Dancing Goats-The History of Coffee

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Coffee is the most popular beverage in the world. Second in trade power only to oil with which it bears an odd similarity of look (black) and purpose (energy), coffee is a 100 billion dollar a year industry. Coffee cultivation and sales support over 25 million people around the world, and supports far more of those who drink it daily. However, this magic mystery tour of nature’s goodness may not have been possible without the legendary frolics of the queer goat, original discoverer of coffee’s powers to lift the spirit.  

Legend of the Dancing Goat

Thanks to the powers of Youtube and social media, people now have a fuller understanding of just how hilariously queer goats are. Bouncing around, sometimes off each other, with insane hilarity, the frolic of the goat would no doubt be legend even without its synchronistic fruits. Ethiopian (Abyssinian) legend tells that a goat herder named Kaldi who lived around AD850 observed that after his goats ate a particular red berry they would dance and prance around in all excess of joy (Hutchinson). These goats would often go unsleeping in their ecstatic dance, and disturbed the other more sober goats who did not go in for the red berry. After a steady observation of this, Curiosity got the better him and he tried a handful of the berries that were growing on the bushes nearby. Feeling a novel sense of elation, Kaldi realized that there was something out of the ordinary about this fruit and, filling his pockets, rushed back to his wife to share his discovery. ‘They are heaven sent!’ she declared, ‘you must take them to the monastery.’ Kaldi then presented the cherries to the chief monk, relating the miraculous effect they had on him, and his goats. (Bean on a Bike)

Sobriety and non-danciness is a lingering trait of monks of all ages. When Kaldi retold the tale of joyous goats to the monk, fearing “the cherries’ extraordinary properties, the monk threw them onto the fire denouncing them to be the work of the devil (National Coffee Association). Within minutes, the monastery began to fill up with the heavenly smell of roasting beans and the other monks gathered” (Bean on a Bike). It was destined-nothing could stop the discovery of the magical bean after the generous coffee goat prophet revealed its power. 

The monks were overcome with reverent curiosity for this fruit of nature. After the smoke had enticed them sufficiently the monks “Raking the spitting and popping beans from the embers, they were placed in a ewer and covered with hot water to preserve their freshness” (Bean on a Bike). One brave monk drank the mixture, and finding it to be as wonderful as the whole world knows it is today, convinced his brothers to try the enchanted brew. This led to; That night, the monks sat up drinking the rich and fragrant brew and vowed that they should drink it daily to help with their nightly prayers.  Word of the cherries’ magical properties spread far and wide. It was not long before the monastic folk across the realm became accustomed to drinking the invigorating beverage as an accompaniment to their nocturnal devotions. (Bean on a Bike)

It is appropriate that such a beloved substance as coffee would have such a magical origin story. For those Nihilistic naysayers who may decry this as a simple fantasy of hopped up caffeine addicts looking to fill the void of meaningless, a coffee historian in 1671, Faustus Naironi, wrote of the legend which has here been laid down in quaint tones. Finishing the tale off, he emphasizes, 

When, by this frequent use of it, they daily experienced its wholesomeness, and how effectually it conduced to the preserving them in perfect health, the drink grew in request throughout the whole Kingdom, and in progress of time, other nations and provinces of the East fell into the use of it. Thus by a mere accident, and the great and wonderful providence of the Almighty, the fame of its whole­someness spread itself more and more, even to the Western parts, more especially those of Europe. (Bean on a Bike)

Historical and factual evidence also supports this legend for those who need extra support for the enjoyment of the imagery of dancing goats bringing them their morning coffee. For “There is now a consensus amongst historians and botanists that coffee – especially the genus Coffea Arabica – is indigenous to Ethiopia where it still continues to grow wild in the Bale Mountains, Gamo Gofa, Ilubabor and Kaffa Forest regions” (Bean on a Bike). Etymologists (word historians) suppose that the moniker “coffee” has been adopted from the name of an ancient Ethiopian (Abyssinian) kingdom, “Kaffa”, while others claim it comes from the word “quahwah” which means “wine”. Indeed coffee has come to be cultivated and refined much like wine, and these historical roots serve only to strengthen the body of the mythos (Bean on a Bike).

Early Permutations 

As the story of the goat prophet spread throughout the Arabian peninsula, more and more people took up the cultivation, trade, and enjoyment of coffee. This is true “especially Yemen, where there is evidence of coffee roasting as early as the 13th century. (It’s not by accident or sheer coincidence that Yemen has a sea port called Mocha)” (Bean on a Bike). During these formative years of exploring the gift of the coffee god the coffee bean’s magic was explored and experimented with in many ways. The red bean, in its “unprocessed form, coffee is a cherry-like fruit, which becomes red when ripe; the coffee bean is found at the center of the red coffee fruit. Early on, the fruit were mixed with animal fat to create a protein rich snack bar” (Avery). At one jazzed up juncture during this experimenting period fermented pulp of the coffee bean was cultivated into a wine-like beverage. I’m sure this would be in high demand still today, and the trendiest organic bars should take a lesson from history (Avery).

During the 13th century coffee bean roasting was settled upon as the most effective way to reach the coffee god’s heart of boundless love and energy. Much like the monks long before them, “coffee was extremely popular with the Muslim community for its stimulant powers, which proved useful during long prayer sessions” (Avery). However, unlike the early monks, the Muslims hid away the gift of the coffee goat, smothering the teaching of the goat prophet for the own glutinous desire of money. However, the coffee god would not allow his gift to be hidden;

By parching and boiling the coffee beans, rendering them infertile, the Arabs were able to corner the market on coffee crops. In fact, tradition says that not a single coffee plant existed outside of Arabia or Africa until the 1600s, when Baba Budan, an Indian pilgrim, left Mecca with fertile beans fastened to a strap across his abdomen. Baba’s beans resulted in a new and competitive European coffee trade. (Avery)

When coffee burst out of the single market it took off all over the world. In 1616, the Dutch created the first European-owned estate in Sri Lanka, followed by Ceylon, and Java. This prompted the French to begin organized cultivation in the Caribbean, the Spanish in Central America, and the Portuguese in Brazil (Avery). While coffee made its way to the new world by the 18th century, it was not until the Boston Tea Party that coffee became more popular than tea. Prior to this America was still quite English in practice, but the rebellion of the issue of taxation made coffee a symbol of the American spirit (Avery).

Modern Syncopations

Coffee has become a worldwide phenomenon of joy and consumption. Thankfully, high quality cafes have budded throughout the world so that people have the opportunity of sampling the many permutations of the dark brew. Today there are many ways of preparing coffee. To name a few:

Brewed Coffee

French Press

Drip Coffee

Espresso Machine

Cold Brew



Vacuum Pot


Chemex (Thomson)

The great thing about these many permutations is there is no right way to create coffee, and this complexity exists in order to satisfy the tastes of many people-or one person who really likes variety. However, there are a few tips for coffee brewing success which will boost the enjoyment level of every process. Always use filtered water to create your perfect cup. Coffee is mostly water, and the quality of the water will play a big role in how flavorful and savorful the experience is. It is most beneficial to grind your beans right before making the coffee because beans hold in the moisture and flavor much longer than when they are ground. 

Also, it is helpful to keep in mind that the coffee god watches all, but blesses only those who honor him and his gifts. Thus, saying a prayer of thanks over the brewing coffee will enhance its sumptuous life force to the degree that your beliefs will allow. However, a key warning must be made: coffee is extremely dehydrating and may cause migraines from withdrawal. You must drink twice as much water as coffee simply to break even, and to get hydrated you must drink more water than coffee. In fact, the more water you drink the better you will enjoy your coffee experience, for most of the negative drawbacks to drinking coffee come from its dehydrating effects. So keep in mind, if you drink two cups of coffee, you must drink four cups of water, and then another four just to get ready for the next cup!


It is impossible to conceive of our world without the gift of coffee. Igniting the mind, invigorating the body, inciting conversation, and fueling creativity and industry, the juice of the bean greatly improves our quality of life. The fair trade movement has enabled farmers to become more self-sustaining and appreciative of this labor of love, and consumers around the world would do well to buy local and fair trade as much as possible. To think it all began with the dancing goat and a curious herder-the coffee god must have a sense of humor.

Works Cited

Avery, Torey. “The Caffeinated History of Coffee.” PBS, 8 Apr. 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-coffee/

Bean on a Bike. “Kaldi (his dancing goats) and the Origin of Coffee.” Beanonabike.com, n.d. Retrieved from: http://www.beanonabike.com/index.php/2011/11/16/kaldi-and-the-origin-of-coffee/

Hutchinson, Sean. “Who Discovered Coffee?” Mental Floss, 29 Apr. 2016. Retrieved from: http://mentalfloss.com/article/58901/who-discovered-coffee

Lokker, Brian. “The Origin of Coffee: Kaldi and the Dancing Goats.” Coffee Crossroads, 6 Feb. 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.coffeecrossroads.com/coffee-history/origin-of-coffee-kaldi-and-dancing-goats

National Coffee Association. “History of Coffee.” NCAusa.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/History-of-Coffee

Smith, Martin. “The Rise of the Fair Trade Coffee Movement.” The Modern Ape, 21 Jan. 2014. Retrieved from: http://themodernape.com/2014/01/21/rise-fair-trade-coffee-movement/

Thomson, Julie R. “We Tested 9 Ways Of Brewing Coffee To Find The Very Best Method.” The Huffington Post, 30 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/best-coffee-brewing-method_n_5233438.html