancing goats have become the source of inspiration for many coffee shops around the world, most notably Ethiopia’s largest coffee chain, Kaldi’s

How a cup of coffee defeated 40 enemies and pleased 40 virgins

Islam’s most famous prophet had his own pleasant encounter sipping the magical beverage, for legend has it that Muhammad himself was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and gifted the enigmatic potion that gave him enough strength to continue on his journey, one that would end in the slaying of 40 enemies and the conquest of 40 virgins. Even to this day, coffee is widely consumed in most Arabic regions and is deeply associated with Muhammad and indulged in during his annual birthday celebrations. Ancient folklore claims it only took one sip of coffee for Muhammad to reach victory — imagine what a Starbucks grande would do to him today.

kaldi, dancing goats, ethiopia, coffee
Omar the healer. Public domain image.

Omar the Healer and his secret healing ingredient

Omar the Healer lived his days in Yemen as an aide, curing the sick through meditation and prayer. When he was subsequently banished from his hometown of Mocha (for reasons still unknown to this day), Omar survived on curious red berries he stumbled across. After finding their taste to be too bitter, he roasted the berries, drinking the water in which he cooked them. When word traveled back to Mocha that Omar survived his banishment due to the creation of some magical potion, he was immediately invited back. Local patients consumed this new concoction, resulting in the alleviation of many of their ailments. Omar was deemed a local hero and was made a saint for his findings.

The tears of the supreme sky God

The Oromo are one of the largest Cushitic-speaking groups, native to Ethiopia, and they have their own lore on how coffee was first discovered. According to ancient myths, the God Waqa sprouted the first coffee beans from his very own eyes after having to convict one of his loyal men to death. The Oromo believe that while other plants may grow and prosper with sun and rain, it is the coffee beans that will only sprout from the tears of a God. To this day, coffee is still highly regarded within the Oromo culture. 

Although we may never truly know when or how coffee was invented, there’s nothing like some good old lore and legends to keep things interesting. For who knows? Perhaps coffee beans were manifested from an ancient deity or were key in healing an entire region of sick patients in Yemen. If 2020 has taught us anything, nothing these days seems too strange to be believed.  

Jennifer Lewis
Jennifer Lewis
Jennifer Lewis is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. A native of New York, Jennifer is a media relations manager in the music industry and a freelance writer who specializes in true crime, entertainment, and culture. She’s traveled throughout the world not only to find her own story, but to also hear the stories of those longing to tell them. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her cat, Avery.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram
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