Tour of coffee history: Arabian Jewel Highlights Arab Roots in Coffee Culture

Tour of coffee history: Arabian Jewel Highlights Arab Roots in Coffee Culture


By Syeda Amtul

As part of International Coffee Week celebrations, Arabian Jewel, a local cultural initiative, organized an informative event at Medd Café for coffee lovers in the city where audience members were introduced to the historic roots of coffee culture in the Arabian Peninsula.

“Our tour, rediscovering Arab Roots in Coffee Culture, was aimed at bringing awareness to the role of Arab contribution to coffee culture on the world at large. We drink coffee daily, it is a global phenomenon and the second largest consumed commodity. Yet, how much do we know about the history, the bean, and how it comes to our cup?” said Sharifah Zainab, a senior member of Arabian Jewel, in her opening address.

Tour of coffee history: Arabian Jewel Highlights Arab Roots in Coffee Culture

Zainab went on to narrate that according to historical records, in the 1400s coffee became a very popular drink among Muslims in Yemen, in the southern Arabian Peninsula. Legend goes that a shepherd, Kaldi, (some say in Yemen, some say in Ethiopia) noticed that his goats became very energetic and jumpy when they ate beans from a particular tree. He had the courage to try them himself, noticing they gave him an energy boost. Over time, the tradition of roasting the beans and immersing them in water to create a sour yet powerful drink developed, and thus, coffee was born.

Arabica beans are grown at higher elevations which makes for a slower grow process and thus it becomes harder to yield large quantities. Robusta beans are harvested on plantations with easier farming practices, yielding larger crops, which tend to decrease the quality of the beans. Additionally, Robusta beans need fewer pesticides because of the extra caffeine content the bean holds. The difference in growing conditions and farming methods contributes to Arabica being a more expensive bean than Robusta. 

Apart from the most famous legend of Kaldi, there are alternate traditions on the origins of coffee. “There are claims that the discovery of coffee can be traced to the Yemenite Sufi mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu Al-Hasan Al-Shadhili. His disciple, Sheikh Omar, who lived as a recluse in Mocha, Yemen is the strongest proponent of this claim,” explained Sharifah.

Several coffee lovers attended the event and gained fresh insights into coffee history thanks to the information speeches of Sharifah and Medd Café co-founder Salem. Participants appreciated how the event brought members of the community together to discuss themes that rediscover culture and social aspects of life in the Arabian Peninsula. Attendees also discussed international coffee culture and practices, roasting methods, bean selection and Medd’s uncompromising stance on high quality coffee.

Arabian Jewel is a non-profit cultural initiative operating in the Hijaz. The nature of their work is to connect people to the history, culture and the people of Hijaz. With over a decade in operation, tours are an ongoing feature and prove supportive to newcomers and expats living in the region.