History of Coffee
Unlike today’s coffee made of the roasted coffee beans the coffee plant continued to be eaten for many centuries purely for its berries which were transported from Ethiopia to Yemen. In the 6th century in Yemen the coffee plant was first cultivated and has continued to be grown ever since.The pulp of the coffee cherry is sweet, the bitterness comes from the seed (also called the bean). In some places the green unroasted coffee beans were ground up, mixed with animal fat and compressed into small lumps for the weary traveller.
As a drink the Arabs were the first to use the green coffee bean alone. The beans would be crushed after the pulp and skin had been removed. This mixture would be added with water creating the coffee drink. This was also believed to be medicinal, especially good for coughs and asthma.
The roasting of coffee did not become popular until the 14th century and even then, for many years the drink was consumed along with the grounds. In the early 1500s roasted coffee was being traded all over Arabia; from Turkey to North Africa.
The Arabian coffee house became the place to meet; where minds could ponder on worldly events. Attracting artists, stuggling writers and travelers who gathering to sip the drink and escape the heat of the day. Patrons listened to jazz, played chess and argued about religion and politics. Alot was discussed, little of it achieved. But still free spirited thought was at work and in the late 1500’s, European visitors and traders took notice. Already trading Eastern spices,silks and perfumes, coffee beans were quickly incorporated.
Once in Europe this new beverage fell under criticism from the Catholic church calling it the drink of the devil. The Pope however, already a coffee drinker, blessed coffee declaring it a Christian beverage. The Arabian coffee market flourished as popularity grew. Strict laws kept Arabia the sole exporters. European’s caught with a coffee plant in Arabia could be punished with death. It took some time before plants were able to be smuggeled out of the country.
Around 1700 AD the demand for coffee rose and cultivation spread worldwide ,the Dutch got hold of the coffee plant and started plantations in their colonies in Indonesia. The coffee was introduced and grown in Timor, Bali, Java, and Sumatra. The British and French soon followed. Coffee found its way to America by means of a French infantry captain who nurtured a small plant on its journey across the Atlantic. This plant, transplanted to the Caribbean Island of Martinique, became the predecessor of over 19 million trees on the island within 50 years. It was in this way the coffee plant found its way to the rest of the tropical regions of South and Central America, establishing coffee plantations in colonies through America and India.
The progression of coffee to today can be followed by the emergence of coffee houses. By 1843, there were thousands throughout Europe and the American colonies. Today the coffee house, the cafe remains a place where friends can meet, intellects can discuss, music is played and a student can sit writing in the early hours.
There are two main types of the coffee plant; Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora robusta.
Coffea arabica is the older species and is indigenous to Ethiopia, where coffee was first discovered. It is also known as the “coffee shrub of Arabia”, “mountain coffee” or “arabica coffee”. Coffea Arabica is believed to be the first species of coffee to be cultivated. This occured in the 6th Century in Yemen where it is still being cultivated today. Coffea Arabica is considered to produce the best commercial grown coffee.
As a wild plant Coffea Arabica grows between 7-12 m tall, and has an open branching system; the leaves are opposite, simple elliptic-ovate to oblong, 6-12 cm long and 4-8 cm wide, with a glossy dark green colouring. The flowers are produced in axillary clusters, each flower white, and 1-1.5 cm in diameter. The fruit is a berry 10-15 mm long, maturing bright red to purple, is edible and sweet. Insided are two seeds (the coffee bean) which has the bitter taste.
Growing Coffea arabica is harder than Coffea canephora robusta as it is more susceptible to the environment and disease. The reason for this is that Coffea canephorora robusta contains around twise as much caffine which acts as a natural insecticide (paralyzing or killing some of the insects that tempt to feet on it). This has led robusta to become a less expensive and lower quality substitute for arabica in many coffee blends and nearly all instant coffee products.
Tasting and smelling the difference; Arabicas have a wider taste range, between varieties. Ranging from sweet-soft to sharp-tangy. Their unroasted smell is close to that of blueberries. Roasted arabica has a sugary fruit smell. Robusta tends to be more bitter, grainlike with a “burnt rubber” smell and taste. High quality robustas are avaliable, rare but seen in Italy; often a blend of dark roasted robusta which has the advantage of creating good crema.
Arabica coffees were traditionally named by the port they were exported from, the two oldest being Mocha, from Yemen, and Java, from Indonesia. The modern coffee trade is much more specific about origin, labeling coffees by country, region, and sometimes even the producing estate. Coffee aficionados may even distinguish auctioned coffees by lot number.
The largest coffee exporting nation remains Brazil, but in recent years the green coffee market has been flooded by large quantities of robusta beans from Vietnam , due to low costs and to financing provided by the World Bank indirectly through the French Government. Many experts believe this giant influx of cheap green coffee led to the prolonged pricing crisis from 2001 to the present. In 1997 the “c” price of coffee in New York broke US$3.00/lb, but by late 2001 it had fallen to US$0.43/lb. Robusta coffees (traded in London at much lower prices than New York’s Arabica) are preferred by large industrial clients (multinational roasters, instant coffee producers, etc.) because of their lower cost.
One unusual and very expensive variety of robusta is the Indonesian Kopi Luwak and the Philippine Kape Alamid. The beans are collected from the droppings of the Common Palm Civet, whose digestive processes give it a distinctive flavor.