Kaldi And The Dancing Goats: How One Boy “Discovered” Coffee

Published May 23, 2015
Updated May 6, 2015
Kaldi Coffee Hands Beans

Source: Flickr

While some may think of Italy as the epicenter of the world’s coffee addiction, the world’s most popular drug arrived to Europe fairly late in history. In fact, coffee was born in Ethiopia. Both the arabica and robusta varieties have their origins there.

Today, around 5,000 varieties of arabica grow in Ethiopia, more than in any other country on earth. One of the most charming stories of the human discovery of the caffeine-rich beans originates from Ethiopia, too. The tale of Kaldi supposedly took place around the 9th century in what is today the province of Kaffa.

Kaldi and the Dancing Goats

The story goes that, over a millennium ago, a young boy named Kaldi lived with his family in Ethiopia. Kaldi’s job was to tend the goats in the fields. His family was nomadic, moving every few months to a new site in a cycle that had been repeated for generations.

One day, Kaldi grew bored of watching the goats and started playing songs on his wooden pipe. Time passed. When Kaldi looked up to check on the goats, they were gone. Kaldi went searching for them, playing his pipe as he walked through the fields and groves of trees.

Finally, he found his herd, and that is when he saw the strangest scene of his life – the goats were dancing. Kaldi thought they were possessed. He watched them for a while and discovered they were eating bright red beans from bushes with shiny leaves. He ate some of the beans himself and immediately began dancing with the herd.

Kaldi Coffee Drawing

Kaldi dancing with goats. Source: Hub Coffee Roasters

Later, Kaldi carried samples of this mysterious plant to a local Sufi monastery. After some skepticism, the monks partook of the strange beans. That night, their midnight prayers came easily. The monks stayed up for hours, praying in the state of spiritual ecstasy they had always sought. They embraced the consumption of coffee – for that is what Kaldi had discovered – as a vehicle toward mystical visions.

John has been writing for All That Is Interesting since 2014 and now lives in Madrid, Spain, where he writes and consults on international development projects in East Africa.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.