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Qaqha-Coffee-art – 9/16/15


"Qawha, Coffee for the Historical Cook" by HL Baric Firehand (Bear).


NOTE: See also the files: coffee-msg, Hist-o-Coffee-art, Med-Chocolate-art, tea-msg, infusions-msg, beverages-msg, Chocolat-Mead-art, drink-choc-Sp-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



An earlier version of this article appeared in the "Serve It Forth!" Issue 9, October 1998 issue.


Qawha, Coffee for the Historical Cook

by HL Baric Firehand (Bear)


Was the "black broth" of the Lacedaemonians coffee?  Did Esau sell his birthright for a bowl of coffee, rather than a bowl of red lentils?  Was the "nepenthe" which eased the sorrows of the incomparable Helen, coffee mixed with wine?  Who knows?  But these questions represent some of the ingenious arguments put forward to push the history of coffee into Antiquity.


Unfortunately for these speculations, no mention is made of the coffee plant in the early Greek and Roman writings.  The first written reference is from about 900 CE and the history of coffee's discovery and original cultivation is lost to legend.  To try to unravel its history, we must look at the plant and its locale.


Genus Coffea of the Rubiaceae, or madder family, occurs naturally in the tropical regions of Africa.  Coffea liberica is most common on the West Coast.  Coffea robusta is found in the Congo Basin.  Coffea arabica comes from the Abyssinian highlands.  Of these, Coffea arabica is classed as the finest coffee and is the plant which introduced coffee to history.


Coffea arabica may also be indigenous to Yemen.  However, the best evidence is for the importation of coffee and coffee cultivation from Abyssinia after the rise of Islam.


Some sources, including the earlier version of this article, state that Galla tribesmen were the first to use coffee berries crushed together with fat or butter to produce a high protein, high energy trail food with a stimulant kick.  Since the Galla did not move into Abyssinia until the 16th Century, the idea that they were early adopters of coffee as a foodstuff is questionable.


The Itinerary of the Eritrean Sea, a 3rd Century CE narrative of trade on the Red Sea lists the major trade goods from Axum.  Coffee was not on the list.  The wealth of Axum was made from elephants, ivory, rhinoceros horns, tortoise shell, hides of large animals, monkeys, and circus animals.  If coffee was in use, it was an unremarked, local product.


Some authorities believe the people of Axum did cultivate coffee before the 6th Century and that they introduced coffee cultivation to Yemen after they invade the country in 525 CE, If so, the practice seems to have been lost during the Persian invasion of 570 or during the rise of Islam some 50 years later.


By the 7th Century, the Kingdom of Axum was in decline, and in the 8th Century it was incorporated into the growing Islamic empire.  Merchants from Yemen took over the African trade of Abyssinia.  This fits with the opinion of a number of authorities, that the Arabs were introduced to coffee between 750 and 850 CE.


Whether they harvested the berries from wild plants or took over cultivated plants, the Arabs of the Harar district of Abyssinia appear to have introduced coffee to the medical trade for we next hear of coffee from the physicians of Persia.


The first reference to the coffee plant appears in the writings of Abu Bakr Muhammad Bin Zakarlya Al-Razi (Rhazes to the Franks).  At the beginning of the 10th Century. Rhazes described the medicinal properties of bunca or bunchum,  Unfortunately, he did not clearly describe the plant or how it was prepared.  This later led to a dispute as to whether Rhazes was describing coffee berries or the root.


Almost a century later. Abu Ali Al-Hussain Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina (Avicenna) would write of bunchum or bunn. Describing the coffee bean and its properties in this manner:


"As to the choice thereof, that of a lemon color, light, and of good smell, is the best; the white and the heavy is naught.  It is hot and dry in the first degree, and, according to others, cold in the first degree.  It fortifies the members, it cleans the skin, and dries up the humidities that are under it, and gives an excellent smell to all the body."


In Arabic, bunn means the entire coffee berry or the kernel, depending on usage.  The husk of the berry is called qishr. The drink is qawha.  So it would appear that both Rhazes and Avicenna were referring to the coffee berry.  The drink is not mentioned, which suggests that if coffee was used at this time, the berries were eaten rather than used to make a beverage.


Qawha can be made from the husks, the berries, or both.  Coffee was most likely first brewed from the husks as a medicine.  The al-qawha al-qishriya produced from the husks is still used in Yemen.  Al-qawha al-bunniya or coffee brewed from the berries or the berries and the husks probably came from trying to strengthen the brew.


To make qawha al-bunniya, the berries could be roasted or unroasted. Roasting improves the flavor of the coffee and came into regular use early in the known history of the beverage.  The berries could be crushed to a fine powder in a mortar.  For each cup, about five ounces of water would be placed in an open pot and brought to a boil.  A teaspoon to a tablespoon of the crushed coffee powder was added per cup.  The coffee would be returned to the fire and allowed to boil a second time, then removed and allowed to cool slightly.  The boiling process would be repeated two or three more times, then the beverage would be served.


The Arabs soon added powdered cloves, cardamom or cinnamon at the third boil to sweeten the taste.  Sugar was first used as a sweetener after the Turks took up the coffee habit, causing the thick, sugar-sweetened coffee to be referred to a Turkish.  Modern Turkish coffee uses two teaspoons of sugar per cup added at the first boil.


Modern Arabian coffee uses a heaping teaspoon and modern Turkish coffee uses a tablespoon of coffee powder per cup.  This may be a matter of taste, or it may reflect the availability and value of coffee when the habit was originally adopted.


While the first mention of coffee as a beverage may be a Javanese inscription mentioning "Wiji Kawih," dated to 856, drinking coffee can not be dated earlier that the 13th Century. Apocryphally, Shaykh Ali ibn Umar al-Shadhili, a Sufi, introduced coffee drinking to Yemen about 1258.  He was a figure of great respect and reverence in Mocha, so much so that some refer to him as the "patron saint" of that city.  His legend remains, but other than his existence, the facts are few.


Another shadowy figure, less substantial than Al-Shadhili, Abu Bakr ibn Abd Allah al-Aydarus, has been put forward as the "Father of Coffee."  Internal dating of his legend would suggest he lived in the lat 14th Century or early 15th Century.  It is possible that Al-Shadhili and Al-Aydarus represent two legends about the same person. In any event, in 1760 the Italian "Journal of the Savants" credits two monks, Scialdi and Ayduis, with discovering the properties of coffee.


In Baba Budan, India adds its own legendary figure to the spread of coffee.  Baba Budan, a Sufi named Hazrat Shah Jamer Allah Mazarabi, is said to have smuggled a few coffee beans from Mocha to India when he returned from the Hadj and planted them on Baba Budan Mountain in Mysore.  An early date of 1385 has been given for the occurrence, but that is likely a synthesis of Mazarabi, who can be dated to the 17th Century, and the 11th Century Sufi, Abdul Aziz Makki, who preceded Mazarabi on Baba Budan Mountain.  Baba Budan probably arrived no earlier than 1600 and more likely about 1690.


Leaving legend behind, the first historical record of coffee drinking is from a treatise on coffee written in approximately 1558.  It records a meeting between a Yemeni jurist and Shaykh Jamal al-Din Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Sa'id al-Dhabbani, an imam, mufti, and Sufi from Aden.  As al_Dhabbani died about 1470, the account establishes coffee as a beverage by the mid-15th Century.


In the spread of coffee, al-Dhabbani is an important figure.  He appears to have been introduced to coffee about 1454 on a journey to Abyssinia (some accounts say Persia, but that is based on a faulty translation).  Upon his return to Arabia Felix, he seems to have undertaken commercial cultivation of coffee, so that by his death, coffee was in general use in Yemen and Aden and spreading northward along the Red Sea.


Coffee was in use before al-Dhabbani's visit to Abyssinia, certainly by the Sufis, who used it to fortify themselves for their mystic rituals, and possibly by others.  Early in the 15th Century, coffee-roasting plates began appearing in Turkey and Persia. Who used these plates is uncertain, but their existence suggests a non-medicinal trade in coffee had started in the 14th Century, probably encouraged by the Sufis, a large number of whom resided in Persia.  Al-Dhabbani marks the change in coffee from a beverage of the elite to a beverage of the general public.


Coffee may have been introduced to Constantinople as early as 1453.  The same source places the first coffeehouse, the Kiva Han, there in 1475.  Both of these assertions are questionable, as they cannot be supported by reliable sources.


General coffee use appears to have spread north along the Red Sea trade routes, coming to Medina and Mecca late in the 15th Century and arriving in Cairo by 1510.  Coffee may also have spread east as there is some evidence that coffee cultivation was introduced to Ceylon early in the 16th Century.


In 1511, Kha'ir Beg al-Mi'mar, Pasha of the Mamluks and chief regulator of trade and trade practices in Mecca, moved to prohibit coffeehouses and coffee in the city.  Contemporary records suggest that a number of political and religious agendas came into conflict in a court case, which the strict religionists won.  The victory was short lived. Kha'ir Beg was replaced in the following year and a number of the strict religionists were disgraced or removed from office.  Coffee again flowed freely in Mecca.


While coffee may have been used in Constantinople before 1517, it was certainly given cachet when the Ottoman Sultan Selim I brought the beverage to the royal court after his conquest of Egypt.  Coffee continued to follow the trade routes northward.  Coffeehouses appeared in Damascus about 1530 and in Aleppo about 1532.


The coffeehouses of Mecca were closed again in 1525, not from religious fervor, but because they were the haunt of thieves and other criminals, who whiled away their days drinking coffee and plotting their crimes.  The coffeehouses were reopened by 1527.


After an aborted prohibition in Cairo about 1523, a series of powerful orations given in 1534 by Ahmed ibn Abd al-Haqq al-Sunbati, one of the greatest of the coffee opponents, precipitated a riot resulting in the destruction of a number of coffeehouses.  The matter was heard in court and coffee was found to be legal.  In another Cairo incident in 1539, the commander of the night watch raided coffeehouses and removed the occupants.  They were incarcerated overnight, given seventeen lashes and released.  After a brief drop in business, the coffeehouses were again booming.


The Ottoman government in 1544 sent out an edict prohibiting coffee and its sale.  The edict was ignored and apparently never enforced.  In 1554, Shams (or Schemsi) of Damascus and Hakm of Aleppo opened two elegant coffeehouses in Constantinople.  Coffee became the rage in the Ottoman capitol and quickly came into common use.  Between 1570 and 1580, coffee was prohibited for religious and patriotic reasons, and the coffeehouses closed.  The prohibition had little effect on the practice of drinking coffee and in time the prohibition was lifted and the coffeehouses returned.


The first European to take notice of coffee was Leonhard Rauwolf, a reknowned physician and botanist from Augsburg.  He observed the drinking of coffee and the coffee berries in the Levant in 1573 and later described them in Rauwolf's Travels, published in 1583.  Rauwolf was followed by Prospero Alpini of Padua, also a physician and botanist, who visited Egypt in 1580 and described the coffee plant and beverage in his 1592 work, The Plants of Egypt.


There is some evidence that coffee was initially imported into Europe by the Venetians late in the 16th Century.  The initial importer may have been Gianfrancesco Morosini, the city magistrate at Constantinople, who is known to have encountered the beverage in 1585, or a major spice trader named Mogengio.  By 1615, coffee would be on its way to becoming a popular, if expensive, beverage in Italy.


As the 17th Century dawned, an English translation of Linschooten's Travels and Anthony Sherley's Sherley's Travels introduced coffee to the English.


The Dutch entered the coffee trade with a mission to Aden to study the idea of coffee trade and cultivation. Two years later, in 1616, Pieter Van dan Broecke brought coffee to Holland from Mocha, but it would be 1640 before the first commercial shipment of coffee was imported for general sale by a merchant named Wurrfbain.  


While Van dan Broecke was bringing coffee to the Low Countries, Edward Terry, a chaplain of the East India Company attached to Ambassador Sir Thomas Roe's mission to the Grand Mogul, observed and wrote of the use of coffee in the Grand Mogul's court.  He did not comment on the cultivation of coffee, so the legend of Baba Budan introducing coffee to India is not refuted by Terry's observations.


While many English writers described coffee, the first person known to have brought coffee to England was Nathaniel Conopios, a Greek from Crete who had fled Constantinople when his patron, Cyrill, Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople, was strangled on the orders of one of the Sultan's viziers.  He indulged in the habit of coffee drinking while living at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1637.


Thirteen years later, a Levantine Jew named Jacobs opened the first coffeehouse in England at Oxford. It served both coffee and chocolate.  A competing coffeehouse was opened by Cirques Jabson, a Jewish Jacobite, in 1654.  In 1671, Jacobs left Oxford and moved to Old Southhampton Buildings in London where he opened another coffeehouse.


Jacobs' coffeehouse was not the first in London.  That honor was taken by Pasqua Rosee, an emigrant from Dalmatia, and a coachman named Bowman, who went into partnership in 1652 and opened a coffeehouse at St. Michael's Alley in Cornhill.  The partners soon split and Bowman opened a competing coffeehouse in St. Michael's Churchyard.


The students of Oxford loved their coffee and in 1655 encouraged an apothecary, Arthur Tillyard, to begin serving coffee publicly in his house.  Tillyard was a Royalist and the Oxford Coffee Club took on a Royalist flavor.  In time, it would become the Royal Society.


In Italy, coffee was in general use by 1645 and the first coffee shop may have opened in that year.  However, the first coffee shop that can be confirmed was the Procuratie Nuove, which opened in Venice in 1683.


Coffee in France got off to a slow start.  Charles de l'Ecluse (Carolus Clusius), a physician and botanist, received some coffee seeds in 1596.  The French ambassador to Constantinople brought the habit back to Marseilles in 1644, where it was considered a great curiosity.  Jean de Thevenot privately introduced coffee to Paris in 1657, having acquired a taste for the beverage in the Levant.  Merchants in Marseilles and Lyons began commercial importation of coffee in the 1660s and the coffeehouse arrived in Marseilles in 1671.


Coffee laid siege to Vienna in 1683, or at least the Turks who had the coffee did.  Coffee may have come to Vienna with the Turkish incursion of 1529, but coffee was new to Constantinople at the time and there is no record of its use during the First Siege of Vienna.


Franz Georg Kolschitzky, a Polish adventurer residing in Vienna, volunteered to serve as a messenger between the forces in the beleaguered city and the combined armies of the Prince of Lorraine and the King of Poland.  Over the period of a month, Kolschitzky made several trips through the Turkish lines carrying messages between the commanders to coordinate the counterattack on the Turks, which occurred on September 12.  As his reward, Kolschitzky took the coffee, which had been left behind by the fleeing Turks and opened the first of the Viennese coffeehouses.


Among the last places to be introduced to the wonders of coffee were the American colonies, Sweden and Germany.  These countries began the importation of coffee in the latter half of the 17th Century with coffeehouses becoming popular toward the beginning of the 18th Century.



The growing popularity of coffee in Europe, undiminished by a number of attacks against it, brought the merchants of Europe from the role of importer to cultivator.  The Dutch introduced systematic coffee cultivation to Ceylon in 1690 and in 1696 to Java. The initial planting in Java was destroyed by a flood, but three years later a second shipment of seedlings from Malabar established the Javanese coffee industry.  The Dutch would later expand coffee cultivation to all of the Netherlands Indies.


The French attempted to cultivate coffee at Dijon about 1670.  The attempt failed.  In 1714, the French obtained a seedling from the Javanese plantings via the botanical gardens in Amsterdam.  The seedling was successfully cultivated at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and, after a failed attempt, one of its offspring arrived in Martinique in 1723 in the possession of Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, who was serving as a captain of infantry on the island.  


Coffee cultivation spread from Martinique through the Antilles and to the coast of South America.  The first coffee plants in Brazil came from French Guiana and were later joined by plants from Goa.  Dutch cultivation spread east from Java, and Spanish missionaries introduced the plant to the Philippines.  By the end of the 18th Century, much of the Tropics were actively producing coffee, and much of the world was drinking what they produced.


For the medievalist, coffee is a period anomaly.  It may have been in use as early as the 6th Century, but it was geographically limited, difficult to obtain and assuredly expensive.  The earliest it can be placed as a beverage, and admittedly somewhat apocryphally, is the mid-13th Century, and then only as an adjunct to Sufist religious practices.


How coffee became part of Sufi ritual is unknown.  It may be that the physicians of Persia who experimented with coffee introduced it to their coreligionists.  The drinking of coffee appears to have originated in Abyssinia or Yemen and spread to Turkey and Persia, all areas with relatively large Sufi populations at the time.  Whether coffee was used outside of medicine and ritual is open to question, but the use of qatt, a stimulating tisane made from the leaves of an evergreen shrub (Catha edulis), suggests that coffee would have become a drink of those who could afford it.


Coffee drinking as a common practice begins in the mid-15th Century with the rise of commercial coffee interests, which raises the question, was coffee a product seeking a market or was it a market waiting for increased supply?  Qatt and coffee are contemporaries with qatt coming into general use before coffee.  Qatt may have created the market only to be supplanted by coffee.


Except in the context of the 16th Century Middle East and Italy, coffee is a modern beverage.  Even where it was in general use by the end of the Italian renaissance, the beverage appears to have been a novelty – served separately from meals and as an adjunct to pleasurable activities such as smoking, thought and discussion.  Its use in the effort to recreate Renaissance cooking will be limited to those occasions where it would be appropriate to serve as an after dinner curiosity.




Allen, Stewart Lee, The Devil's Cup; Coffee, the Driving Force in History, New York, Soho Press, 1999.


Annequin, Guy, Little Known Civilizations of the Red Sea, Geneva, Ferni Publishers, 1979.

BHM, (1998, June), Avicenna (abu-AliSina or Ebna Sina); [Online], Available: http://www.ed.ac.uk/~bhm/avicenna.html


Hattox, Ralph S., Coffee and Coffeehouses; The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East; Seattle, University of Washington, 1985.


Heise, Ulla, Coffee and Coffeehouses; West Chester, PA, Schiffer Publishing, 1987.


Kolpas, Norman, A Cup of Coffee; New York, Grove Press, 1993.


Narasimhacrya, Rao Bahader R. A., "The Baba-Budan Mountain," The Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society, Mysore; Vol. VII, No. 2, January, 1917, pg. 105; [Online], Available: https://indianhistorybooks5.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/4990010047643-the-quarterly-journal-of-the-mythic-societyvol-71916-1917-n-a-374p-social-science-english-1917.pdf


Schafer, Charles and Violet, Coffee; San Francisco, Yerba Buena Press, 1978.


Schapira, Joel and others, The Book of Coffee and Tea; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1975.


Trager, James, The Food Chronology; New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1995.


Ukers, William H., All About Coffee, 2nd Edition; New York, The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1935.


Wheeler, Stephen Edward, "Terry, Edward," Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 56; [Online], Available: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Terry,_Edward_(DNB00)


Zahoor, Dr. A., (1998, June), ABU ALI AL-HUSSAIN IBN ABDALLAH IBN SINA (Avicenna); [Online], Available:  http://www.erols.zenithco/sina.html


Zahoor, Dr. A., (1998, June), ABU BAKR MUHAMMAD BIN ZAKARIYA AR-RAZI (Rhazes); [Online], Available:  http://www.erols.zenithco/razi.html


Author's Note:


For those interested in delving deeper into the history of coffee, the volumes by Hattox and Ukers are suggested reading. Their works are a pleasant contrast to the slipshod scholarship and numerous errors of other works on the subject.  Both books are extensively researched, and represent the best scholarly work available.


Hattox focuses on the history and social implications of coffee in the Middle East from its appearance as a beverage through its general acceptance and widespread use.  Ukers covers all aspects of coffee including history, its appearance in art and literature, cultivation and production.


Copyright 1998, 2015 by Terry D. Decker, P.O. Box 720338, Norman, OK 73072. <t.d.decker at att.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org