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For many people the day only starts when a strong small espresso coffee has been downed in one go at their favorite coffee house. The daily ritual of morning and afternoon coffee has become big business throughout the world and the bewildering array of coffee drinks for sale in coffee houses can make the brain spin.
The coffee bean in its raw form is grey and comes from a cherry like fruit. The bean has no flavor and requires heat to transform its carbohydrates and fats into aromatic essential oils. It then needs to be ground and brewed in boiling water to make a coffee.
This process was discovered in the Yemen and northern Ethiopia where the coffee tree is a native shrub. Legend has it that around 850 an Ethiopian goatherd, Kaldi, wondered why his herd of goats had become extremely hyper active prancing around the pastures. On closer inspection Kaldi saw that they were eating the red berries of the coffee tree.
The energizing effects of the coffee beans were probably discovered by the ancestors of the Oromo people of Ethiopia. The idea spread to the Yemen where the drink was popularized. The earliest credible evidence for coffee drinking appears in the Sufi Monasteries of the Yemen, where the drink allowed worshipers to keep awake during long vigils. By 1100 Coffee trees were being cultivated in all parts of the Arabian peninsular and as Islam spread so did coffee drinking.
Arab traders protected their market by rendering coffee beans infertile by boiling them before they were exported. This was so effective that it is said that no coffee trees grew outside Arabia or Africa until the 1600s when coffee arrived for the first time in Europe.
The first coffee shop opened in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1475 and became an instant institution. So strong was its appeal that Turkish Laws deemed it grounds for divorce if a wife failed to keep the coffee pot or ibrik full.
It did not take the Venetian traders long to recognize the value of this drink and coffee was introduced into Europe by way of Venice in 1615. At first coffee had problems when Christian hard liners labeled coffee as the drink of the infidels and therefore sinful. Divine intervention in the form of Pope Clement saved coffee when he became addicted to the drink and literally gave it his blessings.
The coffee boom started with coffee being a much sought after luxury item. Traders realized that the big prize was the coffee plant itself which would enable the western merchants to grow their own coffee in the new world and cut out the Arab middle men. In the 1600s a pilgrim to Mecca, Baba Budan, managed to buy fertile coffee beans and smuggled them out of the country strapped to his chest. The resultant coffee plants and their descendants soon found their way to the new world and the Arab domination of the Coffee trade was over.
The Dutch in 1616 smuggled a coffee plant out of Arabia. The resultant plants cloned from this seedling were sent to the Dutch Indonesian colony of Java. By 1696 the first European coffee estate was producing coffee on Java. The Dutch got a little carried away with their success and started bestowing gifts of coffee plants to the great and good of Europe.
Louis XIV received his and put it in pride of place in the Botanical Gardens in Paris. A young naval officer on leave fro the French Colony of Martinique requested cuttings from the coffee tree to take back with him. When permission was denied he broke into the Botanical Gardens hot house at night and helped himself to cuttings from the coffee tree. This resulted in a live sapling that he took back to Martinique on what turned out to be an eventful voyage. In his memoirs Clieu wrote that the jealousy of the passengers was so great that one tried to grab the plant pulling a small branch off. Then Pirates nearly took the ship and finally after storms that nearly sunk the ship, water ran short and Clieu had to use his water rations to nurse the sapling through the journey. In Martinique the plant was grown to maturity under armed guard. Cuttings were then taken and grown which resulted in the 18 million or so coffee trees that grew on Martinique 50 years later.
In the late 1600s coffee arrived in England. At $48 a pound it was definitely a luxury item but within a few years London was the biggest coffee drinking city in the world. This did not last as tea took over once the British colonies started producing tea instead of coffee.
In 1727 a coffee plant seedling was smuggled into Brazil by Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta. By 1800 the Brazilian harvest was so great that coffee stopped being a luxury drink and could enjoy mass popularity.
Today coffee is the cash crop of many other South American countries like Colombia and is essential to many countries economies and employment. Most coffee beans have to be picked manually due either to terrain or the fact that coffee beans ripen at different rates. Coffee harvesting provides essential employment in many countries of the world. Machines have only recently been invented to pick coffee beans but can only be used of flat terrains.
THE COFFEE PLANTS
Two main varieties of coffee plants are grown the C. arabica and the robusta (C. canephora). Generally the arabica is more highly regarded than the robusta, which can be more bitter than the arabica with less flavor, but it does contain more caffeine than the arbica. This makes robusta perfect for the much loved single shot espresso of southern Europe especially as it forms a better head or crema. Robusta is cheaper than arabica and its strong taste lends it perfectly to commercial coffee blends.
Why did Italy, taking it had no coffee growing colonies become so synonymous with Coffee? The Italians made the modern coffee drink that we all recognize today by inventing the espresso machine. In 1884 Angelo Moriondo patented a "New steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage" in Turin then in Paris. Luigi Bezzera patented a machine in 1903 and in 1938 Achille Gaggia realized that steam and boiling water made coffee bitter and found that the ideal temperature to brew coffee was 85 °C (185 °F). He invented a machine that forced hot, not boiling, water through coffee so reducing the bitter taste of the coffee that the earlier inventions produced. Gaggia's development was halted by the second world war but in 1946 his first commercial espresso machines revolutionized coffee making, producing coffee with a perfect foam or crema. Although there have been developments that have automated the coffee making process, Gaggia's design is the basis of all commercial coffee making machines today.
Before Gaggia coffee was made the same way as it is made in Greece & Turkey today. In parts of Ethiopia a coffee making ceremony is still a very important tradition so we can see how coffee was made a thousand years ago. The ceremony takes between 2 to 3 hours so it is definitely not suited to modern living. First the room is prepared by spreading fresh aromatic grasses over the floor and burning incense. A clay pot full of water is put on the hot coals of the fire. Green coffee beans are then put in a long handled pan and are heated over the fire until their husks fall off. The clean beans are then roasted further until they turn medium brown for medium flavoured coffee or black for strong coffee, this depends upon the hosts preference. Cardamon or cinnamon may be added to the roasting beans and the roasted beans are then ground in a mortar & pestle (mukecha & zenezena). The ground coffee is added to hot water in the clay pot which is brought to the boil and removed from the heat. As with Turkish and Greek coffee it is served unstrained and may have salt, sugar or honey added or be enriched with butter.
The roasting process is critical as it changes the flavor of the coffee. Roasting begins at 200 °C (392 °F) and the sugars start to caramelize turning the bean brown. Oils and acids in the bean change to oils like caffeol which is responsible for the flavour of coffee. If the bean is heated to 205 °C (401 °F) different aromatic oils are produced so changing the flavor the bean produces. In this way different roasts will produce different flavoured beans that can be blended to produce unique tastes of the coffee brands.
Today you can buy a bewildering variety of coffee drinks. From Espresso to Cafe Latte the variations seem to be endless and we all have our favorite. Italians still believe there is only one true coffee and that is the single shot espresso. When they see large cups of coffee with milk in a cafe they say that if people want soup they should go to a restaurant not a cafe. Englishmen on the other hand look at a single espresso and think they are being short changed. The way coffee is drunk and prepared can define a culture. The coffee tastes of the Middle East, Italy, France, USA and the UK are all quite different, even though large international coffee chains are now creating a more even playing field. The rise in popularity of coffee has been meteoric. In 1000 years it has gone from being enjoyed by a few bouncing goats to being one of the most drunk beverages in the world.
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