Coffee’s global voyage began in the lush highlands of Ethiopia, the original motherland of the Coffea Arabica plant. The earliest known writing on the coffee plant, dating to the 10th century, characterizes it as a medicine—prepared as an infusion of coffee cherries in hot water.
It was not until 500 years later, as coffee made its way to Yemen in the 15th century, that the beverage evolved from a tea-like remedy to the black, aromatic beverage we know today. It may have been first roasted and ground by Sufi monks in Yemen to help them stay alert during late- night prayer.
Rise of the “wine of Araby”
From Yemen’s port of Mocha, coffee began to di use throughout the Arab world, remaining closely tied to Sufi culture at first. It emerged in Mecca, a major nexus of pilgrims and trade, as well as Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and beyond. In the Muslim world, this “wine of Araby” gained traction as an alternative to alcohol, which was forbidden by Muslim spiritual tradition.
In the 16th century, coffee spread like wildfire through the rapidly- expanding Ottoman empire, which wrapped around the Mediterranean sea from North Africa through Syria and Turkey. Coffee houses, lively centers of intellectual life, became increasingly popular in major cultural centers like Cairo and Istanbul.