When you think coffee, you might think of a multi-billion-dollar industry that spans the globe. You might think of the famous European coffee houses that housed the great artists and revolutionaries of the Renaissance. Or Bach’s libretto, proclaiming that coffee tastes better than a thousand kisses. You might think of the political history of coffee, in particular of the American adoption of coffee in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, a period in which drinking tea was seen as unpatriotic. You might notice that the third world produces coffee for the first, and wince at the role that the slave trade played in the production. Or you might just think of frappuccinos.
What might not spring to mind is the role that religion has played in bringing you your morning cup of joe. (Full disclosure: I dislike coffee. I shouldn’t be writing this article.)
Coffee was discovered in late antiquity. Legend maintains that a ninth-century Ethiopian goat-herder named Kaldi observed that his goats were perky after chewing the bright berries of a certain (coffee) bush. He sampled them himself and, having never been exposed to caffeine before, felt energized. He brought the beans to a local Islamic monastic community, who sampled them. Disgusted by the berries, they tossed them aside, inadvertently roasting them in the flames of the fire. The beans inside the berries emitted a delicious aroma and thus, by accident, coffee was discovered.