All about coffee – history, production & preparation

kaffeebohnen

What is coffee anyway?

Coffee is a drink brewed from roasted coffee beans, the seeds of the berries of certain types of coffee. When the coffee cherries change color from green to bright red – indicating the degree of ripeness – they are picked, processed and dried. Dried coffee seeds (known as “beans”) are roasted to varying degrees depending on the desired taste. The roasted beans are ground and then brewed with almost boiling water to produce the beverage known as coffee.

Coffee is dark in color, bitter, slightly acidic and has a stimulating effect on humans, mainly due to its caffeine content. It is one of the most popular drinks in the world and can be prepared and presented in various ways (e.g. espresso, French press, caffè latte or filter coffee). It is usually served hot, but chilled coffee or iced coffee is also common. Sugar, sugar substitutes, milk or cream are often used to soften the bitter taste.

How does coffee grow? Is the coffee bean a vegetable or a fruit?

Coffee still unripe

coffee plant with still green coffee berries

The coffee plant is a genus of flowering plants from the Rubiaceae family. Coffee species are shrubs or small trees native to tropical and southern Africa and tropical Asia. The plant can originally reach a height of 15 meters. However, it is cultivated on coffee plantations as a two to three meter high shrub by constant pruning. This facilitates harvesting and increases the yield. The evergreen coffee plant has large, shiny green leaves that can grow up to 15 centimeters long. It takes three to five years for the first white flowers to appear, although they only bloom for a few days. From these, fruits are formed that look like cherries. However, the ripening period can last up to tens of months. The stone fruits called coffee cherries or coffee berries taste fruity sweet, but have very little pulp. This is surrounded by a thick, soft skin. Under the pulp is the parchment membrane surrounded by mucus. Underneath this is the silver skin that covers the seeds. The fruit usually contains two seeds, the so-called coffee beans. Occasionally, only one seed is formed, which is then called pearl bean.

Is coffee healthy?

Clinical research shows that moderate coffee consumption in healthy adults is benign or mildly beneficial as a stimulant, and further research is underway to determine whether long-term consumption reduces the risk of some diseases.

Who “invented” coffee?

The coffee plant has its origin in Africa. A pious legend says that the Islamic prophet Mohammed first discovered the stimulating effect of coffee after the angel Gabriel offered him a cup of hot dark liquid.

According to another legend, which was put down on paper in 1671 by Anthony Faust Nayironus (1636-1707) in his book De saluberrima potione cahve, shepherds from the kingdom of Kaffa in southwestern modern Ethiopia one day noticed that part of their herd of goats, which ate from a bush with white flowers and red fruits, were jumping around happily until late at night while other animals were tired. Shepherds (among another version the Yemeni shepherd) complained about this to monks of the nearby monastery. When the Abyssinian shepherd, whose name is often given as Caldi, himself tasted the fruit of the shrub, he noticed the invigorating effect on himself. During their research in the pasture, the monks found several dark green plants with cherry-like fruits. They made an infusion from them, and since then they have been able to stay awake until late at night, praying and talking to each other, and it is said that they traded with the plant. Other sources report that a shepherd disgustedly spat the fruit, which was inedible in its raw form, into the fire, thus releasing the aromas; this is how the idea of roasting was born.

Where does the coffee come from?

It is assumed that the Kaffa region in southwestern Ethiopia is the origin of coffee. There it was already mentioned in the 9th century. From Ethiopia the coffee probably reached Arabia in the 14th century through slave traders. However, it was probably roasted and drunk there only in the middle of the 15th century. The cultivation of coffee brought Arabia a monopolistic role. The trading center was the port city of Moha, also known as Moha, the modern Al Moha in Yemen. This is where our term mocha comes from.

The earliest credible evidence of coffee drinking as the modern beverage appears in today’s Yemen in southern Arabia in the middle of the 15th century in Sufi shrines where coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed, similar to the way they are prepared for drinking today. The Yemenites obtained the coffee beans from the Ethiopian highlands via Somali intermediaries on the coast and began to cultivate them. By the 16th century, the beverage had reached the rest of the Middle East and North Africa and later spread to Europe.

The Ethiopian preparation method and tradition of coffee is perhaps the most original: after roasting the beans in a large iron pan, they are coarsely ground or ground in a solution. Ground coffee is brewed with water and sugar in a so-called habana – an onion-like clay jug, similar to a carafe – and served in small bowls. The word “coffee” comes from the Arabic qahwa, which can mean “wine” as well as “coffee”. Via the Turkish kahwa it reached Italian (cafe) and from there into French, whose word form “Café” was adopted in German without major phonetic changes and only adapted in the spelling. It is said that the Turkish envoy Soliman Aga first served coffee to the prestigious Versailles society in 1669.

In German-speaking countries, the word “coffee” originally dominated over English or Dutch, but it was not until the 18th century that the term Kaffee began to assert itself after the French café.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had the idea to distill beans. It was in implementation of this idea that the chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Range discovered caffeine.

Where is the coffee plant grown?

The two most commonly grown coffee bean varieties are Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) and Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee). Today, coffee plants are grown in over 70 countries, mainly in the equatorial regions of America, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Africa. In 2018, Brazil was the leading coffee bean grower, with a 35% share of world production. Coffee is an important export commodity and for many countries the leading legal agricultural export and one of the most valuable export goods of developing countries. Green, unroasted coffee is one of the most traded agricultural products in the world. The way in which industrialized countries trade coffee with developing countries has been criticized, as has the impact on the environment in terms of land clearing for coffee cultivation and water use. Consequently, the markets for fair trade and organic coffee are expanding.

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