Ethiopia: Why Is the World So Fixated On the Story of Coffee These Days?

"Oh, how sweet coffee does taste ... better than a thousand kisses..milder than Muscat wine."

Extract from Bach's musical line

Coffee drinking held its fascination even to the earliest coffee drinkers in Europe who, according to legend, imported coffee beans from the Middle East and made them popular by turning them into a beverage that quickly caught the imagination of the world. However coffee story on its origin does not stop here.

According to established conventional wisdom, Ethiopia is the origin of coffee. The very name 'coffee' is said to be originated from kaffa, a region in south-western Ethiopia which is one of the places where coffee is extensively cultivated for hundreds of years. However, what we may call "revisionist theories" are appearing on social or conventional media disputing the truth of the above assertion. There are a number of researchers who maintain that the origin of coffee is in Yemen or somewhere in Arabia, otherwise known as the Middle East.

According to an article entitled, "The Complete History of Coffee" the origin of coffee is outlined as follows, "Originally the Arabic word "qahwa" (wine of the bean) that later became "khave" (Turkish) and then "koffie" (Dutch), "coffee" is thoroughly borrowed word emerging in English-language Europe during the 1500s.Its consumption primarily involved early Islamic religious practices in Sufi monasteries in southern Arabia, although coffee eventually became such a popular beverage that public coffee houses emerged in Yemen and spread across the Middle East quickly."

This is of course a "revisionist" or a revised version of the story of the origin of coffee that is largely attributed to Ethiopia. However, even such a "revisionist" accounts do not deny Ethiopia's contribution to the emergence and growth this internationally acclaimed beverage that has caught not only the imagination but also the physiology of humanity for so many centuries.

Another line of reasoning in the same article says that, "Ethiopian ancestors of the Oromos are thought to be the first to recognize the stimulating effects of the coffee bean. An ethnic group living in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, the Oromos inhabited the Horn of Africa for thousands of years. Trade involving their highly treasured coffee and other cultural commodities brought the majority of Oromos in Ethiopia by the 17th century along with fanciful accounts of how coffee's energizing (magical at that time) properties were discovered."

If the energizing properties of coffee were first discovered in Ethiopia, there is no doubt that Ethiopia is the origin of coffee that was later on transported across the Red Sea and appeared on the Arabian peninsula and not vice versa. The article is therefore self-contradictory in its attempt to attribute the origin of coffee both to Ethiopia and the Arabian peninsula or Yemen, something that is unlikely to happen because Ethiopia had all the climatic conditions for growing coffee while the Arabian Peninsula or Yemen were largely deserts and unsuited for coffee cultivation. There are also other myths told by this revisionist account of the story of coffee that do not hold water although they are told to reinforce the belief that coffee originated from Arabia.

The story or history of the origin of coffee aside, blog pages on the social media these days are replete with long and short articles on coffee: Its history, evolution, economy, social impacts, and cultural implications, as well as its medical uses. One hypothesis maintains that drinking three or four cups of coffee every day would protect one from stomach cancer among other illnesses. This hypothesis needs further proofs in order to be accepted as established medical fact. Everyone knows from habit that a cup of coffee might relieve headache and depression by serving as a stimulant with it- mood boosting ingredients. This may be why coffee has initially turned from a plant growing in the forest wilderness fit for goats into the most likable human beverage.

Why do people drink coffee? Why has coffee become the most widely used beverage after water? What are the benefits of coffee? These are some of the questions the bloggers try to answer citing expert opinions and insiders of the coffee world. But why are the bloggers in particular and the world in general so fixated with this most famous global beverage these days? The answer to this question is not as easy as asking it. And more than half a dozen articles on various aspects of coffee that appear on social media almost every day f the week do not seem to be exhausting the answers to this question.

Writing in Medical News Today, an online blog page, Joseph Nordqvist, says that, "When people think of coffee, they usually think of their ability to provide an energy boost. However, according to some research, it can also offer some other important health benefits, such as lower risk of liver cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart failure." adding that coffee contains a number of useful nutrients, including riboflavin (vitamin B-2), niacin (vitamin B-3) magnesium, potassium and various phenolic compounds, of antioxidants. Some experts suggest that these and other ingredients in coffee can benefit the human body in various ways.

Another article in a blog page called "The Conversation" recently wrote by stressing the key medical benefits of coffee in an article entitled, The Biology of Coffee. One of the World's Most Popular Drinks". It says in part that, "The antioxidants in coffee may actually have a cancer-fighting effect. Remember that anti-oxidants fight cellular damage. One type of the damage that they may help reduce is mutation to DNA; and cancer is caused by mutations that lead to the deregulation of genes... Studies have shown that consuming coffee fights cancer in rats. Other studies in humans have shown that coffee consumption is associated with lower rate of some cancers."

It is true that most of us are drinking coffee without being aware of its health benefits and just as a matter of enjoyable habit. It is also true that no one would indulge in coffee if that caused immediate or long-term health hazards. Meanwhile if one thing in certain, it is the fact that recent scientific research on the health benefits of coffee drinking has definitely cleared one or two myths about coffee the public maintained for so long. One of the myths was about coffee causing hypertension and this is demystified as false since on the contrary, coffee can prevent or even reduce hypertension or high blood pressure in people. It is hard to know how popular medical myths start to circulate but most if not all of them are not supported with scientific facts as the myth about coffee causing hypertension is exposed by science as simply nonsense.

This does not however mean that coffee drinking cannot have medical side effects. According to the blog page we quoted above, some studies have found that women who drink a lot of coffee may have a high risk of bone fractures. The research added that coffee consumption may not be safe during pregnancy. In fact there is some evidence to suggest a link between high coffee consumption and pregnancy loss, a low birth weight or preterm birth. Consuming high amounts of coffee may increase the risk of anxiety, especially among people with panic disorder or social anxiety disorder. Less commonly it may trigger mania and psychosis n people who are susceptible.

Coffee continues to fascinate not only regular consumers but also insiders and connoisseurs alike who write about how coffee is consumed in some cultures. A blog dealing with coffee rituals around the world for instance recently published an article on the famous Ethiopian coffee ceremony. It says among other things that, " You can think of a coffee ceremony as a sort of ritual: a series of traditional steps taken to make, serve and drink coffee. The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony is the way it has been done throughout the years in Ethiopia the cradle of the first coffee trees.

"If you thought that this was anything like serving the afternoon tea in the United Kingdom or inviting someone to your favorite café, think this again. The entire ceremony to cup. The ceremony start off with green coffee beans and implies roasting, grinding, brewing, serving and finally drinking the coffee."

The world's growing fixation on coffee these days goes beyond cultural considerations and has something to do with its economics. Many developed as well developing countries are using coffee as a vital means of acquiring hard currency from international trade. Brazil is a Latin American country that introduced coffee plantation in the 1870s and quickly became the largest coffee producer in the world by the turn of the 20th century.

There are also a number of countries have become major that started producing and exporting coffee as early as the 1990s and have recently become major coffee exporters in the world. Vietnam that has become the second biggest coffee exporter in the world after 1995 is one of them. On the other hand , Ethiopia whose quality coffee is an international sensation and discovered coffee many centuries back is still trailing in the business of coffee exports. It is a country whose coffee drinking ceremony is the most beautiful one in the world but has not so far been unable to turn this into an internationally marketable business. The United States imported coffee from abroad and turned it into the most lucrative business with the creation of the biggest coffee serving outlet in the world in the form of Starbucks that only opened its first shops back in the 1950s.

In Ethiopia, there are timid beginnings along the same line but these are baby steps compared to the huge steps taken by international coffee giants like Starbucks. It is indeed a big dilemma to think how a country that invented coffee and bases its main trade on it still lags behind in the global competition for coffee supremacy while newcomers are fast catching up with traditional producers.

Coffee will certainly continue to fascinate the world, and win more generations of drinkers and traders as Ethiopia struggles to turn its long history as the land of the aromatic coffee beans into an economic asset to lift millions of its farmers out of poverty. We are first in many things in the world. We are first in long-distance races, as the cradle of human beings, as the only independent nation in the world and as one of the most impressive and most fascinating land where nature conspired to make us the wonder of the world. That is also why wherever and whenever the story of coffee is told, it will be inevitable to tell the Ethiopian version of the story which is the most beautiful and the most enchanting story that is inexhaustible and never told even by the best storytellers in the world.

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