The Muslim Drink


There’s a drug so popular that you can
find it anywhere on Earth. It doesn’t matter your religion, your ethnicity,
your class, your gender, you’ll find users. And yet, despite how popular it is,
no countries have banned it. Despite how many users it has,
there are very few rehab centres. We’ve been using this drug for over a thousand years,
and if anything, we’re only getting started. This is the story of Coffee:
The Muslim Drink. In 850 AD, a goatherder named Kaldi was walking
through the bush of what we’d now call
Southern Ethiopia, and came across a strange shrub. His goats, as goats tend to do, ate everything
they could get their little teeth on. But as they consumed the berries of this particular bush,
Kaldi noticed a change in their behaviour. They started to dance. Well, not really dance, but act funny. Faster, more motivated, more alert. Kaldi was intrigued. If these berries made his goats act so lively,
what might they do to him? So he plucked a few, popped them in his mouth,
and began to dance himself. This is the commonly told story of
coffee’s origin. It’s almost definitely not true. In fact, it’s more than almost definitely
not true, it’s definitely not true. But like for most tall tales, there’s a lot
to glean from the story of Kaldi’s dancing seed. Coffee almost certainly originated in
what we’d now call Ethiopia. It would have been known to bushmen
just as every other plant was known, and although it wouldn’t have been consumed
in the liquid form we know it best, people would have certainly used
the drug to their own benefit. For all the reasons we use it today, ancient herdsmen
would have had many reasons to eat the bean. It suppresses hunger and helps keep us awake. It increases our heart rate. It’s addictive. For someone guarding their herds or walking
long through the night, there are obvious reasons
to eat this bean. But I’m not here to tell
the history of coffee. To me, the most interesting part of coffee
is not its popularity or where it came from. It’s how it spread around the world. It’s what it says about us,
about trade in general. Coffee fascinates me because it shows just
how important it is that we interact. It highlights the true benefits of a stratified,
globalized world. The goatherders or whoever it was that found this little
fruit weren’t the ones who realized its potential. They weren’t the ones who brewed it. In fact, the region of Ethiopia where
coffee originally comes from wouldn’t truly make it a part of their culture
until four hundred years later. It would be popular in England,
an entire world away, generations before it was popular in the region of
Africa where it came from. And as far as I see it, the reason behind
that is the same reason that we travel at all. It’s the reason we interact. When humans are introduced to something new,
we tend to experiment with it. When our society is forced to reckon with something
it has never experienced before, we tend to adapt it in ways that those
long accustomed just never imagined. A fresh set of eyes on an old idea. That’s the beauty of trade. Of travel. The reason we drink coffee is because
Sufi Muslims wanted to pray all night. Far from the source of the plant and the markets
that sold it, they wanted a long life for their beans. What’s more, they found that roasting and
boiling them would make them taste less bitter. The reason we drink coffee is because once those Sufi mystics started to tell stories to the people around them, those undergoing Ramadan wanted to try this apparent
wonder drug that would suppress your appetite. In turn, it became ritualistic. Religious, even. To put it simply, if it wasn’t for Islam,
you wouldn’t have that cappuccino. Coffee spread on the back of religion. Before long, it was so associated with Islam
that it was traded under the name Mecca. Within a generation, coffeehouses were commonplace
in imperial Muslim capitals thousands of miles away
from its source. Entirely new cultures were adapting the drink
to fit their unique, personal ways of life. By the late 1400’s, the Ottoman empire,
then already a major consumer, began adapting it to their multi-ethnic
social landscape. New styles of brewing, and new styles of consumption
took it out of the mosque and into
the average person’s home. Coffeehouses became commonplace. Whether pious or not, before long it seemed
like everyone was addicted. The more it’s spread to the common man, the greater the likelihood that it would spread beyond
the lands of Islam. Religious Christians from Europe weren’t likely to take something that was reserved only for
hyper-religious Muslims, but they were happy
to steal from the average person. Stealing drugs was even better. And so, just like that, coffee came to Europe
in the minds of slaves. In Christian Europe in the 17th century,
coffee found a new identity. All of a sudden, people had a reason to sit
in a café that wasn’t getting drunk. This was a drug that facilitated thought,
not diminished it. Traders introduced the drink not on the back of religion,
but enjoyment. Interaction. In England, particularly, this was an era
of unprecedented public engagement. Politics had become the arena
of the common man. There was nothing spiritual about it. Coffee just helped people talk. To discuss what their government
was doing around them. As consumption increased in Europe, so too
did the desire to control the means of production. With agricultural colonialism showing promise
for the nations able to take part, one of the first plants they aimed
to control was coffee. By the mid 1600’s, Dutch traders had set up plants
across their now burgeoning empire. Coffee would never be known
as a Muslim drink again. It is now, as far as I see it, a symbol of
international interaction. Of the quiet, never-ending value of trade. Few people can imagine Italy today
without an espresso. A trip to Izmir isn’t complete
without a coffee. The Starbucks Frappucino is likely one of
the most profitable drinks on Earth. They’re all representative of the variety that comes from
letting a long line of cultures reimagine the same thing. Once a fruit eaten to help herders walk all night, spread through the religious dreams of ascetic Muslims, the domestic life of Turks, the politics of Brits,
and the imperial farms of Europeans, coffee changed the world
just as the world changed it. An entire planet of cultures adapting it,
moulding it, and making it their own. This one little bean is truly symbolic of
the beauty of trade. Of the value of our stratified,
globalized world. Today, coffee is famous in Ethiopia. You can’t walk a single street without seeing
a group of people huddled around a pot. Every person here drinks it. It doesn’t matter their gender, their class,
their ethnicity, their religion, it’s for all. But it wasn’t always that way. Ethiopia was one of the last nations on Earth
to truly accept it into their culture. Because despite having the beans,
they couldn’t fight what they always knew. To Orthodox Ethiopians, this was a Muslim drink,
and it was only once the world brought it back
to their doorstep that they realized what they’d always had. This is Rare Earth. [Evan & Eric] All right. One more. One last try. [Evan] Oh, oh, did you get it?
[Kata] Every time!
[Evan] I thought you had it.

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