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The History of Coffee...

Coffee is known worldwide for its reputation as caffeine loaded with sometimes whipped cream and cinnamon. You might have your specialized, state-of-the-art coffee maker with your personal coffee flavor made only with gourmet coffee beans imported from some exotic land, and ground to perfection each morning, or maybe you have a special morning coffee ritual that you've done for years.

Whether you’re a caffeine fanatic, or a shy mostly-milk conservative, most everyone enjoys a deliciously hot cup of coffee every now and then.

  Over the door of a Leipzig coffeeshop, is a sculptural representation of a man in Turkish dress receiving a cup of coffee from a boy  

Over the door of a Leipzig coffee shop is a sculptural representation of a man in Turkish dress receiving a cup of coffee from a boy.



Coffee was first discovered in Eastern Africa in an area we know today as Ethiopia. A popular legend refers to a goat herder by the name of Kaldi, who observed his goats acting unusually frisky after eating berries from a bush. Curious about this phenomena, Kaldi tried eating the berries himself. He found that these berries gave him a renewed energy. The news of this energy laden fruit quickly spread throughout the region.

Monks hearing about this amazing fruit, dried the berries so that they could be transported to distant monasteries. They reconstituted these berries in water, ate the fruit, and drank the liquid to provide stimulation for a more awakened time for prayer.

Coffee berries were transported from Ethiopia to the Arabian peninsula, and were first cultivated in what today is the country of Yemen.

From there, coffee traveled to Turkey where coffee beans were roasted for the first time over open fires. The roasted beans were crushed, and then boiled in water, creating a crude version of the beverage we enjoy today.

Coffee first arrived on the European continent by means of Venetian trade merchants. Once in Europe this new beverage fell under harsh criticism from the Catholic church. Many felt the pope should ban coffee, calling it the drink of the devil. To their surprise, the pope, already a coffee drinker, blessed coffee declaring it a truly Christian beverage.

Coffee houses spread quickly across Europe becoming centers for intellectual exchange. Many great minds of Europe used this beverage, and forum, as a springboard to heightened thought and creativity.

In the 1700's, coffee found its way to the Americas by means of a French infantry captain who nurtured one small plant on its long journey across the Atlantic. This one plant, transplanted to the Caribbean Island of Martinique, became the predecessor of over 19 million trees on the island within 50 years. It was from this humble beginning that the coffee plant found its way to the rest of the tropical regions of South and Central America.

Coffee was declared the national drink of the then colonized United States by the Continental Congress, in protest of the excessive tax on tea levied by the British crown.

Espresso, a recent innovation in the way to prepare coffee, obtained its origin in 1822, with the innovation of the first crude espresso machine in France. The Italians perfected this wonderful machine and were the first to manufacture it. Espresso has become such an integral part of Italian life and culture, that there are presently over 200,000 espresso bars in Italy.

Today, coffee is a giant global industry employing more than 20 million people. This commodity ranks second only to petroleum in terms of dollars traded worldwide. With over 400 billion cups consumed every year, coffee is the world's most popular beverage. If you can imagine, in Brazil alone, over 5 million people are employed in the cultivation and harvesting of over 3 billion coffee plants.

Sales of premium specialty coffees in the United States have reached the multi billion dollar level, and are increasing significantly on an annual basis.

  • Did you know coffee is the second most valuable commodity sold on the international trading market (the highest being oil)?
  • There are an estimated 20 million rural people working on coffee plantations throughout the world.
  • The United States of American is the largest coffee-consuming nation, drink approximately one fifth of the 7 billion kilogram’s of coffee grown worldwide.
  • Brazil is the largest coffee-producing nation, followed by Colombia.

  More History

The history of coffee can be traced to at least as early as the 9th century, when it appeared in the highlands of Ethiopia. According to legend, shepherds were the first to observe the influences of caffeine from the coffee beans when, after their goats consumed some naturally occurring coffee beans in the pasture, the goats appeared to "dance" and have an increased level of energy. From Ethiopia, it spread to Egypt and Yemen, and by the fifteenth century had reached Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa.

In 1583, Leonhard Rauwolf, a German physician, after returning from a ten-year trip to the Near East, gave this description of coffee:

A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach. Its consumers take it in the morning, quite frankly, in a porcelain cup that is passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed of water and the fruit from a bush called bunnu.

From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Italy. The thriving trade between Venice and the Muslims of North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East brought many African goods, including coffee, to this port. Merchants introduced coffee to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for it, and introducing it to Europe. Coffee became more widely accepted after it was deemed an acceptable Christian beverage by Pope Clement VIII in 1600, despite appeals to ban the "Muslim drink". The first European coffee house opened in Italy in 1645. The Dutch were the first to import it on large scale, and eventually smuggled seedlings into Europe in 1690; defying the Arab prohibition on the exportation of plants or unroasted seeds. The Dutch later grew the crop in Java and Ceylon. Through the efforts of the British East India Company, it became popular in England as well. It was introduced in France in 1657, and in Austria and Poland following the Battle of Vienna, when coffee was captured from supplies of the defeated Turks.

When coffee reached the Thirteen Colonies, it was initially not as successful as it had been in Europe. However, during the Revolutionary War, the demand for coffee increased so much that dealers had to hoard their scarce supplies and raise prices dramatically; this was partly due to the reduced availability of tea from British merchants. After the War of 1812, in which Britain had temporarily cut off access to tea imports, the Americans' taste for coffee grew during the early nineteenth century, and high demand during the American Civil War together with the advancements of brewing technology secured the position of coffee as an everyday commodity in the United States.

The History of Instant Coffee...

The sudden surge in demand for Ivory Coast and other robustas stems from soaring sales of instant coffee. Introduced to an indifferent public in 1901 by a determined Japanese chemist, solubles refreshed some U.S. fighting forces during World War I but didn’t win a lasting place in civilian larders for another two decades. Today 20 percent of all coffee is processed into spray or freeze-dried form.

Which simply means dehydrating liquid coffee much as it comes from an ordinary pot into an extract of easily dissolved granules, pulverized to a powder or agglomerated into larger nuggets to resemble regular grinds.

Another act in the roaster’s repertoire: eliminating most of coffee’s kick. Unroasted beans are soaked in water to swell their cells, then submerged in a solvent that flushes out about 97 percent of their caffeine. Rinsed thoroughly, they reenter the pipeline to be roasted, ground, and packaged.

World’s largest roaster, the massive Maxwell House plant in Hoboken, New Jersey, begins its production line across the Hudson River on Manhattan’s Wall Street. Here experts like Tom Conroy, a 47-year veteran, decide what types and tonnage of beans to buy in order to maintain quality standards for more than a dozen company blends.

A gas-fired roasting machine filled the tasting room with a tantalizing aroma; polished cuspidors yawned around a revolving, cup-laden table.

“In the taster’s trade, we smell, sip, and sense, but we don’t swallow.”

Tom began by “breaking”—stirring the coffee’s surface froth to release all its fragrance. He then inhaled a spoonful with a squeal not unlike air escaping a punctured tire. After rolling it around on his tongue, he neatly bull’s-eyed a cuspidor, gave the tabletop a slight turn, and took on the next cup.

“We classify coffee with such words as smooth, acidy, Rioy, winy, sharp, pungent, or neutral. Some, like acidy, may sound negative but are actually favorable traits.

“Identifying a batch and where it’s from isn’t too difficult: This is a Brazil from northern São Paulo state.”

The United States might never have acquired the coffee habit if rebellious colonists hadn’t resisted Britain’s tax on tea, dumping a load into Boston’s harbor and refusing to buy any more from Tory sources. By the time the Revolution ended, coffee had preempted tea as an American table mainstay.

Our forebears took their coffee seriously, steadily, but not with any frills. They simply poured loose coffee, crudely milled, into water, sometimes added eggshells to settle the grounds, and boiled the whole mess to the blackness of a bat cave. Not gourmet, perhaps, but it warmed and fortified many a frontiersman, and such coffee still satisfies some cookout chefs.

Like others, I have long sought the ideal recipe: filter, drip, or perk; beans and blends from this place or that; roasts that range from light brown to something short of soot.

I managed to figure out that the world’s annual bean production could make 3,644,000,000 cubic feet [1,112,000,000 cubic meters] of liquid coffee, a volume equal to the Mississippi’s outflow for an hour and a half. But I have yet to figure out how to brew that perfect cup.




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