The Kaldi Conspiracy

Otherwise known as:
The Origin of Dancing Mule

by Randy Austin, Co-Founder

The popular myth about the discovery of coffee references dancing goats and a poet/goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi apparently let the herd wander off while he was daydreaming and writing poetry. Kaldi knew his Father would be very upset if the valuable herd were lost so he immediately began a search. After hours of roaming the hillsides of Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization, Arabia Felix, Ethiopia, (take your pick depending on the particular version of the story you are reading and who is telling it) Kaldi found his herd of goats behaving in a very strange manner. The goats were dancing wildly around a shiny dark leafed shrub with red berries. Kaldi was exhausted and famished from his long search for the goats and decided to try some of the berries. Soon Kaldi was dancing merrily with his goats. An Imam from a local monastery, no doubt on his way to evening prayer, found Kaldi and his goats dancing and questioned Kaldi about his strange behavior. After learning about the potency of the berries he gathered some for himself and took them to the monastery for further study. The Imam experimented with parching and boiling the berries and discovered he could pray and meditate longer after consuming the curious mixture. The discovery spread from monastery to monastery and eventually around the world.

In 1997, I began an exploration of an Ozarks cave and stumbled across something that has changed my life.  I am a novice spelunker and rarely get the opportunity to explore a cave. A friend of the land owner invited me to explore Cobb Cave southwest of Springfield, Mo. The local university had completed an archaeological study of this shelter cave in 1984 and discovered evidence of habitation for thousands of years.  Why wouldn’t a Native American want to live there? The cave has a spring that exits next to the main opening and it is only a few hundred yards from the James River. Wildlife would have been abundant along with all of the resources for primitive living.  My brother-in-law Ryan and I found three rooms in the cave and in the last one we explored there was a fresh opening in the dirt possibly exposed by the heavy spring rain. The opening was small enough we had to wriggle and crawl (especially Ryan) and it looked like it wasn’t going anywhere.  We crawled for what seemed like half an hour and we were about to give up when Ryan called back to me the tunnel was getting larger. Suddenly, Ryan stopped and whistled through his teeth, I crawled up beside him and pointed my flashlight into a huge room.  The decoration was modest but the murals drawn on the walls were spectacular. Other areas of the cave had graffiti from inconsiderate visitors, mostly of the unimaginative variety, like “George was here 1979”.  The artwork was detailed and upon further examination appeared to tell a story.

Some of the pictographs were of the cave area although it looked quite different from the way it looks today. The plants were big and leafy and tropical in appearance. Along one wall of the cave an animal that looked like a mule was on its hind legs and dancing around a shiny dark leafed shrub with red berries. In the background a nearly naked native held some of the berries in his palm. In the next scene a man with a head dress stood receiving some of the berries from the man with the mule. Ryan and I had no idea how to interpret the drawings. We had stumbled on something historical and important and needed help decoding the mystery. The next day we called the author of the archaeological study and made arrangements for him to view the newly discovered room in the cave. The archaeologist immediately recognized the plant in the picture as a coffee plant.  Coffee plants only grow in subtropical areas like Kenya, Ethiopia, Columbia, and Brazil.  A coffee plant will not survive freezing weather. Could these pictures have been drawn during a previous era of global warming? Were they authentic or someone’s idea of a joke? As word spread through the scientific community the cave became a very busy place. Carbon dating specialists were brought in to verify the age of the drawings. Scientists who specialized in ancient civilizations and the study of their language and culture came from around the world to visit a cave in Missouri. A few months passed and we couldn’t find any information about the study of the cave. The scientists disappeared and the archaeologist Ryan had contacted refused to talk to us or return calls. We persisted in trying to solve the mystery until I received a visit from a pair of serious men from the F.B.I. They advised me to forget about the mystery for purposes of “national security”.  The cave was sealed off and we were told to stay away or “suffer the consequences”.

Ryan and I quietly embarked on our own study of coffee and history and came across the story about Kaldi and his dancing goats.  The Kaldi story seemed to fit perfectly with the drawings from the cave. Our theory is the story about the origin of coffee is much older than Kaldi in Ethiopia. Coffee was actually discovered in the Ozarks right here in Southwest Missouri. As the Earth cooled the natives migrated to warmer areas and took their legend and the coffee plants with them. Eventually part of the history was lost although the basic story survived. Our government doesn’t want the story of the Dancing Mule to get out because it would upset the global coffee markets and possibly our perception of global climate change. I can’t prove any of this because the cave has been blocked off and placed under federal protection. During our research into the origin of coffee we developed a deep appreciation for coffee. I suggested we should open a coffee shop. Ryan agreed it was a great idea and suggested we name it “The Dancing Mule”.  The name of the shop seems silly at first until you consider the global implications of the Dancing Mule story. Dancing Mule Coffee Company is our tribute to the real origin of coffee.