Fancy a Coffee?

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Coffee is a morning ritual for many, a source of comfort for others, and for most an invaluable tool to get us through a long day at the office. However you look at it, the familiar inky beverage has become one of the world’s favourite drinks.

It’s a Word for Wednesday that many of us will use on a daily basis (I know I do!) but where does it come from and why is it so remarkably similar almost in every language?

Despite preconceptions we might have of coffee (think Italian ‘espresso’, or a big American ‘cup of Joe’) coffee, like alcohol comes from the Arabic tradition. The best coffee is considered to come from the Arabica bean, native to the Yemen highlands.

The Arabic ‘qahwah’ – formerly meaning ‘wine’ – was adopted as a name for coffee in Muslim culture. Due to its immense popularity, ‘qahwah’ became known to Europe as ‘the wine of Islam’.

Other theories suggest that the name comes from the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, another plentiful home of the plant. In its early usage there are examples of many different spellings, including ‘chaoua’.

Like many English words, coffee made its way into use via the Italian ‘caffe’ around the 16th century.

Whether it spread from the Arabic tradition or not it is striking how similar the word for coffee is internationally! In Mandarin it is ‘kafei’, in Finnish it is ‘kahvi’ and in Zulu it is ‘ikhofi’.

Every culture has its own set of contexts, preferences and anecdotes regarding coffee, arguably making it the intensely personal drink that it is. I’d like to leave you with this delightful homage to coffee from Milton’s ‘Comus’:

One sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight
Beyond the bliss of dreams.

That is it for this week’s Word for Wednesday and it’s time for a coffee break!


08 May 2013
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