Whether you call it java, mud or a shot in the arm, an estimated 2 billion cups are consumed every day around the world – making coffee the most popular drink in the world. Coffee today is produced in over 50 countries and is the second most valuable export after oil. And to many of us – it’s simply what we need to get us started in the morning.
Coffee is older than most people think – archaeological evidence suggests that humans were enjoying the taste of the coffee berry around a hundred thousand years ago. One legend has it that a goat herder in Ethiopia observed his goats eating coffee berries and he decided to taste them himself – noting the stimulating effect. Shepherds consumed the coffee by grounding the beans and mixing them with animal fat.
By around 600 AD, the coffee bean had made its way to what is now the country of Yemen, where it has been cultivated ever since. From 1000 AD, Arabian traders grew and cultivated the coffee bean on plantations – they called their new concoction qahwa meaning “that which prevents sleep”. Arabia controlled the coffee trade for many centuries as they introduced a law that prohibited the exporting of beans that could germinate.
Despite this restriction, the coffee bean somehow found its way throughout the Middle East – to Persia (now Iran), Egypt and parts of Northern Africa. Coffee beans also found their way to the Mysore area of India – where descendants of those original plants flourished until the early 20th century. In many cases, the beans were literally smuggled out of Arabia.
At first, coffee was not enjoyed for its taste, but more as a supplement or source of nutrition. When the coffee bean found its way to Turkey, the Turks began to drink it for its flavor – frequently adding such things as cinnamon or anise. The Turks were also the first to roast the beans over fires and boil the crushed beans in water. And what is generally considered to be the world’s first coffee shop was opened in Istanbul – known as Constantinople at the time – in the 15th century.
The Dutch were the first to transport and cultivate coffee beans on a commercial basis. With coffee beans smuggled out of Arabia, they established plantations in Ceylon and one of their colonies – Java. Today, Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of coffee.
The coffee bean was introduced to Europe during the 17th century. At one point, the beverage was more popular than tea in England and was used as an antidote to the widespread alcoholism of the time. Coffee houses sprang up in such places as Vienna, Paris and London, frequented by the wealthy and fashionable. The Austrians are credited with the practice of adding milk and sugar to coffee.
In France, Louis XIV built greenhouses to protect his precious coffee beans from frost. And in the New World, coffee was also a popular drink – the newly formed American colonies declared coffee to be the national drink. Not everybody approved; the Catholics declared coffee should be banned – despite the Pope confessing to being an avid coffee drinker.
Today, there are actually more than 60 varieties of coffee in the world, although the beans used for coffee are one of two types – Robusta and Arabica. Around 75% of coffee beans produced are Arabica and are cultivated in Brazil and Central America. Robusta beans produce a stronger blend of coffee and are cultivated in parts of Asia and Africa as well as Brazil.
Chances are high that your coffee beans come from Brazil, the world’s largest producer of coffee. Brazil produces almost 30% of the world’s coffee and also has some of the most advanced processing techniques in the world. In 2006, the gross value of coffee production in Brazil was almost 5 billion dollars and the industry employs several million workers.
Coffee isn’t usually associated with Asia, but several Asian countries have started to cultivate the coffee bean. In recent years, Vietnam has become a large producer and some of the African coffee producing countries still produce excellent coffee – in particular Kenya and Tanzania
Some countries have also started to cultivate specialized coffee beans – Kenya produces a fruity coffee and Indonesia produces the Kopi Luwak – a coffee bean that has been passed through the digestive system of a civet. And Ethiopia – where the coffee bean was perhaps first discovered – is home to a bean that produces a coffee flavored with chocolate, ginger and orange.
So whether you prefer your coffee beans with milk, with sugar, strong or with no caffeine – take a moment and enjoy a cup of the world’s most popular drink.