Somewhere in East Africa: 600 – 800 B.C (ish)
A shepherd is seen in the distance, attempting to herd his goats towards a small mud hut. Some goats are jumping up and down, while others are racing around in circles. After much yelling, shoving and pushing, he manages to get the goats into a small enclosure near the hut. As he turns back towards the hut, one goat bounds over the fence, runs for a few yards, then stops and begins to hop in circles. Using his shepherd’s hook, he pushes the goat back into the enclosure. Exhausted, he sits down outside the hut, breathing heavily. Another man walks out from the hut.
“Kaldi! Took your time didn’t you? I was getting a bit worried for a while there …” His voice trails off as he looks over at the goats, who are still jumping around and running in circles. “Hmm.” He looks down at Kaldi. “Bit strange isn’t it? Those goats, I mean.” He leaves that hanging in the air.
“Oh. My. God!” Kaldi lets out, shaking his head. “You have no idea Keddi. Those goats,” he looks over his shoulder as one goat back flips onto another one, then begins circling. “They’ve gone crazy! I mean, one minute, they’re lounging around some bushes, chewing on the leaves. Then they start eating the cherries, and they just went nuts! That was hours ago! And look at them, they’re still crazy.” He shakes his head, still taking in deep breaths.
Keddi frowns before saying “The cherries you say? How many did they eat?”
Still shaking his head Kaldi replies, “I have no idea. That bush, it was like, red with these cherries at the start. Now? Its just a few leaves and broken twigs.”
Keddi’s nodding now, “Yeah okay, and they like, ate all the cherries?”
“Well,” Kaldi looks left and right for a second, before saying “Not all of them, no. I managed to grab a few. One of those buggers charged at me for it! Almost took my eye out!”
“Hmm, right.” Keddi’s looking at the goats now, one of which is on its side on the ground, using its back feet to circle around. “I’m with you on the whole crazy thing …” He trails off again, narrowing his eyes at the goats. “But I gotta say Kaldi, they do look a little … happy too, don’t you think?”
Kaldi’s standing now, looking over at the goats as well. In his hand he’s holding a few of the red cherries. “Yeah. I guess so. Maybe a little, well, energetic for my liking, but still …” He looks down at the cherries. Looking up, Keddi meets his gaze.
“What do you reckon?” Keddi says, looking down now at the cherries.
“What? About these?” Kaldi holds up the cherries.
“Yeah, them.” Keddi says. “Reckon we should give them a go?”
Kaldi looks over at the goats again; still circling, still jumping, still looking crazy. He looks back at Keddi.
Somewhere in North Africa: Around 1100 B.C
Through the narrow streets of a dusty town, the light dimming as dusk descends, a thin, emaciated man, his hands and lips dyed a deep shade of red, walks up to a door of a small, tidy looking house. Beside the door are two rugs, rolled up and leaning against the wall. Next to the rugs are a number of chests and crates, various household items inside. The man looks inside one of the chests and pulls out a purple robe. Screwing it up in his hand and looking visibly angry now, he slams his fist against the door twice before opening it and entering the house.
“Omar!” A woman exclaims, standing bolt upright from a small table, across from which a man is sitting, busily counting out coins.
“Oh …” The man says. “Well this is all a bit awkward now.” He looks down at his coins, then across at the woman. “Aisha, you told me Omar wouldn’t be back.” He stops then looks over at Omar. “I can’t help but notice though, that over there is Omar, and well … he’s back.” Looking back at Omar he says; “Greetings Omar, you look … well.”
“Ammar,” Omar says nodding, lip curling up. He looks over at Aisha, eyebrows raised.
“Omar!” She says again, still stiff, eyes widened in shock.
“Yes Aisha, that’s Omar over there, think we’ve established that. Perhaps a hello might be in order; it’s not every day your husband returns from exile”. Ammar starts counting the coins back into a bag, shaking his head slightly.
“Yes, yes, right …” Aisha says, slowly composing herself. “Omar, hello! I’m so sorry, its just, well, I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”
Ammar interrupts: “Soon? He was exiled! He’s not supposed to be back! So those rugs out there; they’re supposed to be mine now!” He lowers his head, still counting and muttering under his breath.
“So sorry to disappoint you Ammar.” Omar shakes his head at Aisha. “My purple robe? Really? You know it’s my favourite. You were going to sell it? And my rugs? To him?” He gestures in Ammar’s direction.
“You were exiled!” Aisha says. “To the caves of Mocha! Ammar’s right; you’re not supposed to be back!”
“Well,” Omar says, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a bright red cherry. He pops it into his mouth and begins chewing. His voice takes on a slightly haughty tone. “Found a few things out in the caves. The Sheik seemed pretty happy with what I discovered.” He looks around the room for a second before walking over to a chair and sitting himself down. “Asked me back he did. He’s talking about making me a saint actually …” He looks out the window, putting a slightly bored look on.
Aisha resumes her shocked look. “A saint!? What on earth did you find out there?”
“Oh,” Omar says. “Just a little cherry.”
Ammar frowns. “A cherry? What’s so great about a cherry?”
Omar leaps up suddenly. Aisha and Ammar jump back. “Everything!” Omar says. “For three days and nights I was out there. No food, no water, just these cherries.” He picks another one out from his pocket and begins chewing on it. “And these cherries, they kept me alive! They sustained me, kept me awake, alert. They saved my life!” His eyes were wild now, hand gestures everywhere. “Seeing I was still alive, the locals round the caves, they started bringing in their sick. I made a drink from the cherries, gave it to them, and they were cured!” He sat back down as suddenly as he stood. “And you know, word got back to the sheik, he thought it was pretty cool, so he invited me back, told me I’d be a saint.” He shrugged his shoulders then leaned back in the chair, hands behind his head, chewing on another cherry.
“Right,” Ammar says. “But those rugs … You think you still want them?”
The Arabian Port of Jeddah, outside Mecca: 1500 A.D or so
A large rotund man is yelling orders at a group of slaves, next to a ship moored in a bustling port. Sacks, barrels and chests are being loaded onto the ship. A man approaches him, walking rather awkwardly and carrying two sacks over each shoulder.
“Brother Budan!” The large man says, moving forward to hug him. Brother Budan stops suddenly, hand out. A bag drops to the ground, some beans spilling out.
“Please,” Brother Budan says hurriedly. “Please, Abdul; I think I have some bug maybe, no hugs today sorry.” He leans down with some difficulty, trying to push the beans back into the bag.
Abdul pulls up, concern on his face. “My friend! That is no good! No good at all. You sit down, I pick the beans for you.” Brother Budan just stands there, sweat breaking out on his brow as Abdul leans down and starts placing the beans back into the sack. He looks closely at one he has picked up. He frowns slightly.
“My friend, these are the live beans you know, they cannot leave the port like this. You know, yes?
Brother Budan starts nodding. “Yes, yes, of course. That’s why I’m early, you need to boil them or something right? That’s it, they’re the only beans I have …”
“Oh yes”, Abdul says. “These live beans, they could grow anywhere out there” He gestures out to the sea. “And if they grow out there, in those other lands, who would buy from us, yes?” Abdul looks over at the other sack on Brother Budan’s shoulder. “You have more beans there?”
Brother Budan nods furiously, “Oh yes, just these two bags, that’s right. No other beans here, at all. None. Just these.” He laughs, a little nervously, more sweat sprouting from his forehead. He shifts his robe a little, another nervous laugh coming out as he looks around him.
Abdul is looking a little more closely now at Brother Budan, eyes narrowing. Brother Budan shifts his feet uncomfortably, trying not to look him in the eye. Abdul suddenly bursts out laughing.
“Oh, you pilgrims, you so funny” He slaps him on the shoulder and Brother Budan’s hands immediately go to his stomach. “I mean, for a second there,” Abdul says, “you almost looked like one of those smugglers we get here, you know?” Brother Budan’s face has gone a pasty shade of white. Shaking his head and still laughing, Abdul walks over to a large barrel and begins pouring the beans in. He yells at a passing slave for some boiling water. Brother Budan’s hands have not left his stomach.
“It’s funny,” Abdul says returning. “Just one seed, two seeds, seven seeds! That’s all it would take, and then, poof!” Abdul spreads his hands. “All this, how you say … Monopoly. It’s gone, yes?” He shakes his head, looking out to the horizon.
“I don’t have seven seeds.” Brother Budan suddenly says in a shaky voice.
“Huh?” Abdul looks back at him.
“Nothing!” Brother Budan replies, his voice rising slightly. Abdul looks at him again with the narrowed eyes. Then he shrugs.
“You pilgrims, you funny, yes?”
Vatican City, Rome: 1600 A.D
Somewhere in the middle of the Vatican, in a large, brightly lit room. Pope Clement VIII sits in a chair, trying not to look bored, as a small group of clerics stand before him yelling among themselves. Eventually he raises his hand and the group immediately is silenced.
“I’m still a little confused at what you’re all arguing about. It’s like I’m down at the lake, with the geese, and I throw some bread on the ground, and all these geese, they just hurtle down onto the bread. And they’re flapping their wings and there’s feathers everywhere, and the noise! That’s what you sound like. Just no feathers, or wings.” He stops for a moment then looks around the room. “You sound like geese.”
The group collectively look down at their feet, before one of them steps forward, clearing his throat. “Well, your Excellency … It’s about coffee.”
“The Devil’s drink!” One from the back yells out heatedly. A few of the others nod their agreement and murmur a low “hear, hear”. The first man looks back, scowling slightly, before looking back to the pope. A few minutes pass before the Pope sighs.
“Sometimes I really think you give me more credit than I deserve. I mean, sure, direct line to God and all that, but look-” He stands up and looks towards the ceiling. “Hey! God! The Pope here. Hey, look, I was just hoping you could tell me what coffee is. If you could thanks. That’d be great. Cheers!” He continues looking up for a minute or two, and then cocks his hand up to his ear, leaning to the side. Another minute passes. The Pope shakes his head then shrugs. “No luck this time I’m afraid.” He says. “I’m just gonna throw this one out to you lot.” He looks out expectantly. Another minute passes.
Shaking his head, the Pope suddenly claps his hand. “Gionardo! Coffee! What. Is. It?”
“The Devils’ drink!” another one yells from the back. Gionardo, makes a ‘cool-it’ sign with his hands at him, before saying to the Pope. “Well, we believe coffee, this new-fangled drink from the East, is the Devil’s drink itself!” His voice rises towards the end, hand outstretched and pointed to punctuate his statement. The Pope sinks his head into his hands, shaking it again. After a moment he looks up.
“Okay, okay then.” He rubs his eyes. “Let’s see. Coffee-” The group collectively nod their heads, “is a drink, from the East, that you believe belongs to the Devil?” The group nod, vigorously now. “Right,” The Pope says, “now we’re getting somewhere. Now, can someone tell me why this drink belongs to the Devil?”
“It’s black!” yells out one. “Like the Devil!” yells another.
The Pope sighs. “Yes, and so are blackberries. But I’m pretty sure blackberries don’t belong to the Devil.”
“Arabs drink it!” Yells one from the middle. “Devil-worshiping Arabs!” yells out another. “And it’s black!’ From the back again.
The Pope starts massaging his forehead. “Just because Arabs drink this coffee stuff, you know, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make it the Devil’s drink. Don’t they drink water as well?” Gionardo looks back at the assembly. “I got this,” he says quietly. “Relax, I got this.” He looks back at the Pope.
“Well, you see, coffee came from the Devil-worshiping Arab land, while water; well, that came from God.” Smiling slightly, he looks back at the group, giving them a thumbs up; two at the back high-five each other.
“I think I’m getting a headache.” The Pope says. He takes a deep breath, makes the sign of the cross, then continues; “So, you want me to ban this coffee drink, because it’s black like the Devil, and comes from the East, where all the Arabs worship the Devil. Am I on the right track?” The group lets out a collective hurrah. The Pope just stares back blankly at them for a moment. “Right, I need to try this drink.”
The group look at the Pope, aghast. “But your Excellency!” Gionardo says. “It is the drink of the Devil!”
The Pope shakes his head. “Listen; I’m not banning something I haven’t tried myself. Go get me some coffee. Now.”
Much muttering and grumbling goes on among the group until eventually one is dispatched to hunt down some coffee. After ten minutes or so he returns with a steaming cup in his hand, outstretched from his body as far as he can. He passes it quickly to Gionardo, who solemnly hands it to the Pope. The room goes quiet. The Pope takes a sip.
His eyes widen. “Oh my, that’s good! Like, that is really, really good.”
At the back, one of the group let’s out a whimper. Another gets onto his knees and begins praying.
“No need to pray,” the Pope says, licking his lips. “Direct line to God, and He’s saying: coffee; it’s good to go!”
French Guiana: 1727 A.D
It’s nighttime. Two men are standing outside the wall of a garden. Over the wall a large palace can be seen. One man is dressed in black, the other in black pants with a green top. One is holding a bag, the other a length of rope.
“I’m just saying Paulo, you could have worn a black top too, that’s all. I’m just not sure what was so hard about that, you know? Francisco said wear black.” He shrugged. “so I don’t know why you didn’t wear black.”
Paulo’s frowning. “Pedro, these pants, they’re black.” He shrugs back at Pedro.
“All black. Francisco said wear all black. That top; it’s green.” Paulo shakes his head, pointing at Pedro’s top.
“My wife,” Pedro says. “She thinks I look good in green.” He looks up at the garden wall. “We’re just going to, like, climb over right? I brought a rope, maybe we could use that?”
Paulo is still pointing at Pedro’s green top. “She thinks you look good in green? What in God’s name does that matter?” His voice is rising now. Pedro motions to him to lower his voice. Paulo continues in a strained whisper: “It doesn’t matter, that’s what! We’re here to steal a coffee shrub, not make your wife happy!”
“I don’t know” Pedro says. “I’m not sure if the green top makes her happy; she just said I look good in it. So, yeah, I’m not sure on that one.” He looks up at the wall again. “I think we should use the rope. Would seem a shame to drag it all this way and not use it …” He starts unraveling the rope. Paulo is clutching his head. “You know,” Pedro says. “This whole stealing coffee business is getting a bit old don’t you think?”
“When it comes to you Pedro, I seriously don’t know what to think. I do think we could probably climb over rather than use the rope, though, the wall’s barely taller than myself.” Paulo moves over to the wall and starts jumping, each time falling short of grabbing the top edge.
“Well,” Pedro goes on, ignoring Paulo. “First there was that Dutch guy a few years back. Him and a bunch of his Dutch spy mates go into Yemen and scarp off with a coffee cutting. I mean, they made it look all professional and stuff, but they were just a bunch of amateurs really.” Pedro swung the rope a few times, trying to gauge the distance. “Still, they came away with what they wanted and boom! The Dutch have control of the coffee industry outside the Ottoman Empire. Have to say, it was kinda smart.”
“I’m not following you Pedro. Because the Dutch stole some plants, and we’re going to steal some plants, you’re saying this ‘whole business’ is getting old?” Paulo jumps again, missing the top.
Pedro swings his rope again. “Well there was that French guy afterwards, Naval officer if I recall. Steals a cutting right under King Louis’ nose, in Paris. And get this,’ Pedro chuckles. “It was from a cutting the Dutch had given the King, from that first one they’d stolen. Unreal, right?”
Paulo is still jumping, and missing, the top of the wall. He stops for a moment and looks over at Pedro. “Okay, and I guess you’re going to say next how ironic it is that here we are, in this Godforsaken French colony, about to steal a cutting from a stolen cutting from a stolen cutting? Is that right?”
Pedro frowns slightly. “No, not really. I was actually going to say if the misso knew I was out here stealing a cutting the Dutch had originally stolen, she’d have a right old fit, she would, green top or no. She hates the Dutch, or anything to do with them. It’s all that orange I think.” He measures out some more rope. “In saying that, have to agree with you there Paulo; there’s certainly some irony there.” He throws the rope again, this time it catches. He leans back, seeing if it will support his weight. “So how much money did Francisco say he’d give us for this cutting? Thinking of taking the old girl away for the weekend or something. Not sure just yet. Maybe just a night out in town. Who knows?”
Paulo finally catches hold of the top of the wall. His feet scramble for a moment or two, before falling down in a heap. He picks himself up and starts brushing off dirt from his back. “First,” he says. “We need to get the cutting. Let’s concentrate on that, okay?”
Both there heads turn suddenly as they hear a hissing sound behind them. Out of the darkness a handsomely dressed man walks towards them, holding a bouquet of flowers.
“Francisco!” Pedro exclaims. “You joining us, friend?”
Francisco laughs lightly. “No need Pedro, no need.” Looking Pedro up and down quickly he says, “Nice top, that colour suits you.” He holds up the bouquet. “Anyways, I found an easier way.” He laughs again. Paulo looks closely at the bouquet. He pulls out a branch with small red and green cherries attached. “Where’d you get this from? I thought we were getting that” He looks upset.
“The Governor’s wife, she took quite a liking to me.” Again, he laughs. “Oh, she’s a sweet girl, that one.”
“So,” Paulo says, his bottom lip out slightly. “She stole that for you, did she?”
“No, no, no, Paulo. She gave it to me.”
“That’s just brilliant!” Pedro says, before falling silent for a moment. “Um, so … We still getting paid?”
Boston, Massachusetts: December 17th 1773
In a small office a British officer is sitting at a table. Across from him sits another man. He does not look happy.
“Right old chap,” The officer says. “Not quite sure what all the fuss is about. It’s a small tax really. Not too large. It’ll help pay for some new roads maybe, or paving on the main street. Surely we can both agree to this?”
The man just shakes his head. “No taxation without representation.”
“Yes, I’ve heard all that. But this tax, like I said, it’s a small one, and well, there’s also the small matter of your ship not being able to leave port until it’s paid. Seems a bit rough, to be sure, but what can one do? King and Country and all that.” He begins slowly tapping his fingers on the table, while the man sits there stoically, silently. “I do hope you see the slight predicament I’m in. It’s kind of out of my hands unfortunately. Parliament and all that, they’ve passed the laws, we’ve just got to follow them. It’s how a civilised country runs, I guess.” He stops. “I think a nice pot of tea’s in order, don’t you?” The man continues to stare back silently.
The officer leans out of his chair and yells out the open door “Excuse me! Yes, hello, could we perhaps get a pot of tea in here, thanks?” He looks back at the man. “Just the one cup I think.”
Shortly a man in uniform rushes in, takes his cap off and salutes. The officer waves him at slightly. “Yes, yes, just a pot of tea thanks. One cup please.” He looks over his shoulder out the window. “Think it might rain” he says. “Bit of cloud about.” He looks back and sees the man in uniform has not moved. He’s staring into space, clutching his cap.
“Ah, yes. Cup of tea, thanks. That’ll be all.” The officer looks back at the man sitting down, smiling politely. “Won’t be long, I’m sure.” He looks back at the man in uniform, who still hasn’t moved. “Um,” he pauses. “Cup of tea?”
“Right, sir”. He salutes, but stays standing still, but is now playing around with his cap. “About that tea, sir …”
“Yes …” the officer says, looking a little confused.
“Well …” The uniformed man is starting to sweat a little now. “There isn’t any”.
“Oh,” The officer smiles now. “Not to worry old chap. There’s a whole shipment in the port.” He pulls out a waist clock. “Shouldn’t take too long I’d think, if you got going now.”
The man in uniform starts shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Terribly sorry sir, but that’s gone.”
“Gone?” The officer is looking a little shocked now. “How is it gone? The ship can’t go anywhere, they haven’t paid their taxes yet.” He looks over at the man sitting down. “You haven’t paid your taxes yet, have you?” The man stares back blankly. The officer shuffles some papers in front of him, looking intently at them. “It’s not recorded here, if you have.” He looks back up at the man in uniform. “My turn to be sorry here, good man. I don’t believe I understand you right. How is the tea gone, exactly?”
“Well,” the man says. “A bunch of locals kind of threw it off the ship into the sea.”
“Oh,” the officer says. “All of it?”
“Yes, it seems that way I’m afraid, sir”.
The officer stands up. “That’s just … just, well … That’s ridiculous. Why would they do that?”
“Well, sir,” The man says. “We think it may have been a dress-up party gone wrong, perhaps.”
“Right,” the officer says. “How is that?”
“Some of the locals, sir, they were dressed up as Indians. So we thought maybe they were having a dress-up party on the ship, and maybe needed some extra room or something, so they accidentally threw the tea chests overboard.”
“Okay,” says the officer. “Fancy dress-up party though? Hardly the season for it.”
“Yes,” says the man. “So we thought it was either that, or instead of paying for the tax on the tea, they just threw it overboard.”
“Well I can’t understand that at all,” says the officer. “Without tea, what on earth are they going to drink?”
The man sitting down suddenly slams his fist on the table. “We’re Americans” he says, standing up. “We drink coffee.” And walks out the door.
Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia: Modern Day
It is high up on the mountains. Two farmers are busy picking coffee cherries from the bushes. Their buckets are brimming with red cherries.
“I don’t get it,” one says to the other. “They want us to only pick the red cherries, right?”
“Yes, Bogale, only the red cherries.”
Bogale looks puzzled. “What about the green ones, Abebe? We just leave them there?”
Abebe sighs. “No, Bogale, we’ll pick them later. For now, just pick the red cherries. We get paid more, if we pick the red cherries. Okay? Can we just get on with it? My backs killing me, and I just want to get this done, go home, and have a bath. Alright?”
“Okay, okay” Bogale says. They continue picking red cherries for a few more minutes, before Bogale starts laughing quietly, shaking his head.
Abele stops, and looks over. “What? What is it this time?”
“Oh, nothing.” Bogale says. “It’s just funny, picking these red cherries.”
“How is it funny? They pay us more for them. That’s funny?”
“Well,” Bogale begins. “Just think, all those centuries ago. Right here! A shepherd sees his goats going crazy after eating these cherries, so he eats some himself. That, just on it’s own, is funny. Eating goat food.” Bogale laughs again. “And then, coffee goes out into the world, first here, then North Africa, Egypt, the old Ottaman Empire. It’s smuggled out, coffee conquers Europe. People steal coffee plants left, right and centre. Coffee houses are set up, revolutions begin in them, whole historical movements begin with it, it becomes a part of our lives. Inventions are based on it: instant coffee, decaf coffee, espresso machines, coffee filters. And now, you get these Westerners, their whole ‘half-strength caramel extra froth latte’ thing going on. Whole countries; their economies are based on beans. Health alerts; coffee’s bad for you, coffee’s good for you. It just seems mad, you know?” Bogale puts his basket down and stretches his back. “All that, it started here, probably on these very hills, from some shepherd eating goat food. And now, now they say: don’t pick the green cherries. Only pick the red cherries.” He shrugs. “I don’t know, it just makes me laugh. These Westerners, they’re funny”.
“Me?” Abebe says. “I just pick the red cherries.”