Everywhere we look, people are drinking coffee, lining up to get it, or buying expensive machines so they can brew their own coffee at home.
Have you ever wondered how coffee became so popular? Would you be surprised if I told you that coffee became a big thing because of Muslims? The word, coffee, comes from the Turkish word, “Kahve,” which itself comes from the Arabic word, “Qahwah.” The world's first coffee lovers weren't Muslims. Rather, they were the Oromo people in Ethiopia. It's said that they've been chewing on coffee beans and leaves for thousands of years. They even crushed the coffee beans and mixed them with animal fat to create their own version of energy bars.
What we know from the records of 16th-century Muslim travelers is that Muslims were the first devoted drinkers of coffee.
Coffee found its way to Yemen through trade with Ethiopia. Consequently, it took on a life of its own. Muslims became obsessed with coffee. Coffee was consumed almost exclusively by Muslims for the first 200 or so years of its known existence. It was in the Muslim world that roasting and grinding coffee originated. Coffee was associated with religious activity.
Sufi Muslims drank it to enhance their devotional gatherings and spiritual fervor while chanting the name of God. Also, they thought that coffee could help them stay alert and concentrate during their nights of meditation. Coffee spread quickly to Mecca, Medina, Cairo, Aleppo, Damascus, and Istanbul.
By the 16th century, Yemen became the coffee capital of the world. We drink mocha today. Mocha was named after a port in Yemen on the Red Sea, which was central to the early coffee economy. Eventually, the Ottoman Empire took over as coffee exporters. This culture of coffee drinking spurred on a whole new social institution, the coffeehouse.
Coffeehouses quickly spread all over the Ottoman Empire. People drank coffee, played chess, backgammon, listened to stories, music, and shared news. Coffeehouses were referred to as, “Schools of the Wise.” It was the place to be for intellectual discussion and debate about the arts, science, literature, and politics.
However, not everyone was happy that coffeehouses were so popular. Religious leaders saw the coffeehouses as competitors of mosques, and political leaders were concerned that dissent might be stirred up in these gatherings.
Some Muslims felt that coffee was like hashish and wine. They were worried that coffee might alter people's mental and physical states. There were fatwas against drinking coffee, and in some places, coffee was banned. It was banned at Mecca in 1511, at Cairo in 1532, and at Istanbul in 1578. One can imagine the outrage that caused. Truly, people continued to drink it on the down-low and those pesky bans were overturned.
Eventually, coffee spread beyond the Muslim world. In 1605, coffee entered Europe through the great merchant city of Venice. Initially, people were suspicious. Catholic authorities called it a “Muslim drink.” People referred to it as, “The bitter invention of Satan.”
It is stated that Pope Clement, the Eighth, eventually intervened. He tasted coffee and declared that it should be baptized. In addition, he wanted to make coffee into a truly Christian beverage. Those were the beginnings of an attempt to deemphasize the role of Muslims in giving the world coffee.
Currently, this kind of thinking persists in writing about coffee. It wasn't coffee that became a part of European culture. Coffeehouses spread too. They overtook the common tavern. In the 1600s, the coffeehouses in Europe continued the tradition that started in the Ottoman Empire of being gathering places for artistic exploration and new ways of thinking.
For instance, philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau, debated ideas like the rights of man and the principles of democracy. Coffeehouses helped pull Europe out of the Dark Ages into the Enlightenment. The city of Mocha is no longer the coffee center of the world. Over time, European powers like Holland, France, Portugal, and Spain were able to cultivate coffee in their own colonies, often through slave labor, unfortunately. Today, Brazil is the biggest producer of raw coffee beans. Venezuela and Colombia are not far behind. Coffee is more popular than ever.
The coffee industry is worth $465.9 billion. There wasn’t much that has changed in the last few hundred years. Many people are diehard coffee lovers. The next time you sip on your morning coffee, or you're waiting in line at your favorite coffee shop, remember those Muslims a few hundred years ago who were obsessed with coffee. Then, Muslims proceeded to spread their love for the drink all over the world.