The Coffee Seller,
Abdullah Biraderler, c. 1860
Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical.
-Jonathan Swift, 1722
“Coffee can cause excessive stimulation of the brain. In this state one may express oneself in a striking manner sometimes combined with rapid associative thinking. In this state, drinking cups of coffee in quick succession … and with this excessive consumption, eliciting deep profundity regarding all the affairs of the world … and the coffeehouse can also elicit the attention of politicians.”
-Lewis Lewin, Phantastica: Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs (1931)
The ancient land of Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia, is regarded as the cradle of humanity as well as the birthplace of the coffee bean. At the point where Africa and the Arab world meet, known as the hump of Africa, this mountainous land, divided by the earthquake-plagued Great Rift Valley, recalls sites and miracles in the Bible. From here Moses led his people northward across the Red Sea to freedom.
In later times, the Queen of Sheba descended from the Ethiopian mountains to join King Solomon in Jerusalem and, according to legend, founded the Aksum dynasty that held sway during the First Century A.D. (Including the years 572-1270 when there were periods of interruption of its rule, this dynasty remained in power until Haile Selassie replaced it in 1974.)
Always relatively poor, the Ethiopians were nevertheless a proud and free people, most of them adopting a secluded, orthodox form of Christianity when no other African peoples held that faith. The historian Gibbons noted: "Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Ethiopians slept nearly a thousand years, forgetful of the world by which they were forgotten." Also forgotten—or not discovered yet — was the beverage that we now call coffee.