A Little Ditty About Our Friends the Coffee Beans

Coffea Arabica is a species of Coffea originally indigenous to the mountains of Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula. It also traces to the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia and southeastern Sudan. The coffee beans are also known as Arabica coffee beans. Arabica is believed to be the first species of coffee to be cultivated, being grown in southwest Arabia for well over 1,000 years. It produces better coffee than the other major commercially grown species, Coffea canephora. It is also known as Robusta, but tastes vary. Robusta is a lower grade coffee used more commonly in traditional grocery store ‘brands’ like Maxwell House and Folgers. Arabica contains less caffeine than any other commercially cultivated species of coffee. The plants grow to between 9 and 12 meters tall, the leaves are a glossy dark green, the flowers are white and the fruit is a drupe, commonly called a berry that contains two seeds we know as coffee beans. After harvesting, the raw products are known as green coffee beans.

Coffee originated in Ethiopia where legend has it a goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats not being able to sleep at night. After watching them, he discovered that this happened only after they ate an unusual berry from what is now known as a coffee tree.

The leader of an Ethiopian monastery used the berries to make a drink and discovered that it kept him up for the lengthy evening prayer. This discovery of the energizing effects of the berries spread east by way of the monks of the monastery and coffee reached Arabia. It than began a journey which would spread its reputation around the world.

By the fifteenth century, one could find coffee growing in the Yemeni district of Arabia. By the sixteenth century you could find it in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. At some point, someone decided to process the cherries by pulping them and shedding the fruit. Apparently they thought the drink would taste better if it were made from roasted coffee. Good guess and what a concept!

Coffee was not only drunk in homes. This was the beginning of what we now know today as the coffee house. Before they ever sold whole bean coffee, their popularity was equal to none. You would often find many different social activities inside. It was not only a place to drink coffee and converse, but also a place to listen to music, watch performers and play chess. Sounds familiar right?

Travelers brought back stories of the unusual dark black beverage to Europe. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. The clergy of Venice condemned coffee at first, as it was introduced to the city in 1615. Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene because it was so controversial but before he made any decisions, he tasted the beverage. He found it so satisfying that he gave it his approval.

Even England, Germany, Austria, Holland and France saw such controversy but coffee houses were quickly becoming quite popular. By the mid-17th century, London had over 300 coffee houses. In the mid-1600’s, coffee was brought to New York.

Coffee houses sprung up quickly in the New World but tea continued to be the favored drink. It was not until 1773 when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George. This was known in history as the Boston Tea Party. This event changed the American drinking preference to coffee. How ’bout that? (Now you know why roasters today supply us with fresh roasted gourmet coffee. Someone else made us do it!) And it was not until the about 1960’s that coffee houses began selling coffee beans.

In 1723, a young naval officer transported one seedling and planted it in Martinique. It is said to have thrived and is credited with the spread of over 18 million coffee trees on the island over the next 50 years. That is a lot of green coffee beans! The Caribbean, South and Central America’s trees bearing green coffee beans are said to have originated from its stock.

The emperor of French Guiana is said to have sent a man by the name of Francisco de Mello Palheta to the island of Martinique for the purpose of obtaining seedlings to bring to Brazil. Only thing was the French were not willing to share. It is said, however he was so handsome that the French Governor’s wife was captivated enough to give him a bouquet of flowers on his departure. Inside it is said that he found enough seeds to start what is today a billion-dollar industry in Brazil.

It took 100 years for coffee to establish itself as a commodity throughout the world. Many forms of travelers: traders, missionaries and colonists had continued to bring seedlings to new lands. New trees were grown the world over and coffee plantations were established. These plantations were in beautiful tropical forests and on rugged mountains. Some nations were born on these new economies and by the end of the 18th century coffee had become one of the world’s most profitable export crops.

Today, the gourmet coffee beans we all know are grown in many countries: Asia, Africa, Central or South America, the islands of the Caribbean or the Pacific. This also includes organic coffee. All coffee beans can trace their heritage to the trees in the ancient forests of Ethiopia. If it wasn’t for Kaldi noticing his goats getting goofy, there just may not have been any fresh roasted gourmet coffee in the world today. Thank you Kaldi!


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