View from a traditional Turkish coffeehouse,
19th Century
A Cup of Coffee - A Special Memory of 40 Years
Yapı Kredi Publications

The Baffled Boy and His Crazy Goats

Exactly when or by whom coffee was first discovered we do not know. The most interesting of the various Arab and Ethiopian legends is the dancing goats story. A goat herder and natural born poet named Kaldi loved to follow the paths of his goats that grazed in the foothills of the mountains. He didn’t expect to have to work much, so he was free to create songs and play them on his kaval flute. In the late afternoon, when he sounded a shrill note, his goats would quickly stop their grazing in the forest and follow him home.

But one afternoon the goats did not come. Kaldi blew on his flute again very loudly. Still not one goat appeared. Amazed, the boy climbed up the heights trying to hear them. At last, far in the distance, he heard their bleating. As he ran around a corner on his trail, Kaldi suddenly came upon the goats.

Gathered under the rain forest’s vast canopy their heads shining in the sunlight, the goats were running, butting each other’s heads, dancing on their hind legs and bleating excitedly. Holding his breath in amazement, the boy stared at them, completely baffled at what he saw. They must be under a spell he thought to himself. What else could it be?

Observing them, he saw that every one of the goats was chewing shiny green leaves and red fruits from a kind of tree he had never seen before. It must be these trees that were making the goats crazy. Was this a poison? Were they going to die? His father would kill him!

A few hours earlier the goats had rejected returning home with him but they had not died. The next day the goats headed straight to the same woods and repeated these actions. This time, Kaldi thought it would be safe for him to join in. At first he chewed a few leaves. They tasted bitter. But as he chewed, he felt a tingle in his throat that spread slowly through his whole body. Next he tried the fruits. The fruit was slightly sweet and the beans inside were coated with a deeply flavored fluid. Then he began to chew on them and he popped another fruit into his mouth.

After that, according to the legend, Kaldi began to dance happily with his goats. Poems and songs tell of this. He felt as if he would never again get tired or nervous. Kaldi mentioned the magical trees to his father, the rumors spread and coffee became a part of the Ethiopian culture. It is most likely that coffee had been brewed for hundreds of years before the time that the Arab doctor Rahzes first wrote about it in the 10th century.

Just as legend tells us, at first the beans and leaves were probably chewed, but the creative Ethiopians soon developed tastier ways to get their caffeine. They brewed the leaves and fruits into a light tea. To get it to release a burst of energy, they mixed the pounded beans with animal fats. They made a wine from the fermented mash. They also made a sweet drink from the roasted hulls of the beans, today called kisher, or at that time qishr. Finally, most likely in the 16th Century, someone roasted, pounded and boiled the coffee seeds. Ah! The coffee we know (and its many varieties) had arrived at last.

Still today the Ethiopians usually consume their coffee as part of a ritual lasting up to an hour. Charcoal is heated in a special earthen container, while the guests enjoy a chat as they sit on three-legged stools. Meanwhile, the lady of the home carefully washes the blanched beans in order to remove the hulls. As the beans brought from the neighbor’s trees have been sun-dried, the hulls can be removed by hand. In order to create a strong aroma, the hosts will put a little incense on the coals. The lady of the house then places on top of the coals a little iron tray about a foot in length. Carefully she stirs the beans on the grill with iron prongs. In a few minutes the beans will turn the color of cinnamon and then crackle with the first “pop” of classic coffee roasting. When they turn a golden coffee color they are taken from the fire and placed in a small mortar. The coffee is pounded to a powder with a pestle and placed in an earthenware container. A little ginger and cinnamon are added to the coffee powder.

The coffee smell is now exotic and irresistible. At the first round the drink is poured into tiny cups without handles along with a spoonful of sugar. Everyone murmurs their enjoyment at each sip. The coffee is thick and unavoidably a portion of the powdered coffee stays in the liquid. But when the coffee has been drunk most of the grounds remain at the bottom of the cup.

In order to serve coffee a second time,  the host will add a little more water and brew again. After that the guests will depart.

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