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Discovery In Ethiopia:

Legend has it that coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd who observed how his goats (some say camels) stayed awake at night after grazing on wild coffee berries. The shepherd told some local monks of the berries' strange effect on his animals, whereupon the monks began to make use of the newly discovered herb to stay awake during late night prayer sessions.
Whether or not this story is true, we do know that Coffea arabica's natural origins can be traced to the forested highlands of southern Ethiopia where wild strains still flourish. The actual cultivation of these wild plants is believed to have occurred as early as A.D. 575.
Although coffee is mentioned in Arab medicinal literature by the 10th century, intensive cultivation in Arabia, via Yemen, did not begin until the 15th century. Coffea arabica is believed to have been introduced to Yemen from Ethiopia by traveling merchants or herbalists via the well-established trade routes across the Gulf of Aden. The coffee trees flourished there, and this single area soon began supplying the rapidly expanding market for the new beverage throughout the Muslim world.

Usage in Arabia:

The Arabs are instrumental in giving coffee consumption its initial big send-off. Popular acceptance of the drink was in no small measure influenced by the use of the beverage by religious authorities. Coffee had become an essential component in religious ceremonies by helping the pious stay awake during lengthy prayer and study sessions. It became especially popular with the dervishes, whom are believed responsible for introducing it to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Once established in Mecca, familiarity with the new beverage was quickly spread throughout the Muslim world by religious pilgrims. By the end of the 15th century Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Persia were importing substantial quantities of coffee from the Yemen.

According to Jaziri, a 16th century Arab scholar, the phenomenal spread of coffee drinking throughout the Islamic world, is explained by the following:
"At the beginning of this century, the news reached us in Egypt that a drink, called qahwa, had spread in the Yemen and was being used by Sufti shaykhs and others to help them stay awake during their devotional exercises, which they perform according to their well-known Way. Then it reached us, sometime later, that its appearance and spread there had been due to the efforts of the learned shaykh, imam, mufti, and Sufi... al-Dhabhani. We heard that he had been in charge of the critical review of fatwas in Aden, which at that time was a job whose holder decided whether fatwas were sound or in need of revision, which he would indicate at the bottom of the document in his own hand. The reason for his introducing coffee, according to what we heard, was that some affair had forced him to leave Aden and go to Ethiopia, where he stayed for some time. He found the people using qahwa, though he knew nothing of its characteristics. After he had returned to Aden, he fell ill, and remembering, he drank it and benefited by it. He found that among its properties was that it drove away fatigue and lethargy, and brought to the body a certain sprightliness and vigor. In consequence, when he became a Sufi, he and other Sufis in Aden began to use the beverage made from it, as we have said. Then the whole people- both the learned and the common- followed in drinking it, seeking help in study and other vocations and crafts, so that it continued to spread."

With the spread of the coffee habit from the clergy to the masses, coffee production and trade became a very serious business. The Arabs sought to maintain their monopoly of this lucrative trade. They forbade the export of any live coffee seedlings and sterilized all green coffee beans destined for export by immersing them in boiling water. Their monopoly wouldn't last for long, however, as with so many thousands of religious pilgrims coming and going from Mecca, it was inevitable that fertile green beans would eventually be smuggled out.
The first account of successful smuggling is by an Indian pilgrim to Mecca named Babi Budan, who started his own coffee plantation in Karnataka, India around 1600. In 1616 the Dutch East India Company used spies to secure coffee seedlings from Aden, and used those seedlings to start plantations in their colonies in Asia and the Americas.

Introduction to Europe:

The Turks, through their Ottoman Empire, are believed to be responsible for introducing Europeans to coffee. Early in the 16th century Mecca and Medina had come under Ottoman rule, and for most of the next century the coffee trade was largely controlled by the Turks. During this period the port of Ragusa (present-day Dubrovnik) began trading in substantial quantities of beans, supplying the "Turk's drink" throughout the Ottoman's most northwestern outposts. In fact, the famed dark roasts of contemporary Vienna (schwarze coffees) are a consequence of that region's proximity to the Ottoman's former frontiers. Through this initial contact with the Ottoman Turks, Christian Europe's fascination for the exotic beverage grew.

A Venetian in 1615 wrote:
"The Turks have a drink of black color, which during the summer is very cooling, whereas in the winter it heats and warms the body, remaining always the same beverage and not changing its substance. They swallow it hot as it comes from the fire and they drink it in long draughts, not at dinner time, but as a kind of dainty and sipped slowly while talking with one's friends. One cannot find any meetings among them where they drink it not..."
The emergence of coffee as a beverage of the masses was not to occur without controversy. Ironically, for a custom that originated as an integral part of religious observance, the use of coffee would come to be challenged by both Muslim and Christian authorities because of religious and moral concerns.

The Coffee Tree:

The coffee "tree" is actually a variety of tropical evergreen shrub. There are three species of coffee "tree", all three are of African origin, arabica, liberica and robusta. Arabica originated in Ethiopia and is best suited to higher altitudes from 2000 to 6500 feet. Liberica originated in West Africa and robusta originated in the Congo, both do better below 2000 feet. Liberica and robusta trees are hardy and do well in forest environments and require less maintenance than arabicas. Liberica and robusta trees also produce higher yields, but the coffee they produce tends to have a harsh flavor in comparison to arabicas and their caffeine content can be as much as 50% higher. Most of the instant and tinned coffees at your local grocers is produced from the these less expensive liberica and robusta coffees. Gourmet coffees on the other hand rely almost exclusively on the more expensive arabicas.

The best growing conditions are in a temperature range of 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit at an altitude best suited to the species of coffee tree (liberica and robusta at altitudes below 2000 feet and arabicas between 2000 and 6500 feet). Rainfall should be plentiful and the weather should switch between heavy rainfall and sunshine to bring the berries to full maturity. The type of soil is not too important but good drainage is a must.
The coffee tree's fruit does not all ripen at one time. In fact it will have blossoms and berries (or cherries if you prefer) in various stages of ripening. This fact complicates the harvesting of coffee since only the ripe berries can be picked. If the berries are left too long their beans will spoil, and the berries cannot be picked when green since they will not ripen once picked. This fact requires that the pickers of quality coffees return to each tree numerous times to harvest its berries. Since each tree only yields about two pounds of beans per year, this equates to a great deal of labor for every cup of coffee that you drink.

The growers of less expensive coffees often use less labor intensive methods to harvest their coffees. These methods produce poor grade, harsh flavored coffees. For instance some growers in Brazil use a method that strips the whole branch of the tree at once, leaves, flowers, green and overripe berries. This is very damaging to the trees and it takes some years for them to recover. Another less damaging method is used in Africa, there they will shake the trees causing the berries to drop to the ground where they can be easily picked up.
The coffee tree does not begin to produce its full yield until its sixth year and will continue produce for about ten years. The tree if left alone will grow to a height of between 16 and 40 feet. In most coffee plantations the trees are kept at a manageable six feet to get the best yield and to make it easy to harvest.
Since there are only three main species of coffee tree, you might wonder why there are so many different varieties of beans offered for sale? This can be attributed to the wide variety of climates, altitudes, soils and amount of rainfall that the coffee trees grow in. Although coffee trees grow in only tropical and sub-tropical areas, these areas have a wide range of climatic differences. Coffee trees grow in the highlands of Central America where the temperatures are cooler and there is a great deal of wind and fog. They also grow in the hot, steamy lowland jungles of Africa and in the variable conditions of the Caribbean. All of these areas produce beans with different characteristics.

The three basic groups of coffees are:

~Milds are all of the arabicas grown outside of Brazil. These coffees include the premium or quality coffees that are used by the gourmet coffee industry. The term "mild" does not necessarily refer to the taste of the coffee, some of these have a bitter or acidic flavor.
~Brazils are all of the coffees grown in Brazil. These are almost exclusively made up of arabicas. The Brazils are for the most part the less expensive type used for tinned and instant coffees.
~Robustas these are African grown coffees that are also low quality and used for tinned and instant coffees.

There are also many secondary classifications that are used such as the type of plant (Excelsa, Bourbon, Maragogype), processing method (wet or dry), plant species (arabica, liberica, robusta) and so on.

Coffee Beans and Descriptions


Coffee Roasting

The Coffee Dictionary

Caffeine Structure