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Society

Colombia Celebrates Its Beloved Drug For The Ages, Coffee

This essential morning drink for millions worldwide was once considered an addictive menace, earning itself a ban on pain of death in the Islamic world.

Colombia Celebrates Its Beloved Drug For The Ages, Coffee

Colombia's star product: coffee beans.

Julián López de Mesa Samudio

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — October 1st is International Coffee Day. Recently it seems as if every day of the calendar year commemorates something — but for Colombia, coffee is indeed special.

For almost a century now we have largely tied our national destiny, culture and image abroad to this drink. Indeed it isn't just Colombia's star product, it became through the course of the 20th century the world's favorite beverage — and the most commonly used drug to boost work output.

Precisely for its stimulating qualities — and for being a mild drug — coffee was not always celebrated, and its history is peppered with the kinds of bans, restrictions and penalties imposed on the 'evil' drugs of today.


The first solid evidence of coffee consumption was in the early 15th century, when Islamic mystics (also known as dervishes or Sufis) imported its grains from Harar in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) into the port of Mukha (or Mocha) in Yemen.

Bans and restrictions

Arte y Pasión Café, Bogotá, Colômbia.

Elias Rovelio/Flickr

The plant is native to Ethiopia, where coffee was used to keep people awake in night rituals and ceremonies. More than awake in fact: it sent them into a state of intoxication that compounded the chants and litanies that would carry them closer to God.

Through the Sufis, coffee spread from southern Arabia to the rest of the Islamic world: Egypt and North Africa, the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia. But already in 1511, it faced its first ban, in Mecca, for its stimulating effects on its consumers.

Drinking it became punishable by death.

In Cairo, it became illegal in 1532 to possess or consume coffee grains, as many jurists and teachers concluded coffee had the same, inebriating effects as alcoholic drinks. Islam prohibits alcohol consumption for its altering of the mind, creating dependence and degrading people to bestial levels.

Overstimulating and addictive beverage

Colombia is a major coffee producer.

Luis Bernardo Cano/ZUMA

The ban reached a peak under the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV (1623-40), when drinking coffee was outlawed, and banished in society, across the empire. Texts referred to coffee then in terms reserved for narcotic substances, and drinking it became punishable by death.

The ban on coffee in the 16th and 17th centuries even arrived back to its original home in Ethiopia, where the Church proscribed it in the late 17th century until well into the 19th century. Like Islam, the Ethiopian Church deplored its overstimulating effects and addictive quality.

And today?

In 2021, people worldwide consumed 166.3 million 60-kilo sacks of coffee, and except for a slight drop in 2019, consumption has steadily grown over the past 40 years.

Many countries like Colombia have profited from its production and trade, while countries that were not traditional growers, like Indonesia and Vietnam, have successfully entered this vast business.

International Coffee Day was established in 2015 to recognize its importance for millions of people, and celebrate an aromatic and energizing brew. In our case, it helped build a nation.

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