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History of the Coffee Bean

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It has been called “java,” “mud,” “a shot in the arm,” “a cup of joe,” or whatever you call it. An estimated 2 billion cups are consumed every day around the world. Coffee has become the most popular drink in the world, and it is produced in more than fifty countries. Coffee is the second most valuable export, only eclipsed by oil. To many of us, it is simply what we need to get going in the morning.

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans were enjoying the taste of the coffee berry around a hundred thousand years ago, making coffee older than most people think. There are many legends about how coffee was discovered; one has it that a goat herder in Ethiopia observed his goats eating coffee berries and decided to taste them himself, noticing a stimulating effect. Shepherds consumed the coffee by grinding the beans and mixing them with animal fat.

The coffee bean made its way to what is now the country of Yemen, around 600 AD, where it has been cultivated ever since. Arabian traders grew and cultivated the coffee bean on plantations from 1000 AD, and they called their new concoction qahwa meaning “that which prevents sleep.” Arabia controlled the coffee trade for many centuries after 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 made it to the Mysore area of India where descendants of those original plants flourished until the early 20th century. Many times, the beans were literally smuggled out of Arabia.

Initially, coffee was not enjoyed for its taste but more as a supplement or source of nutrition. When the coffee bean arrived in 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. What is generally considered the world’s first coffee shop was opened in Istanbul, known as Constantinople at the time, in the 15th century.

The first to transport and cultivate coffee beans on a commercial basis were the Dutch. With coffee beans smuggled out of Arabia, they established plantations in Ceylon and their colonies in Java. As a result, Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of coffee today.

In the 17th century, Europe was introduced to the coffee bean. The beverage rapidly became 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 and were 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. In the New World, coffee was also a popular drink. The newly formed American colonies declared coffee to be the national drink, but not everyone approved. Catholics declared that coffee should be banned despite the Pope confessing to being an avid coffee drinker.

Modern Coffee Consumption

Worldwide today, more than 60 varieties of coffee are consumed. All beans used for coffee are one of two types, Robusta and Arabica. Roughly 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.

Your coffee beans most likely come from Brazil; it is the largest producer of coffee worldwide. 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.

Although coffee is not usually associated with Asia, several Asian countries have started to cultivate the coffee bean. Recently, Vietnam has become a large producer of coffee, and some of the African coffee producing countries continue to produce excellent coffee, mainly Kenya and Tanzania.

Some regions have 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. 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.