About 1,600,000,000 cups of coffee are consumed every day around the world. Billions of people rely on it as part of their daily routines. And yet, very few people are aware of the Muslim origins of this ubiquitous drink.
According to the historical record, in the 1400s coffee became a very popular drink among Muslims in Yemen, in the southern Arabian Peninsula. Legend goes that a shepherd (some say in Yemen, some say in Ethiopia) noticed that his goats became very energetic and jumpy when they ate beans from a particular tree. He had the courage to try them himself, noticing they gave him an energy boost. Over time, the tradition of roasting the beans and immersing them in water to create a sour yet powerful drink developed, and thus, coffee was born.
Regardless of whether or not the story of the shepherd ever really happened, coffee found its way from the highlands of Yemen to the rest of the Ottoman Empire, the premier Muslim empire of the 15th century. Coffeehouses specializing in the new drink began to spring up in all the major cities of the Muslim world: Cairo, Istanbul, Damascus, Baghdad. From the Muslim world, the drink found its way into Europe through the great merchant city of Venice. Although it was at first denounced as the “Muslim drink” by Catholic authorities, coffee became a part of European culture. The coffeehouses of the 1600s was where philosophers met and discussed issues such as the rights of man, the role of government, and democracy. These discussions over coffee spawned what became the Enlightenment, one of the most powerful intellectual movements of the modern world.
From a Yemeni/Ethiopian shepherd to shaping European political thought to over 1 billion cups per day, this Muslim innovation is one of the most important inventions of human history.