Kaldi and his Dancing Goats

Kaldi and his Dancing Goats

Legend has it that the history of coffee can be traced back, quite precisely, to a single Ethiopian goatherder living in the foothills of modern day Ethiopia. Young Kaldi, the herder, was tending to his flock one fine day when he noticed his goats acting peculiarly. The goats, usually quite sedentary and dull, were prancing about from foothill to foothill. Even the older goats, Kaldi noticed, were spry with the energy of a younger litter. Curious, and frankly a bit confused, Kaldi decided to observe the flock to find an explanation for the sudden change in behavior.

Before long, he found that the goats were eating bright red berries from a strange plant nearby. Upon eating the berries, the goats became excited and bounded around with renewed energy and vigor! Curious still, Kaldi decided to try the berries himself – and thankfully he did!

Amazed by the effect these strange berries had on his energy, Kaldi began to spread the word. He delivered his findings to a local monastery where the story takes a dangerous (and equally fortuitous, turn). The monks, upon hearing of Kaldi’s discovery, feared these berries to be the work of the Devil. What does any good monk do when faced with the Devil’s handiwork? Burn it. B-Burn it real good.

The monks quickly realized their mistake and doused the fire as the heavenly aroma of roasted coffee wafted in the air. In the process of putting out the flames, the monks had inadvertently crushed the beans – and when the embers were raked, they were left with fresh ground, roasted, coffee (well within our drinkable time frame, I might add). In an effort to preserve the beans, and to prevent continued smoldering, the monks added the grounds to water.

Later that evening, struggling to get through their evening prayers, the monks thought back to Kaldi’s dancing goats and the promise from his berries. They turned towards the grounds, now steeped in water, and decided to give it the ole monasterial try. The rest, as they say, is history!

Kaldi’s story, though likely apocryphal, is one of my favorite in the world of coffee myths and legends. It roots coffee’s history correctly, in Ethiopia, and may not be as far from the truth as we think. Little is known about the true origin of coffee discovery, but the timeline and geography of Kaldi’s story fall closely in line with best guesses. From Ethiopia, we know it spreads to the Arabian peninsula, where it is first cultivated and traded. From there, onward to Europe, and by the mid 1700s, we see it in the New World.

Coffee has faced a great deal of pushback over the years – Kaldi’s monks certainly wouldn’t be the last to condemn the Satanic effects of coffee consumption. However, in the infamous words of Dr. Ian Malcolm (with some creative liberty), “coffee finds a way.” And boy am I glad it did.

Til next time



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