The journey for many started with trying to stay awake while cramming for exams. And it worked. Hot water, sugar and a couple of teaspoons of the black stuff from black cans was the well known formula and your eyes were wide open for several hours. A lifelong relationship with coffee was born under “difficult” circumstances. Relationship, because addiction is such a strong word. Okay, let’s just call ourselves coffee beings. For the typical coffee being, you would have progressed from drinking instant coffee to the much better (in this writer’s opinion) coffee brewed from ground coffee. You would likely consume your coffee in any number of ways – black, espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha, americano, flat white, flavoured, turkish, and so many other ways including Irish Coffee (you know yourselves).
Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia. No, not in Italy as some of you have come to believe just because of espressos. The legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of the beans. The story goes that that Kaldi discovered coffee when he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Deja vu for some right there…
The coffee plant, which was discovered in the 11th Century, has a white blossom that smells like jasmine and a red, cherry-like fruit. Back then, the leaves of the so-called “magical fruit” were boiled in water and the resulting concoction was thought to have medicinal properties. As the fame of the coffee plant spread to other lands, its centuries-long voyage was beginning. Coffee spread through the Arabian Peninsula to Yemen where it was cultivated by the mid 14th century. It was introduced to Istanbul in 1555AD where the beans were roasted, ground and brewed for the first time. Thanks to the efforts of merchants and travellers who passed through Istanbul, Turkish Coffee soon spread to Europe and ultimately to the whole world. Europeans got their first taste of coffee in 1615 when Venetian merchants who had become acquainted with the drink in Istanbul carried it back with them to Venice. In 1644, the first coffee beans, along with the apparatus used to prepare and serve coffee, were brought to Marseilles by Monsieur de la Roque, the French ambassador. Paris was introduced to coffee in 1669 and described to the French as a “magical beverage”. Paris’s first real coffeehouse, Café de Procope, opened in 1686 and following the trend set by Café de Procope, coffeehouses opened on practically every street in the city.
For the Viennese, their introduction to coffee came in 1683 after the end of the Second Siege of Vienna. As the Turks retreated, they left their extra supplies behind which included around 500 sacks of coffee. The Viennese coffeehouses that opened during this period set an example for coffeehouses in many other countries.
England first became acquainted with coffee in 1637 when a Turk introduced the drink to Oxford. In 1652, a Greek named Pasqua Rosée opened the first coffeehouse in London.
In the case of the Dutch, they were more concerned with coffee as a trade commodity than as a beverage. Coffee first reached the country via Yemen in the 17th century. The Dutch began cultivating coffee in its colonies. In 1699, coffee beans were planted on the island of Java, laying the foundation for Indonesia’s coffee plantations. In 1711, the first Javanese coffee beans were sold on the open market in Amsterdam. A sobriquet for coffee is “Java”.
In the 1680s, the Dutch introduced coffee to Scandinavia, the region which today has the highest per capita consumption of coffee in the world.
Coffee was introduced to Germany in 1675. The first coffeehouses opened in 1679-1680 in Hamburg, Bremen and Hanover. The oldest coffee house in Europe beside the Parisian “Café Procope” is to be found in Leipzig, Germany.
Coffee reached North America in 1668. The first coffeehouse in New York, “The King’s Arms”, opened in 1696.
In 1714, the Dutch presented Louis XIV with a coffee sapling from their plantations on Java. The sapling was planted in the royal Jardin des Plantes in Paris. In 1723, a French mariner named Gabriel du Clieu took a sapling from the Jardin des Plantes to the island of Martinique. From here, the coffee plant spread to other Caribbean islands, as well as to Central and South America. In 1727, a Portuguese sailor named de Mello Palheta carried coffee saplings to Brazil from French Guyana. Today, Brazil is the number one producer of coffee in the world, accounting for 35% of global coffee production. In 1730, the British began cultivating coffee in Jamaica. By the mid 19th century, coffee had become one of the most important commodities in world trade.
Given the journey of coffee around the world over the centuries, it is a bit of a surprise to learn that there are just two basic types of coffee plants cultivated on the planet. Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta. Every other varietal is from one of these two types or even a hybrid of both. So when you see a packet of ground coffee or beans labeled Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica, that is the arabica type of coffee which is also grown in Kenya, Hawaii, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, where it is known as PNG Gold, and Cameroon, where it is known as Boyo.
A great many of us coffee beings claim to prefer strong coffee and we usually buy dark roasts off supermarket shelves. The problem is that the colour of the roast has no real bearing on the strength of the coffee. Coffee berries and their seeds undergo several processes before they become roasted coffee. After picking, green coffee is processed by either the dry process method, simpler and less labor-intensive, or the wet process method, which adds fermentation to the process and yields a mild coffee. Seeds are sorted by ripeness and colour, the flesh of the berry is usually removed, and the seeds fermented. After fermentation, the seeds are washed and dried on drying tables. Next comes sorting and labelling as green coffee which is then roasted.
The degree of roast has an effect on coffee flavour and body. Darker roasts are generally bolder because they have less fibre content and a more sugary flavour. Lighter roasts have a more complex and therefore perceived stronger flavour from aromatic oils and acids which would be removed by longer roasting times. Roasting does not change the amount of caffeine in the bean, but produces less caffeine when the beans are measured by volume because the beans expand during roasting.
For the true coffee being who wants to taste the very best, an Asian coffee known as kopi luwak undergoes a peculiar process made from coffee berries eaten by the Asian palm civet, passing through its digestive tract, with the beans harvested from faeces. Coffee brewed from this process is among the most expensive in the world, with bean prices reaching $160 per pound or $30 per brewed cup. Kopi luwak coffee is said to have uniquely rich, slightly smoky aroma and flavour with hints of chocolate — a result of fermentation while passing through the palm civet’s digestive system.
There’s one more thing the coffee being needs to know and this is the art of blending different coffee beans or grounds to produce better tasting coffee. Buying mild coffee from Kenya and combining it with stronger Colombian coffee produces a very interesting coffee, for example. Adding vanilla essence, cinnamon, nutmeg and even Cameroon pepper during the making of the coffee changes the character of what ends up in the cup. Who knows, you might even be able to reproduce Blue Mountain or kopi luwak on a smaller budget…
Written by Babatunde Olaoluwa Jeje for This Day Style Magazine