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The spread of coffee: the strange story of Baba Budan


How coffee conquered the world, hidden in a... monk's beard!


The coffee world is full of strange stories, such as the legend of the Khalid shepherd. In the spread of coffee, one can meet priests, monks, merchants, colonists, slave laborers, pirates, popes ... so it is logical that over the years, dozens of obscure stories were created and circulated around the world, stuck between myth and reality. One of the most interesting is the story of the Indian monk Baba Budan - the first man to break the Arab coffee monopoly.


The Arab monopoly on coffee

Although the coffee plant originates in Africa, its cultivation and propagation is due to the Arab world. The Arab monks from today's Yemen region were the first to systematically cultivate the coffee plant, but also the first to make a drink with its roasted beans, qahwa, which in Arabic is a word associated with the word "wine" and from which, of course, comes the word "coffee". Although in the beginning, coffee is used by monks in their long vigilance, soon the beverage begins to spread and cross religious and Yemeni borders.

However, coffee remains an Arab monopoly for years. The World Trade Center for Coffee, the port from which coffee beans travel to Europe, is the port of Mocha in the Red Sea - the word Mocha also survives in the coffee world to this day. Arabs are particularly careful with precious granules, keeping exclusivity at all costs: they prohibit the export of green coffee beans to the death penalty and trade only roasted beans to ensure that the coffee trees will not grow outside Yemen.


The Indian monk with the dense beard

Coffee remains a strictly Arab affair until the 16th century, when an Indian Sufi monk, Baba Budan, visits the Holy Land of Islam for the sacred duty of the Muslim, the Hajj. Returning to his homeland, he makes a stop at the port of Mocha, where coffee has traditionally been offered as a tonic to disgruntled pilgrims.

Baba Budan gets excited about qahwa, asks, learns more information, and decides to bring the magic plant to his distant homeland - but it is difficult for him to find fresh seeds and even more difficult to transport. Having managed to obtain the precious seeds, he chooses seven, as the seven is a sacred number for Islam, and hides them well, in his enormous beard (and in others, in his hollow cane). Returning to India, Baba Budan planted his seeds in his trunk and slowly, seven coffee trees sprouted up: the first Arabica coffee trees on foreign soil, which laid the groundwork for spreading coffee around the world.


Adventurers, emperors and a precious gift

From Baba Budan's Seven Roots, the Dutch governor of India sends seeds to the Dutch colonies of Indonesia, and the systematic cultivation of coffee away from Arab control begins: we are in the age of colonialism. A few years later, Dutch traders gift King Louis of France an extremely valuable gift: a coffee tree from Indonesia, a descendant of Baba Budan's seeds.

It is unknown how a French adventurer named Gabriel Mathieu de Cheu manages to extract branches of the precious tree and plant them in his Martinique plantation - so coffee first reaches the Caribbean. The De Cheu plantation has been very successful, with coffee being spread to neighboring islands and a little later to the mainland. Urban legend claims that 90% of Latin America's Arabica comes from the cut tree branch of the Louis tree, which is certainly exaggerated but indicative of its influence on the spread of coffee growing. Although of course dozens of new varieties have been introduced to Central and South America over the years, it is a fact that an unknown number of coffee trees can safely be considered descendants of Baba Budan's seven seeds!


The legacy of Baba Budan

Today, Baba Budan is considered a sacred person for both the Muslims of India and the Hindus. In Karnataka, India, his hideout and his tomb are preserved on the hills that he planted his coffee trees, which now bear his name. It is a gathering place for pilgrims and tourists alike, with locals displaying coffee trees to visitors, who claim to be the authentic Sufi monk trees - something far from the truth of course.

As a figure, Baba Budan is a legend in the world of coffee, analogous to the "crazy shepherd" Khalid: bearded men images are very common in several coffee makers and cafes, while at the same time Seven Seeds or Brother Budan are popular names for coffee stores.


Baba Budan's real legacy, however, lies in our cup: every time we enjoy our espresso, we must not forget that one of our beans is perhaps the distant offspring of a bean hiding in the beard of an ambitious monk for almost 6,500 kilometers!