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A History of Coffee

The Buzz on the Origins of that Aromatic Beverage Called Coffee

Leave it to a goat, known for eating virtually anything known to man, to find what many of us today call brown gold. It was around the year 850 and an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi discovered his goats were prancing happily after consuming some bright red berries on bushes growing naturally in the area. This little story is sometimes viewed as a legend but coffee did get its start in the African country of Ethiopia.

The Spread of Coffee

The Ethiopians kept this hyped up coffee plant to themselves for a while but eventually it made its way north to Sudan and the Arabian Peninsula. The Arab world was spreading its trade in the area and the coffee plants started being cultivated there. Mocha was a famous trade port of its day around the year 1000 and the Arabs kept coffee to themselves by not allowing the exportation of fertile coffee beans, which were actually the seeds of the coffee plant which could potentially be cultivated elsewhere.

Constantinople, what is now Istanbul, was the first place to open up a coffee house in the late 1400's. It wasn't until the early 600's that some fertile beans were smuggled into Italy and the taste of coffee became sought after. The Dutch also smuggled out some plants too and eventually established a coffee growing colony on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia.

Coffee was no longer a horded secret – it found its way around the world. The 1800's brought a lot of exploration across the Atlantic Ocean and other bodies of water where the coffee plants made their way to the Americas, namely established colonies in Brazil. From there, the coffee plants really took off and the aromatic beverage soon became a drink for the common people rather than the elite.

The Popularity of Coffee

Coffee was originally popular because the leaves of the plant and the berries were chewed for its stimulant properties. Eventually, some enterprising soul in 1000 AD Arabia started roasting the berries into what we know today as coffee beans and then brewing it with water. Coffee became very popular early in history because of its stimulant properties as well as its unique smell and taste. The exclusivity in which the Arabs horded it made it all the more popular and sought after.

Today, there are several species of coffee grown around the world with the Arabica and Robusta coffee beans being the most prevalent. Brazil (santos) is by far the largest exporter of coffee today with other Latin American countries like Mexico (altura), Costa Rica (Tarrazu), Colombia (supremo) and Guatemala (antigua) not far behind. Indonesia and parts of Africa also do a fair trade in coffee.

Europe was the first area to truly embrace coffee, perfecting the art of different types of roasted coffee beans. From there, the roasting evolved according to individual tastes. The darkest of roasted coffees are popular in Europe and Asia and are known as Italian or espresso roasts. Light weight coffee drinkers prefer the lightly roasted coffee beans to create their aromatic brews. There is also medium and dark roasted coffees.

The area of the world where the coffee plants are grown can also make a big difference as well due to the various conditions of the soil and climate. The most desired and therefore the most expensive coffee in the world is grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica where land is rich but limited, which accounts for its exclusivity. Hawaii, the only area of the United States to grow the coffee plant, also produces a rich brew as well.

Today, coffee is found prepared in a variety of ways from espresso to mocha lattes and judged similarly to wine. The area in which the coffee beans are cultivated makes a huge difference in the taste, just as with wine. The aroma and color also play a part in discerning which coffees are the finest in the world. Ultimately though, it is your taste buds that guide you to the best coffee flavour for you.