The Islamic History of Coffee
April 30, 2020 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Sufi Muslims in Yemen would boil up the grounds of their coffee cherry leaves and pass around a dark potion as they prepared for a night of dhikr, or meditative chanting. A sixteenth-century Muslim writer named Abd al-Qadir al-Jaziri noted the habits of the mystics:

“They drank it every Monday and Friday evening, putting it in a large vessel made of red clay. Their leader ladled it out with a small dipper and gave it to them to drink, passing it to he right, while they recited one of their usual formulas. ‘There is no God, but God, the Master, the Clear Reality.”
posted by Ahmad Khani (22 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I thought coffee came from the Americas, like peppers and tomatoes. Huh.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:58 PM on April 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's been six or seven years since I read it, but I recall Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East by Ralph Hattox being pretty solid, and, as the title indicates, it deals with the advent of coffee-drinking in its original Muslim context. The introduction of coffee to Europe is mentioned only briefly.
posted by heteronym at 7:06 PM on April 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Coffee may have been discovered by ‘excited goats
posted by adamvasco at 7:09 PM on April 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

All good things have been discovered by excited goats. Thanks, Kaldi's goats!
posted by heteronym at 7:13 PM on April 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

I thought coffee came from the Americas, like peppers and tomatoes. Huh.

Mocha is a port city in Yemen.

(I thought so too for years)
posted by trig at 7:37 PM on April 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

I thought coffee came from the Americas, like peppers and tomatoes. Huh.

Caffeinated cacahuatl came from Mesoamerica, though. You get partial credit.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:45 PM on April 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oooh, this is excellent! Thank you so much for posting Ahmad Khani!
posted by esoteric things at 9:10 PM on April 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I thought coffee was originally specifically from Ethiopia?

And that for its introduction to Europe, they had to run it by the Pope. Made him a cup of coffee, and asked him: is this the devil's drink, or is it ok? And he tried it out (I think there was some speculation on whether he tried it with cream), shrugged his shoulders, and said: I think it's ok?
posted by Schmucko at 9:58 PM on April 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

How the Pope baptized coffee
posted by Schmucko at 9:59 PM on April 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

Now having read the article, interesting--while the Islamic origin of coffee was never something I felt hidden from me, maybe that early history's been de-emphasized. Also I learned there's such a thing as coffee-leaf tea (lower in caffeine than tea or coffee made from the bean)... I wonder why that's never made it to market?
posted by Schmucko at 10:07 PM on April 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

The writer talks about the West, and Eurocentrism, but if i might ask other mefites based in Europe, were you really unaware of the connection between the Arab world and coffee, or that coffee originates in Ethiopia? I mean ffs the bean's called arabica and you can't buy Ethiopian coffee without being told its the original.
What I'm questioning is if it's a European trend he's talking about or an American one.
posted by glasseyes at 1:22 AM on May 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Im on my phone or i would have looked it up before i posted. A quick Google shows Aziz and Gopnik are likely both American and certainly both based in New York while Jonathan Morris, based on his history, employment and interests, is most likely British.

I've no quarrel with Aziz's conclusions about the shortcomings of parochialism and prejudice in any kind of research: This is the tragedy of the white, Eurocentric gaze: it is limiting, dulling, narcotizing, for writer and reader alike, and therefore renders even the most fascinating stories into the periphery, and there they usually remain. After all this is the bedrock and rationale of inclusive practice in the west.

But the article is conflating American journalism with european scholarship when he talks about 'Eurocentrism' and those two things have only a very limited cosmetic resemblance.

It's also interesting to see the many comments below the article criticising Aziz for not emphasizing the Ethiopian origin of coffee more.
posted by glasseyes at 1:55 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

UK here, If you had asked me cold, I'd have said coffee originated in Africa. I wouldn't have known specifically Ethiopia, although I know coffee comes from there now.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:57 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I found the offended tone of the article a bit silly. Also Ethiopia is mentioned as if it were both Arab and Islam. It is neither, at least in any simple way.
posted by stonepharisee at 3:51 AM on May 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

I love Gopnik's writing, but he is about as Eurocentric as they come. I went to a reading of his once, admittedly a book about raising a family in France, in which he confessed to being quite a Francophile as a child.

Maybe it's because my neighborhood is full of Ethiopian restaurants, but I thought everybody knew that coffee came from Ethiopia, North Africa and/or the Islamic world in general (a pretty shaky grasp of history/geography, I know).
posted by kozad at 6:41 AM on May 1, 2020

glasseyes - Aziz and Gopnik are both Canadian.
posted by thecjm at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2020

Thanks thecjm, my mistske. Or well, NNorth American then.
posted by glasseyes at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2020

To add to the Canadian comment - I don't quite understand wanting to draw a distinction between Americans and Eurocentrism. It's like complaining about Constantinople calling itself Roman. But for a certain class of Canadians who went to the "right" schools (McGill and Queen's, which Gopnik and Aziz attended, respectively, being the "right" schools) your upbringing and outlook could definitely be described as Eurocentric.

You don't have to be European to be Eurocentric. You just have to think Europe (and its whitest colonies) is the centre of the world.
posted by thecjm at 7:10 AM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

N. American - Yes, I did know this, because I have graduate degrees based on research in a close-by field. You have no idea how ignorant the average USian is of the indebtedness of 'the west' to Islam and its scintillating cultural history.
posted by pseudophile at 8:35 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

i won't answer cos it'll be cheating but i just want to represent anyone who's doing their suhoor/sehri/sahur this ramadhan with a big mug of coffee if only to stave off the caffeine withdrawal this month (i still fall right asleep after the dawn prayers anyway)
posted by cendawanita at 10:21 AM on May 1, 2020

Yeah, I didn't get why he was calling Ethiopia Islamic. So I had to go look it up.
posted by mareli at 2:47 PM on May 1, 2020

There's actually a really interesting conversation to be had on what does and does not constitute Islamic. I'm thinking here of Oleg Grabar's work on what is "Islamic art": it goes beyond mere demographics or those who consider themself to be Muslim, as commented above. I think the Oxford Bibliographies page for "Islam in Ethiopia and Eritrea" would be a good starting point for this inquiry. Hussein Ahmed's essay "The Historiography of islam in Ethiopia," Journal of Islamic Studies Vol 3 No 1 (January 1992) might also prove promising. Transculturation has a long, complicated history.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 10:16 AM on May 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

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