Coffee time – Part 1

Coffee time – Part 1

Historical note (of a sort). The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives the etymology of “coffee” as being from the Turkish kahveh, itself from the Arabic kahwa. Record has it that the cultivation of the coffee bean and the preparation of coffee began in Ethiopia. From there the bean and the technique for its preparation spread to the Arab world, from there to Turkey, thence to Europe and from there, less happily, to Starbucks. We are in debt to the ancient Ethiopians, especially if one considers the succession of disastrous culinary experiments that may well have preceded the discovery of the appropriate method of preparation.

According to popular legend, the plant was discovered around 850 A.D. by a goatherd named Kaldi. I became aware of the legend when I first visited what has become my favourite coffee shop in my home town, a shop called Naked (for some weeks I baulked at entering the place, nervous that its name might refer to its dress-code, rather than to the fact that it serves real, no-frills coffee). On the wall is an account of the legend, which refers to the goatherd, rather charmingly, as “our friend Kaldi.”

Legend has it that Kaldi took the beans to a Sufi monk, who disapproved of them and threw them into a fire, then dousing the embers with water and thus inadvertently producing coffee. But I prefer my version, as follows.
Here is Kaldi, fourteen, tall and lanky, and—despite his mother’s protests—boasting shaggy, unkempt hair. Leading his flock of six goats to their favourite spot, by the edge of a tiny stream, along the banks of which the grass and herbs flourished. Here they would graze, breaking off for the occasional squabble over a choice clump of sweet basil, or to make babies.

The morning was cool and, unusually, the goats gathered far above the stream, happily tearing at a bush Kaldi had never remarked before. Kaldi lay down, gazing at the sliver of moon still visible in the early morning sky. Then he realised something was up with the goats and leapt to his feet.

And then sat down again, gasping. What he had seen was all six goats standing upright on their hind legs, in a line, facing him. Each goat had his or her front hooves entwined round the front hooves of the goats on either side and the line was—somewhat unsteadily—stepping left, then right, then left, bleating rhythmically. Every few steps the line would stop and all six goats would kick up their left hind legs with a loud bleat.

“Dear Lord and Father,” moaned Kaldi. “What’s up with this lot?”
Something that is bad can always get worse. The line dropped on to all fours and the goat in the middle broke free and trotted over to Kaldi. Stopping just in front of him, it rose on its hind legs and stretched out its right front leg, inviting Kaldi to dance.
Then it belched.

“My goats,” Kaldi groaned to himself, “are pissed. Out of their skulls. Drunk as soldiers. Just like Uncle Tedros on a bad night.”
Something had to be done. Kaldi herded the goats down to the stream and made them drink water, something he’d never attempted with Uncle Tedros. Then he scooted up the slope to inspect the bush they had been guzzling on.

It came up his waist, and he was a tall lad. Though half destroyed by his herd, it had dark leaves and thick clusters of reddish-brown berries. “Better get some of these home,” he thought. “There might be a goldmine growing here.”

Uncertain whether the leaves or the berries were of interest, he picked both and stuffed them into the big pocket at the front of his smock. Then he raced down to the stream and gathered the herd.
“Right, you miserable delinquents. Back home.”

Aware of the twigs and berries pressing against his belly under his smock, Kaldi thought to himself “I must look as if I’m pregnant.” And then: “well, the goats have been behaving strangely. Seems so have I.”
Where to take his hoard? His mother, Rebekah, was a woman of uncertain temper and he didn’t relish being lambasted for wasting his time and hers. But nor did he wish to pass the family compound sporting a very conspicuous bun. Rebekah would accuse him, once again, of being up to something. And say something hurtful about his hair.

There was one obvious solution. Before the family compound he would reach the compound of his mother’s elder sister, Miriam, a spinster and a woman with a sweet disposition, who, as Kaldi boasted to his age-mates, “loved him to bits.” He would present the beans to Miriam and tell her what had happened. And the grounds around her compound were richly stocked with wild mint and rosemary, both of which his goats adored. Maybe munching on those would calm them down a bit more.

Thirty minutes later and Kaldi stood before Miriam, the still lively but slowly calming-down goats scoffing rosemary and mint.
“Kaldi!” exclaimed Miriam, “my gorgeous. What have you been up to now?”
“Brought you these, Aunt Miriam. Don’t know what they are, but the goats were having a fine time gobbling them down.”

“Well,” said Miriam, eyeing the beans. “Haven’t seen those before. Have you shown them to your mother?”
“Not yet.”
“Well I think you should show her first. You know she’s rather possessive of you.”
“That’s one word for it.”
“Kaldi! Be a good lad, run along and let your mum have the beans, whatever they are.”
To be continued

Chris Dunton

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