Locos por el café

20 Feb 2012

locos-por-el-cafe

De cómo unas cabras locas dieron origen a la leyenda sobre el origen del café. Al principio, se comía. Después se transformó en el “vino árabe”. Una recorrida de mil años en FFWW, desde las montañas de Etiopía hasta las cafeterías donde los “lattes” se toman de a litros.

oleo-dixitMás loco que una cabra, o que un cafetero después de veinte tazas: en el origen hubo una confusión. O, como suele suceder con los grandes inventos, un malentendido de consecuencias felices. Un poco después del año 800, en la imprecisa geografía que rodea al Mar Rojo, un pastor y poeta llamado Kaldi observó cómo sus cabras no volvían después de haber pastado en una montaña cercana. Al ir en su búsqueda, Kaldi se encontró con que las cabras, siempre apacibles y dóciles, se golpeaban unas a otras, muy excitadas. Al principio pensó que habían sido envenenadas y que iban a morir. Pero no murieron. Al día siguiente, volvieron a comer de la misma planta y el pastor, resuelto a develar el misterio, probó los frutos amarillos, verdes y rojos: le parecieron amargos. De vuelta al pueblo, se los entregó a los monjes del monasterio de Chehodet, a los que tampoco les gustaron y los tiraron al fuego. ¡Eureka! La composición química cambió: el café se estaba tostando. Ellos decidieron preparar una bebida y, asombrados por el efecto estimulante del líquido que los tuvo despiertos durante las largas noches de oración, lo llamaron “kawah” en honor al rey persa Kavus Kai que fue elevado al Cielo en un carro alado.

Esta es la fundación mítica del café. Y aunque aquellos descubridores jamás imaginaran que ese líquido iba a convertirse en la segunda bebida más consumida del mundo después del agua o que crearía una industria fabulosa, sí fueron astutos al percibir sus poderes estimulantes: ¿qué mejor nombre que aquel que rendía homenaje al rey celestial? Si en estos días una bebida energizante se jacta de que “te da alas”, hace mil años el café era el combustible intelectual para el pueblo que desarrolló las matemáticas o descubrió el cero: hasta el siglo X, el café fue considerado un alimento y… se masticaba. Los granos verdes se machacaban y amasaban con manteca para formar pequeñas bolas, que los peregrinos llevaban en sus viajes al desierto. Las tribus etíopes mezclaban los granos silvestres con grasa animal y comían el mejunje y, después, se hizo costumbre triturar los granos y fermentarlos en alcohol (de hecho, en Europa, el café se conoció como “el vino árabe“). Mucho antes de la aspirina, se prescribía como potente medicina contra la fiebre, la gota, el escorbuto o la depresión. Siempre preparado a la turca.

Como tantas otras, la historia del café también es una crónica de la conquista, el colonialismo y el capitalismo. Durante siglos, los comerciantes árabes mantuvieron el monopolio del café bajo un estricto celo en las exportaciones: sólo vendían el grano tostado, jamás la planta. Así evitaban que pudiera crecer en otras regiones. Pero como en un prólogo de la globalización más salvaje, los hábiles comerciantes holandeses consiguieron unos brotes y los plantaron en las Indias Orientales, sus colonias del sudeste asiático en Sumatra y Java (todavía hoy en los Estados Unidos se lo llama así, “Java”, al café). El resto es una anécdota de la conquista: un audaz oficial de infantería francés transportó un gajo de la planta de café hasta la isla de Martinica y, desde allí, se extendió como una mancha verde por Centroamérica, el Caribe, las tierras del Sur: el cafeto sólo crece entre los trópicos de Cáncer y de Capricornio, en un cinturón imaginario que rodea el Ecuador, y así la política, como sucedió tantas otras veces, determinó las tres grandes zonas en que todavía hoy se divide el mundo cafetero: Africa/Medio Oriente, Asia/Pacífico y Latinoamérica. En esta película, un imaginario FFWW nos traería hasta el día en que el café es el segundo commodity del mundo, después del petróleo. Por eso al “vino árabe” ahora le dicen el “oro negro”.

Y si los mismos árabes también inventaron las cafeterías, que se llamaban “kahveh khane” y eran salones con divanes donde los funcionarios y los aristócratas discutían los asuntos públicos, la versión que llegó a nuestros días está actualizada por la adaptación de los europeos: más pudorosos, dispusieron de sillas y mesas para que los bebedores no anduvieran acostándose en público. Pero conservaron el ritual del foro de discusión, al punto de que, en Inglaterra, al bar se lo llamaba “la universidad del penique”: entonces como ahora, el entusiasta discutía hasta convencerse de que podía arreglar los males de este mundo, y todo por el módico precio de un café. Los dedos que dibujan una “c” imperfecta, el índice y el pulgar, son una contraseña para la bebida y para la discusión que el imperio del frappuccino y del latte no logra exterminar. Hace doscientos años, de tan cerebral y energizante, el café se consagraba como la bebida ideal para la Revolución Industrial, porque el agotador trabajo en las fábricas demandaba un consumo de estimulantes que elevaran la energía y mantuvieran una mayor concentración en la ejecución de tareas repetitivas. Hoy es el gasoil que necesita el trabajador portátil: encorvado sobre la computadora en un bar cualquiera, una inyección líquida para que él o la máquina no se cuelguen.

Publicado en Guía Oleo

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