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The Cafe Scene

The year is 2737 BC. The former Chinese emperor Shen Nung wanders the southern countryside in search of herbs and berries to mix into his water. His stomach aches with every step he takes farther from his boiling pot. A cool wind rustles the trees around him and lifts his long, dark hair from his shoulders. At this, Shen Nung worries for the life of his flame and scurries back to his camp to make sure his water is still boiling. Kneeling down, he finds the telltale bubbles of the hot liquid, but a sweet smell reaches for his nose. At the bottom of his pot is a leaf he’s never seen before.

The former emperor decides he must taste the infusion his pot has made and fills his cup with it. The liquid slides effortlessly down his throat and lights up every nerve in his body, as if it were exploring every part of his very soul. It heals his stomach and finds himself relaxing. From the tree he leans against falls leaves identical to the one in his pot. With fervor, Shen Nung grabs for these and keeps them with him for later use. Now, he enjoys another cup and names it “ch’a”.

It’s the late fifteenth century. A dry wind blows calmly through the grasses of Ethiopia, ruffling the leaves of the green bushes and trees, as a man shepherds his goats back towards his home. The animals are more rambunctious than usual today, which worries the man. He strides towards the herd and at their feet he finds white petals, scattered like the stars over their dark hooves. One of the goats bumps their head at his knees, catching him gently with its horns. The herder examines the petals and collects the bigger blossoms of the flower as they appear. Curious red berries are attached to the white. He hides them away in his clothes.

Returning home, his goats have too much energy to sleep. The herder fears it’s an effect of the strange blossoms he discovered the animals eating and so hurries to the local monastery. There, the monks experiment with the berries the herder had kept by boiling them in water. After drinking, they too experience the new alertness and are able to make it through the long evening prayer without once feeling fatigue. They share with other monasteries about the great effect of these berries, and word slowly spread east to Mecca.

This new drink quickly becomes popular in the Arabian city. The merchants and vendors begin working together to open shops that sell this new drink—qahwa, Arabic for coffee. Soon, people milling about these places and more and more start to open, not only for the coffee, but also for the company of others. Political discussions happen in them, lovers meet in them, religious leaders write in them. Eventually, a new drink from the eastern trade route is introduced into these coffee shops—ch’a, Chinese for tea. It’s an infusion of boiled water and leaves, courtesy of one ancient emperor.

So began the first cafe, complete with coffee and tea in their purest forms. And so begins my blog. The Cafe Scene will be an exploration of the many different coffee houses around world, including our local Farmington coffee shops, and the staple drinks they serve as well as some very fun recipes for these popular beverages.

Sources: The History of Coffee, History of Tea, Study Guide: A Short History of Tea, The History of Coffee Houses, Desiring, Daniel Gerhartz (Photo)

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