So why did it take so long to discover coffee? The traditional story is that an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee when he spied his goats acting pleasantly jumpy after eating coffee berries from some mountain bush. Another story says that a Sufi sage saw birds eating coffee and flying with particular vigor.
|Site of the first London coffeehouse, honored by a plaque.|
But a lot of people loved coffee, giving it all sorts of magical properties. Some used it as a emetic--shoving it down the throat with a whalebone stick to induce vomiting. (It worked!) But most simply drank it, discovering that it made conversation easier, and that you could talk for longer over that "wakeful drink" than over mugs of beer.
The early coffeehouse was a perpetual fair of learning, discussion, selling, buying, arguments, and fun. Robert Hooke, the first demonstrator of the Royal Society, dissected a porpoise in Garraway's Coffeehouse in the 1660s to prove that the animal was a fish. (He was wrong.) Other coffeehouses catered to businessmen. Lloyd's of London, the insurance market, began as Lloyd's coffeehouse. Still others catered to fops and other fashionable young men who'd smoke, gamble, drink coffee and stay out too late.