Where it all began?
Coffee’s origin can be traced to Ethiopia. Who’d have thought that the legendary discovery of a goat herder would have gone on to lead to the formation of nations, revolutions and scientific inventions. Don’t believe it? Pour yourself a cup of coffee and read this…
Coffee arrived in what we know as the middle east at the dawn of an unprecedented centuries. in the 1000 years that followed, the coffee culture reached a global level and developed from Ottoman, to British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and American. Coffee drinking establishments have fertilized new ways of thinking, challenged learning systems and fostered debate rules. Lots of the greatest men in history lived in a space and time surrounded by coffee- drinking culture, and sipped on more than a few cups themselves_ from Isaac Newton, to Beethoven, Napoleon and even Steve Jobs. The influence of coffee and coffee houses has sparked some of history’s most significant revolutions, civil wars and uprisings. Some religious leaders, kings and politicians have banned this bean!
Coffee has been responsible for the formation of nations, the slavery, developing media platforms and incarnation of trading and established the financial institutions that are intrinsic to our global economic infrastructure. It
has seeped into many aspects of our lives, not least politics, journalism, science and literature.
So we have to know where it all began…
Our journey for coffee discovery has commenced from Ethiopia that is probably the first place where this product has been explored. But it is not crystal clear that when was the first time the seed and the leaf of coffee has been used. The only thing we know is that around 2000 years ago, a tribe living in old Ethiopia, used to make a kind of cake using the leaf of coffee which was something like a chewing gum. That provided them with temporary energy.
In 5th century B.C., the Aksum empire ruled northern Ethiopia and southern Egypt. Coffee may have been planted in Yemen after the Himiar empire has been occupied. In 7th century, we can see more political and cultural exchange between people of Yemen and Ethiopia. Besides, the emergence of Islam in this era has been led to improvement in coffee business. After a while, some business ways in Mokha port (a coastal city located in red sea in Yemen) have taken the responsibility of distributing coffee in Middle East.
What is the legendary tale of coffee’s discovery?
The story begins when one day a young Ethiopian goat herder named kaldi was tending to his herd and he noticed that they show a certain friskiness after nibbling on the leaves and cherries of a particular tree! Kaldi tried the fruit himself. The effect was really immediate. He felt energized, motivated and conscious. Kaldi discovered the most wildly consumed drug in the word, caffeine.
Also Yemen has its own tale about discovering the coffee. The story is about a man called Omar who was lost in the desert outside Mokha’s city walls and condemned to die there. While he was wondering in the wilderness he found a tree and ate its fruit and reached to the required energy for returning to his city! Obviously that tree was coffee tree. His survival from death was a blessing that leads to discovery of coffee and also coffee becomes the drink of choice for people of Mokha city.
The Arabs named this drink “qwaha”(Arabian word for wine) and since Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol, coffee was the nearest drink to wine for them.
Now we know where coffee came from and even talked about the interesting legendary tales of its discovery, its worthy to mention what happened next and how it spread through the world:
Coffee spread with Islam, it was commonly used in performing religious ceremonies to help being awake during all-night praying. In that time, it became a valuable commodity for Arab nations and first coffee houses built in Yemen at the end of 15th century. But some religious leaders became resentful from its stimulant effect on its consumers.in years decrees were made by sultans, kings, governors and authorities to ban using coffee and then subsequently revoked. in 1511 Mecca’s governor kha’ir beg, in a council of legal experts put coffee on trial for its effect on people, meaning making them drunk and causing them to commit disorders forbidden by the law.it was burned in the streets and coffee houses were forced not to serve the drink. This rule was revoked only a few months later.
In 1517 when Ottoman Turks ruled Yemen, they noticed that what an important commodity coffee was and to prevent its growing outside Yemen they made strict laws on its export . So the cherry had to be first steeped in boiling water or roasted a bit then being shipped to Suez and then overland to Alexandria for trading with Europe. But this method worked only for a while and finally someone took the been out and it successfully grow and harvest in India!
“The drink they take every morning fasting in their chambers, out of an earthen pot, being very hot and they say it strengthens and makes them warm, breaks wind and opens any stopping”
These are part of a book written by a Dutch physician named Paludanus(1596) and he was amused to see what a drink ottoman Turks made from their exotic plant. In fact, the end of 16th century we can see mentions of coffee in European literature and the first illustration of the plant appeared in Alpin’s book of Egyptian plants(1592).
In 1610 Constantinople (Istanbul) placed in ottoman empire was the largest and richest city in the word. Their popular drink was called Coffa’ black as soot and tasting not much unlike it’. This drink made European curios. The plant and its fruit became a subject of interest for European botanists and physicians and the benefits of drinking coffee piqued the curiosity of every one! After all ottoman empire was one of the largest empires that had ever existed.
How the Arab monopoly of coffee broke?
At the beginning of the 18th century, coffee consumption in Europe was higher than it have ever been and European nations were becoming increasingly nervous about their reliance on coffee shipped from Mokha through the trading port of Venice. The Dutch were the first to take action when they successfully cultivated seedlings in India’s Malabar region and in Dutch Ceylon(Seri Lanka),and then in 1699 took some seedlings to Batavia(the former capital, Jakarta) in Java around a decade later,360 kg/800 lbs of Dutch-grown java coffee arrived in Amsterdam and sold for a very high price. The Arab monopoly on coffee had been broken, and before too long, the Dutch megacorporation known as the VOC, was shipping over half of all the coffee consumed in Europe from its colonial ports in Java, a city that would forever be synonymous with coffee.
At the same time that the Dutch began cultivating coffee in Indonesia the French took small trees to the island of Bourbon(Reunion), which takes place 800 km/500 miles east of Madagascar, in the Indian ocean. some reports say that the trees came from Java, while others suggest that they were a gift from a Yemeni sultan, other claims that coffee was indigenous to the island. However it got there, it was a pivotal moment in the development of coffee as we know it today, because the tree mutated into a new variety that later became known as bourbon.
Bourbon varieties produce around 20 percent more fruit than typical varieties, and a French official describe them” wild coffee trees, of height of then to twelve feet, fill of fruit”. It took 150 years before the variety was planted in Brazil, but thanks to the clean acidity and balance that bourbon varieties have they are among the most respected in the word today.
Did you know that all the coffee in the Americas, and nearly all the coffee in commercial production could trace its lineage to a single tree planted in the royal gardens of king Louis XIV in 1713?
There is a popular tale about coffee’s arrival in the Americas. The tale is about a captain in the French navy named Gabriel de Clieu who transported a single coffee plant across Atlantic and planted it on Martinique island. If the tale is real or even not surly it could be a great movie in Hollywood!
De Clieu correctly determined that coffee would grow just fine in any region where sugarcane flourished, so the French island of Martinique was a sure bet. However, our hero didn’t own a coffee plant himself and would first need to acquire one. Best answer was the gift from the mayor of Amsterdam to king Louis XIV that planted in in greenhouses of royal gardens. De Clieu used his good looks and charm to seduce a local Lady and persuaded her to court one of the royal physicians. The physicians stole the plant from the greenhouse and gave it to De Clieu. Wasting no time, De Clieu secreted himself and his prize aboard a French navy ship destined for Martinique. According to his account published in 1774 he safeguarded his plant through storms, attack by pirates, attempted theft by a Dutch spy, starvation, sea monsters, and much more besides. De Clieu was even shared his ration with his beloved sapling.de clieu successfully planted the tree on Martinique and seeded new plants. The number of coffee trees on the island in nine years totaled around 3 million. After that coffee plantations on other French islands and around the Caribbean and central America grew at an exponential rate. Coffee hit Colombia in 1723, Brazil in 1727-allegedly smuggled in a bouquet of flowers that was gifted from wife of the governor of French Guyana to a Brazilian colonel – Jamaica in 1728, Venezuelan in 1730, Dominican republic and Haiti in 1735, Guatemala in 1747 and Cuba in 1748. By 1780, san Domingo in Haiti provided no less than half of the world’s supply of coffee.
Let’s take a look back to Europe and know a bit about rising of coffee houses there.
The first coffee house opened in London in 1652.Pasqua Rosee’s coffee house was actually more of a stall, located in the churchyard of St Michael’s, in Cornhill alley. Rosee was born early in the 17th century in Sicily. He was a shrewd businessman who teamed up with Christopher Bowman, a freeman of the city of London, in order to appease the resistance of local alehouse owners to an outsider. The store became a big hit and as the benefits of this magical drink became apparent the stall soon became a large house. After that coffee shops popped up in London like toadstools. Ten years after Rosee’s shop served its first cup, there were nearly 100 coffee men in London. And coffee houses opened in oxford and Cambridge. By the turn of 18th century the number was more than 1000.
Let’s know about what was like in a coffee house in that time.
Seats could not be reserved in coffee house, there were no class prejudices and besides women everybody was welcome to enter!
Businessmen, politicians, lobbyists,
intellectuals, scientists ,journalists, scholars, poets and ordinary men were sat on seats to talk about business but most of the time only to enjoy their cup of coffee and participate in discussion and debate of their chosen subject, while the rattling noise of kettle, skimmers and ladles was spread in the space of coffee house…
Coffee was the great soberer in a time where breakfast consisted of a small beer and when two pennies would get you extremely drunk, it was the antidote to alcohol’s generally debilitating effects, including the numbing of the senses and leading to toxic brawls. This Turkish drink stimulated the mind, provoked discussion, ritualized debate, and encouraged rational enquiry on all manner of topics between like-minded people. as one anonymous English poem from 1674 put it, coffee was, ‘that grave and wholesome liquor, that heals the stomach, makes the genius quicker, relieves the memory, revives the sad and cheers the spirits, without making mad.’
Coffee houses were great places for political discussions and talking of dissent and treason. Charles II placed spies in London’s coffee shops and claimed that these place make people waste their time, the time could be spent for their lawful callings and affairs. And he attempted to ban the places altogether. However, thanks to appeals from coffee men and politicians alike, the bill was never passed. And despite that by the end of 17th century London coffee shops became a breeding ground for new ways of scientific thinking, hypotheses and theories, and even natural philosophy demonstrations and experiments. They had started to become referred to as ‘Penny universities’.
First Parisian coffee house opened in 1672,20 years after London, and probably Pasqua Rosée was involved in its conception. Unfortunately, all signs of its existence have been lost to time. Café Procope was established in 1686 and became famous meeting place for French enlightened such as Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire. Voltaire who was drinking 40 cups of coffee a day, arguably conceived his Encyclopédie , the world’s first modern encyclopedia at this café. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were also met at café Procope. another Parisian coffee house, café de Foy was the stage for the rallying that led to French revolution.
At the end of 1670s there was at least one coffee house in every European city. the first American coffee shop was opened in Boston in 1671 and 25 years later first coffee house opened in New York by a British immigrant on south Broadway.
Unfortunately, themes like slavery, capitalism and inequality were always ingrained with coffee history. in the passage of this black gold through 19th and 20th centuries, time and time again the Europeans and later Americans leveraged their economic power to unashamedly bend a coffee-producing nation to their will. For many of these countries, coffee became a ball and chain that bridled them in their early developmental stages and served only to fulfil the needs of wealthy western nations. in many African coffee-producing countries, colonialism mostly under the British and Belgians prevent them from developing. Kenya and Malawi had no control over their farms and in Burundi in1993 every farmer was forced to grow a minimum of 50 coffee trees.
The colonization stopped after Word War II, but even after that many of coffee-producing countries had to struggle through civil uprisings, social upheavals, economic depression, political instability, foreign trade embargoes and also coffee leaf rust, coffee market instability and drought. And in many cases the new governments of these damaged nations were no better that the ones that had come before. There are some depressing stories such as the indigenous families of Guatemala who were forced to leave their land to make way for coffee plantation, or the indigo farmers of El Salvador who received no compensation when their small farms were seized to grow coffee!
The 20th century saw noticeable rise in demand for coffee and this led to developing a market for counterfeit and shady coffee. Before coffee was both roasted and brewed in home it was only an exotic drink that was served in coffee houses. But because of consumer fear about counterfeit coffee, made from chicory, peas, corn and pretty much anything, buying pre-roasted coffee developed. A journal for housewives published in 1845, advised them to wash the coffee beans before grinding to check if ink leaches out. Since counterfeit and adulterated coffee had been blighting the German market, a law was passed there in 1875 that forbade the sale of substitute coffee. This law rises the consumer faith in roasted coffee and with destroying the home-roasting tradition, increased demand for commercially roasted coffee.
The evolution of the café
The act of drinking a cup of coffee was no longer a simple and ordinary job, over time a culture raised that ingrained a romantic sense and passion with drinking coffee. The espresso drinking culture derived coffee consumption outside of the home over the past 50 years. First espresso bars appeared in the 1950s in London, Melbourne, Wellington and San Francisco and initially seemed by many as fake, showy, overly-stylized and weird. The visitors of these establishments was the younger generation who were labelled by their elders as wild promiscuous and irresponsible. Those who were embracing the espresso bar were experiencing a taste of a new coffee and also taste of enlightenment and liberation. The espresso machine became an icon of modernity in its time and remains a powerful statement of well-cultured taste even today.
The truly and authentic espresso bar is a place where only 60-second is enough time to order, drink and pay for a drink without even taking a seat. And it has never truly found outside of Italy. it has been adapted to meet standards of the working-class man and business executive. in many respects the Italian roots of espresso have paled over the past 20 years, and replaced by a new style of coffee appreciation that, rather alarmingly has little to do with actual coffee!
Growth of American-style coffee chain, that began from west world and with food movement of the late 1960s, still goes on. And Starbucks has branches not only in western world cities, but in the whole world too. With the same cafe interiors and the commercial of ‘milk and sugar coffee’ everywhere, almost every city in the word becoming copies of one another. The reason of this success is the popularity of these places for us. Places which are reliable, unchanging and accessible and play an important role between work and home. And balancing the dual purpose of enjoying coffee and being a place to appreciate the higher cultural values. A seat in Starbucks grants access to a place for discussion, limitless creative space, research tools for science and arts, libraries and news-all you need is a laptop and Wi-Fi password. Coffee is optional, as in Starbucks logo we can see, once proudly stating’ Starbucks coffee’ and now no mention coffee at all!
Coffee grows on trees. All coffee trees belong to the Rubiaceae family of flowering plants and currently there are over 120 individual species of plant, ranging from small shrubs to 18 m high trees. Coffee species grow across various parts of the tropics and new species continue to be discovered. Only two species of this plant are cultivated for coffee production: Arabica and Robusta. But there are countries like the Philippines that grow small amounts of a third species, Liberica, for domestic consumption. 70 percent of the world’s grown coffee for commercial are varieties of Arabica, and produce about 7 million tons of roasted coffee every year. The rest is Robusta, which come from India, the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, and Vietnam. Vietnam produced nearly half of all the world’s Robusta coffee and it is the second biggest coffee grower after Brazil. Arabica varieties are broad. Most varieties are mutations or cross-breed of two godfathers of Arabica coffee, Typica and Bourbon. Typica was first transported from Ethiopia to Yemen, then to India in 1718. Thereafter, Typica samples from java were transported to the French Island of Bourbon and they mutated into a new variety, called Bourbon.
Some of these varieties are born out of natural mutation and others are the product of the intentional cross-breeding or natural selection of heirloom varieties. Arabica is self-pollinating species, so it should remain pure but as Typica and Bourbon were transported to new countries and exotic climates, natural mutations took place and many of these new variants were cultivated for their desirable features. The story of Robusta is a similar one. Robusta is native to western Africa, and from there it spread throughout the world via java. Like Arabica there are many varieties within the Robusta species, but it offers little to get excited about, flavor-wise. As the name of the Robusta coffee says, this type of coffee is far stronger against diseases rather than the other two types. This is mostly due to the fact that it has more caffeine which acts as resistant towards pests. Robusta is usually fertilized more in each harvest, and its ripe fruit remains on the tree. It will be withered if it is not picked. Whereas, Arabica should be picked before it is ripe. Robusta’s seeds are smaller than those of Arabica. As a result, they provide strong but less favorable taste. Robusta is often used in making espresso blend as it can generate more cream and caffeine effectively. But what does Arabica provide? The answer is undoubtedly taste. Varieties of Arabica are unique and widespread both in form and type. Most of them inherit the features of Arabica. In addition, the amount of Caffeine in Arabica varies from 0.9 to 1.7 in every bean which is almost half of Caffeine in Robusta.
Anatomy of the coffee bean
Inside the coffee fruit are two kernels stick together, which are commonly known as beans. In each cherry there are usually two, but sometimes and especially on trees that grown in soil containing low quantities of the boron, there is only one bean. Green coffee beans like most seeds are stores of carbohydrates, proteins, acids and fats and basically everything a plant needs to grow and mature. Carbohydrates that makes up approximately 50 percent of the total mass of green bean, provide the energy that the bean use. 10 to 20 percent of that carbohydrates is sucrose that provide sweetness, bittersweet caramels and acidity during roast. There is a store of fats and proteins too, that later will react with sugar during roasting (Maillard reaction) and create the familiar browned appearance, flavors and smells that we know and love.
Coffee trees like wet, humid and shady environments. For this reason, all coffee trees in the world can be found in the tropics. The Arabica tree in particular is sensitive to wind and high temperature and it tends to be grown at higher altitudes, somewhere between 1000 to 2000 m elevation is best for it, any higher elevation increases the risk of frosting.
The lifespan of an Arabica plant takes three to five years, from tiny seedling to flowering stage. Shortly after it flowers, it will begin to fruit, which takes 9_11 months to grow and ripen. When the color of fruit turns into a shade of vivid pinky red you know it is ready to be picked. Although there are some varieties that produce a yellow or orange colored fruit when ripe.
Coffee farming is a highly laborious profession. Some Arabica and Robusta varieties will grow many meters high, so constant pruning is required to secure the position of fruit at an accessible height for picking. Coffee trees flower resulting both ripe and unripe fruit at the same time. So the mechanical harvesting of coffee in most countries is rare, since it wastefully strips the tree of both ripe and unripe fruit. also many coffee farmers cannot afford to purchase such machines. There are exceptions, however. In Brazil coffee mostly harvested by machines that strip ripe, overripe and underripe fruit at the same time or by simply shaking the tree and catching all the fruit on the ground. This process is the result of a culture of quantity, not quality farming that brazil has become infamous for. A hundred years ago, Brazil produced over three quarters of the world’s coffee, today it is around one third, which contains around 300000 farms and 4 billion trees, and still is an eye watering amount.
Hand picking has its own issues. Some farms still insist on picking everything available and sorting it later, and the simple instruction to pick ripe fruit is ignored as most pickers are paid by the weight of coffee they harvest. A single Arabica tree can produce between 3 to 5 kg of ripe fruit in a single season, if all the elements of climate and care come together nicely. This scale equates to 1 kg of roasted beans or 110 single espressos. Labor costs vary from country to country, but in some central American countries, a good harvester might be capable of picking 100 kg of fruit in a single day, which would earn them approximately 10$, which works out as less than half a cent per espresso. Some coffee pickers are paid even less. The picking season is relatively short and pickers are not working full time. The solution to this problem is efficient management of picking coffee. In Nicaragua, for example, coffee is grown on plots known as tablones, which due to their terroir will cause different times of the season to ripening the fruit. So the pickers can move from one plot to another during the harvest period. In many mountainous countries coffee is grown at altitude where it benefits from low humidity (that lowers the risk of mold) and cooler temperatures before it is dried and processed at lower heights that are more suitable for this part of the process. in Guatemala for instance an altitude changing of 300 m equate to a temperature difference of 5°C!
Hemileia vastatrix, known as ‘coffee leaf rust’ is a fungal parasite that targets all species of coffee.it blackens leaves and causing them to fall off till the plant loose most of its leaves. it was first reported in Kenya in 1861 and few years later transported to Sri Lanka and affected their entire industry. Today coffee rust problem is bigger than it has ever been. Increasing temperatures and high humidity caused by climate change are aggravated the problem and it affect not only the livelihood of farmers, but in some cases the economic stability of entire countries. In 2013 Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and in 2014 Nicaragua, all declared a state of national emergency and having to contend with the blighting of 70 per cent of their total crop!
Contending against coffee rust
The American phytopathological society recommend that coffee leaf rust should be treated as a continuous epidemic. For many farmers the only available measure is quarantine, which involves destroying both infected and healthy plants along together within a 30 m radius with a mixture of diesel and herbicide. Some copper based fungicides also have proven effective in both protecting from the disease and improving fruit yield. But they are expensive, must be reapplied regularly and in a long time cause danger to the condition of the soil.
Coffee borer beetle
Hypothenemus hampei, known as the coffee weevil or Gorgojo del café is coffee greatest natural predator . It is native to western Africa and unlike the rest of the insects the caffeine in the coffee fruit does not have preventing impact on it. The beasts bore inti the fruit and build tiny egg chambers inside the coffee seed which subsequently hatch larvae. Females fly around the plants and males lurk about ready in the fruit to perform their part in the process. If the plant left unchecked the activity of this beetles can destroy entire harvests. Some estimates representing that the total annual global losses would be higher than 500$ million. Preventative measures against coffee beetle include pesticides, but as with fungicides used against coffee lea rust, associated protocols must be followed and environmentals should be considered. Homemade traps are the most common means of dealing with the borer. They may comprise a large red container as a giant coffee cherry and have ethanol solution inside it. Better solution is another bug! Karnythrips flavipes is a type of insect that is one of the only known natural predators of the coffee beetle. Evidence shows that increasing this insect population in weevil territory might be effective on its activity.