There Is No God of Java

Coffee and ReligionWe remember that first taste of coffee like a brightly colored billboard. Well, maybe the taste took a bit of getting used to for most teenaged tongues, but the effects on our minds were mind blowing – thoughts swirling around so fast and clear we felt some secret of the universe was being revealed to us. What was this drink?

For some of us, we were hooked, like religious converts, grinning acolytes, devout apostles of an adult cult. Because most people first experience coffee during those identity forming years, it’s easy to understand how one could develop an almost religious fever over the magical brew.

A lot of mystery surrounds coffee, for sure, but not much in the way of organized religion. This is not surprising given coffee’s late rise in history. Even its use in hunter-gatherer societies is foggy, so as far as anyone knows, coffee was never used in religious rites.

One of only a few early legends about coffee involves an unknown Abyssinian tribe who used roasted coffee beans as a kind of super trail mix. They would roast wild coffee beans, then roll up the pulverized beans into baseball-sized globs of grease. One greasy coffee ball was said to keep a warrior nourished for a day.

Kaffeina Is a Punk Rocker

Some would claim the Romans worshiped a goddess of coffee whom they named Kaffeina, but this story has tons of problems. Supposedly, some time in the 3rd or 4th century, a Roman follower of Kaffeina discovered his goats acting strangely after eating some mysterious red berries. Investigating, he made the first coffee and gave credit to his goddess Kaffeina.

Sounds fantastic! Because it is totally made up! The Romans knew not of the pleasures of coffee. The Kaffeina story is actually a retelling of the Kaldi legend, even down to the mad goats. Any true god of coffee would have to have emerged after coffee was discovered in the Middle Ages.

Ishtar Is a True Star

The closest thing we have to a coffee god is Ishtar, the ancient Babylonian goddess of fertility. Ishtar’s story is similar to other fertility goddesses from the area. Like Persephone, Ishtar descends into the Underworld to bring about each new spring. Like Aphrodite, she is a monstrous mistress.

In Mesopotamian paganism, Ishtar was a supergoddess responsible in this way for life itself. As such, she was associated with bountiful harvests and anything good that comes from the earth. Later, as coffee spread out from Arabia, Ishtar went along for the ride.

So today, Ishtar is the god most closely linked to coffee, some even calling her the Goddess of Coffee. In fact, one coffee company still uses Ishtar’s image in their corporate logo.

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