It is believed that the origin of the coffee plant traces back to Africa, and its use as a beverage was first realised in what was then Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, and its opposite port, Yemen. The discovery story of coffee is thought to have taken place between the years 800 and 1000 after, according to legend, a goat herder named Khaldi noticed an increase in energy in his goats while grazing them.

Noticing this, Khaldi collected fruits from this tree and went to share his discovery with a nearby Sufi dervish. Initially sceptical about the effects of the coffee beans on goats, the Sufi dervish threw the coffee beans into a wood fire. As the coffee beans began to roast, the unique aroma of coffee spread around. Inspired by the aroma of coffee, Khaldi and the Sufi dervish prepared a delightful drink from the coffee beans. 

According to legend, these roasted beans were ground in a bowl and boiled in water for a while to fully release their essence, thus discovering coffee. 

From a more academic perspective, we need to consider the narratives of historians based on sources. 

“We know that the coffee plant originated in East Africa, but there it was used for medicinal purposes, not as a beverage. From the 1450s, however, evidence suggests that coffee began being consumed as a beverage in Yemen; but at that time, coffeehouses had yet to be established, and due to its stimulating effect, was mostly consumed during night rituals as a part of religious ceremonies. From Yemen, coffee spread to major Islamic territories such as Egypt, Aleppo, and Damascus,” explains historian Prof. Dr. Cengiz Kırlı.

Highlighting that Istanbul served as the gateway for coffee’s transition from a traditional Islamic beverage into a global drink, Kırlı notes, “We understand that coffee arrived in Istanbul in the 1550s, and from the 1630s, it begins to be mentioned in sources with a history of 100 years. The first coffeehouse opened in Oxford in 1650, followed by London in 1652. The people who opened these coffeehouses were Armenians and Greeks who had lived in Ottoman territories. Following England, coffeehouses began opening in cities like Amsterdam, Paris, and Vienna, and the culture of drinking coffee spread rapidly throughout Europe.”

The popularisation of coffee can only be understood in the forms of socialisation that accompany it” – Prof. Dr. Cengiz Kırlı, stating that coffee also became popular in Istanbul in a short time, shared some excerpts from one of the most referenced sources of coffee’s journey in Istanbul, chronicler İbrahim Peçevî Efendi, who emphasised that the process of coffee’s popularisation in Europe was linked to factors beyond the beverage itself. “From what İbrahim Peçevî Efendi wrote, we understand that drinking coffee was just one of the activities done in a coffeehouse, perhaps not even the most important. Coffeehouses were places for playing backgammon or mangala, writing, and watching dancers, and they became an important part of the urban life in Istanbul.”

The first secular gathering spaces of the Ottoman society

Although coffee did not initially pose many problems when it entered the Ottoman territory, Prof. Dr. Cengiz Kırlı states that its status changed after a short time and coffee was eventually banned. The reason coffeehouses began to be seen as problematic by political authorities was because they became the first secular gathering spaces. 

Kırlı mentions that in a census conducted in 1792, out of 13,000 shops in Istanbul, 1670 were coffeehouses, and he emphasized that barber shops, which were the second most common after coffeehouses, also functioned as coffeehouses. Kırlı also highlighted that the perception that only Muslims went to coffeehouses and non-Muslims to taverns was incorrect: “Just as there were many Muslims who went to taverns, there were also many non-Muslims who went to coffeehouses. An 18th-century depiction shows Mevlevi dervishes, Janissary aghas, and Armenians together in a coffeehouse. I am not claiming that coffeehouses created an egalitarian environment among different groups; but according to travellers’ narratives, compared to salons in Europe, as social spaces, coffeehouses had a more inclusive profile,” says Prof. Dr. Cengiz Kırlı.

Although it made its way into written sources late; in the 16th century, Özdemir Pasha, the Governor of Yemen at the time, introduced the coffee beans he encountered in Yemen to the Ottoman Empire’s capital, Istanbul, and from there, they were spread throughout Europe by Venetian traders. In Istanbul, the most significant factor contributing to coffee’s widespread popularity among the public was its positioning as a “Sufi” drink in dervish lodges. 

The reason coffee became synonymous with Sufis can be linked to the perseverance, patience, and care required not only in the maturation of a ‘Sufi’ but also in the production of coffee. It is in this spirit we introduce The Whirl brand; honouring the coffee that spread from these lands to the world and the Sufis who consumed it in the best way, and bringing together coffee enthusiasts by expertly roasting the world’s best quality beans with passion, care and a modern touch.