Birth of a myth: the discovery of coffee between legend and reality

Legend has it that Kaldi was a shepherd, living in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia. Kaldi would take his father’s goats and lead them to pasture. Once in the pasture he observed that the goats eating some red berries from the bushes near the meadows seemed as if invigorated by a new energy.

Kaldi realized that there was something strange about those berries, and cautiously tasted one of them. He did not mind the taste at all, and he ate more. Soon after, all his fatigue was as if gone: not only did he no longer yawn, but he felt like running and jumping as well.

He called back the goats and headed back toward the village. On the doorstep he met his father, and told him about the incident, even handing him some of those magical red berries. The man, after tasting them, felt an energy on him that he now believed was only a thing of the past. That night father and son were not sleepy, and they took the opportunity to talk at length in the moonlight.

Unable to come to terms with the unusual phenomenon, the shepherds turned to a nearby monastery and exposed the fact to the wise old monk. The morning following inspecting the pastures, the monk picked up some of those red berries that kaldi had seen his goats eating and took them with him to the monastery.

The seeds were examined, subjected to numerous experiments, and when they were also toasted over the fire, ground and poured into hot water, the monks noticed that the dark brew produced by this processing, made them very agitated and excited, disturbed their conventional serenity, and, when night came, the religious found it hard to sleep.


Illustrations by Valentina Raddi