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The Historic Coffee Trail to Israel to be Unveiled at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem

The Historic Coffee Trail to Israel to be Unveiled at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem

July 11 - 2021

Coffee Geography Magazine


The display of the historical coffee trail to be unveiled at the Museum of Islamic Art on Thursday July 15 with the curator, Yahel Shefer raises new questions about how long the coffee beans were with us before reaching the later Ottoman Empire to introduce it throughout Europe. There is no doubt in the new finding by Yahel Shefer that Ethiopia is still the origin of the coffee bean that we enjoy it today in different forms. The timing of the first introduction of the bean to certain regions is the most important fact finding for Yahel and other historians for that matter.

According to the early historical documents, the coffee bean was initially transported across the Gulf of Aden from the town of Harar by Arab slave traders as early as 12 century to Yemen where the drink later became popular. Arab Writers had documented that the city of Mecca was probably the first place where public cafés opened to make it a social drink.

“They used to put in things like cardamom and cinnamon,” Yahel explained. “Cardamom was added to coffee from the beginning. It came from India, via the spice trail.”

museum of islamic art jerusalem

Museum of Islamic art, Jerusalem

Yahel Shefer spent years researching the subject matter before organizing an expansive array of objects, including intriguing edifying posters and other written material, which relates to the fascinating coffee history.

“It is the drink for which the greatest number of auxiliary items was designed,” Shefer said. “Anyone who felt any sort of connection with coffee – architects, designers, artists and other professionals – came up with creations for it.”

 “According to my research, coffee has been around in Ethiopia for over a thousand years, and probably for longer,” she suggests. “It is highly likely that when Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian Queen) came to the Land of Israel [in the 10th century BCE] to visit King Solomon, with all her spices and gold, ivory, other gifts, she brought coffee with her, too.”

The previous historical data was described as coffee came to Israel from Egypt, with the first mention of a café noted in Safed in 1580.

“It was described, in a text by Rabbi Mitrani.” says Shefer.

According to Yahel’s narration, centuries ago, monks used the coffee in order to stay awake during long study stretches, and it was even used by military folk to ensure their soldiers could march through the day and night, and stay alert to enemy activity in the process.

Painting of Queen-of-Sheba-and-King-Solomon

Painting of Queen of Sheba from Ethiopia offering gift to King Solomon

Shefer says that Solomon’s royal visitor was hip to that. “Back then they ground coffee and inserted it into animal fat, normally from goats and sheep, and they rolled it into balls and gave that to soldiers and hunters, when they went out for a long trip.”

However, the contribution of the Yemenis and Turkish traders in the 15 century played the pivotal role for the introduction of coffee first to Venice and later to deep central Europe.

This historical coffee display at the Museum of Islamic Art is the first of its kind carrying many artifacts and potteries from many regions in the Middle East. 

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