Coffee Worse Than Wine

Quote: “The clue is in the bean.”

On the 18th April 2013 an article on the BBC News website by John McHugo open my eyes a little as to where coffee originally came from.

The clue is in the Arabica bean.  Not only did I learn that coffee originated from the Arab world, but some of our other favourites such as the three-course meal and alcohol have thankfully crossed the seas to us too.  John McHugo states that, “coffee comes from the highland areas of the countries at the southern end of the Red Sea – Yemen and Ethiopia.”  And, “the earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name qahwa, from which our words coffee and café both derive.”  Interesting!  It’s not just those words either; there is another word which springs up relating to our current coffee language.  The word mocha dates back to the 1500’s when coffee was being exported from the Yemeni port of Mocha (yes, the port was called Mocha). 

McHugo also reports, “shaykhs discussed whether the effects of coffee were similar to those of alcohol…a drink forbidden in Islam.”  The people back then were probably experiencing similar physical symptoms to those we get after downing our double espresso or extra shot cappuccino on an empty stomach; the head rush does have a similar sensation to the light-headedness from a glass or two of wine.  “Some scholars opined that the coffee house was ‘even worse than the wine room … these places could become a place of sedition.’”

I’ve yet to see a coffee shop brawl.  I think if I do it will be because people can’t glug down their caramel, double shot, latte before work, not because they have had too much.  I wouldn’t be too concerned about Londoners not being able to find a coffee; with a Starbucks, Costa or “quirky independent” inhabiting every other shop on the high street, we’re tripping over them.

Our choice isn’t just with the availability of venues; it’s with the coffee itself.  Coffee is produced and exported from a vast number of countries these days.  Unfortunately this global increase seems to have left Yemen behind. “In 2011, Yemen exported a mere, 2,500 tonnes”, writes McHugo.

Although Yemen may not be the world’s biggest exporter of coffee, it is good to see that the forerunner is still considered the best.  Not only are their beans highly regarded, but it’s history of the bean highly fascinating.

For more on John McHugo’s knowledgeable article visit for Coffee and qahwa: How a drink for Arab mystics went global.

3 thoughts on “Coffee Worse Than Wine

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