What's in a name...?

What's in a name that which we call coffee?

Coffee drinking was once the monopoly of the Arabian peninsula. Only from the 1400s onwards did it begin its spread around the world. Today it has become a global drink that is enjoyed in almost every country in the world.

In this post, we'll take a look at how the word "coffee" came to be and what does it actually mean?

We should quickly note here that “coffee” is a word used to represent the drink made by brewing beans, rather than the name of a coffee fruit or a coffee plant itself. For a comprehensive explanation of the coffee plant, please allow me to refer you to this wikipedia article.

So, let’s kick off from the “beginning”:

  • "Bun" - coffee, but not as we know it

c. 9th Century, Abyssinia

We start with the Galla tribe of Abyssinia, where our friend Kaldi, the goat-herder’s tale originated. It was here where his goats became quite excited whenever they chewed the berries from a particular plant. Because these tribesmen were nomadic warriors, they were constantly on the move, so their method of consumption of these berries was not by roasting, brewing the beans and drinking. They didn't have time for that. Instead, they would mix the berries with animal fat and eat them, as a food, rather than a drink.

  • "Qahwa" - this sounds a little more familiar

c. 14th Century, Yemen

As we can see, there is no etymological relationship between the Abyssinian word “Bun” and the Yemenite term “Qahwa”. So how come the change? Well, things aren’t that simple in the world of coffee (plus it was quite a long time ago). There are five commonly accepted theories to the origins of the name. Feel free to take your pick. They’re all probably true...

  1. Qahwa” is derived from the name of the region of Kaffa, in Abyssinia.

  2. Qahwa” came from the verb, “qahā” - meaning – “to lack hunger”, in reference to the drinks' reputation as an appetite suppressant.

  3. Qahwa” is a derivative of the Arabic word “power" or "energy".

  4. Qahwa” was the Arabic word for “making something repugnant or lessening one’s desire for something”.

  5. Qahwa” was the name given to mean “the wine of something” – "qahhwat al-bun", meaning “wine of the bean.”

From here on, the word coffee and its derivatives conquered the world and entered languages through adaptations of the original “Qahwa".

All those who adopted this exotic drink simply modified the Arabian word to suit the pronunciations of their own tongues, from “Kahve” to the Turks, "Caffe" to the Italians and “Coffee” in English.

But, did you know…

The mother plant for much of the arabica coffee in the world is kept in the Amsterdam Hortus Botanicus.

Now, there’s an excuse to visit Amsterdam…

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