Coffee Legends

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The History of Coffee

Who would have thought that a berry that was discovered by a herd of goats would be the single most important ingredient in the world’s most popular drink? Legend has it that back in 850AD, a goat herder noticed his herd was full of energy and eating berries he had never noticed. Since the goats seemed to have such a reaction, the herder decided to give it a try! The berries also gave him a burst of energy and he began to feel very happy. Thus, the beginning of the journey for what is now known as coffee!

Actually, the story of the goat herder isn’t the only legend surrounding this discovery. It is also said that an Arabian man was banished to the deserts with his followers to die of starvation. His men became very desperate for nourishment and before long, they were boiling and eating the product of an unknown tree. 

The broth that was produced by this unknown substance saved the lives of the men! In the nearest town, Mocha, many took their survival to be a religious sign. Because of the discovery, the drink was then named Mocha.

No matter which story you gravitate to, the bottom line is the same: the berries (actually, the seed of the berry) gave energy and zest to all that would consume it! From it’s earliest beginnings, coffee was thought of as a delicacy and any recipes floating around were considered to be a closely guarded secret!

As time passed, the very first coffee trees were harvested around 1100, in the Arabian Peninsula. The coffee drink became a staple of many early civilizations. In the year 1453, There was a law in Turkey that said that a woman could divorce her husband if he didn’t supply her with a daily supply of coffee!

The very first known coffee shop was established in Constantinople around the year of 1475 and since that initial introduction to the public, coffee has pretty much taken over the world! Between 1600-1700, there were many advancements, including the world’s first coffee house and the beginnings of commercial production (made by the Dutch). By the middle 1700’s, there were about 2000 coffee shops in Venice, alone!

The first prototype of an espresso machine (made in Italy) was unveiled in the early 1800’s. In the early 1900’s, the first drip coffee machine was invented, making the coffee making process a little less daunting! The automatic espresso maker began its journey in the 1930’s.

By the late 1900’s, coffee became the most popular beverage in the world! The coffee is harvested in many countries, including: Africa, Ethiopia, Brazil, North America, Italy and even Turkey. This kind of crop can also be easily grown and exported by many third world countries, as well. Made to tempt even the pickiest palate, coffee has evolved to include hundreds of flavors and varying grades and prices.

Another Version of the History of Coffee

The coffee plant originates from the highland forests of Ethiopia. It is believed that the first plants were found growing wild in the region of Kaffa, where coffee derives its name from. A popular legend tells of a goat herder named Kaldi. One day he noticed his goats behaving in a strange manner. They were full of energy, playfully chasing each other and bleating loudly.

He noticed they were eating red berries from the bushes nearby. Feeling tired and slightly curious, Kaldi decided to try some berries and to his delight his fatigue quickly faded into a fresh burst of energy.Kaldi was so impressed by the berries, that he filled his pockets with them and ran home to show his wife.

“They are heaven-sent” she declared, “You must take them to the Monks in the monastery”. At the monastery, Kaldi told the Abbot how these berries had a miraculous energizing effect himself and his goats. The Abbot clearly displeased, hurled the berries into the fire, proclaiming them as the “Devil’s work”.

Within minutes the berries started to smoke and the monastery was filled with the heavenly aroma of roasting beans. The other Monks quickly gathered to see what the commotion was. One Monk swiftly raked the beans from the fire and extinguished the embers by stamping on them.

The rich smell of coffee obviously agreed with the Abbot’s nose as he ordered the Monk to place the now crushed beans into a jug and cover it with hot water to preserve their divine goodness. He then took a sip from the jug and sampled the rich and fragrant brew that is coffee. From that day on the Monks vowed to drink coffee daily to keep them awake during the long, nocturnal devotions.

No one is exactly sure when coffee was discovered. There is evidence to suggest that coffee beans were used to make a primitive ‘energy bar’ before they were actually brewed as a hot drink. Sometime between 575-850AD, a nomadic mountain tribe known as Galla, used to mix ground coffee with ghee.

These bars were consumed by the tribe’s warriors to heighten aggression and increase their stamina during battle. To this day, these bars are still eaten in Kaffa and Sidamo (Ethiopia).

Some authorities claim that coffee originated from the Arabian Peninsula rather then Ethiopia, stating that coffee was cultivated in Yemen from around 575AD. An Islamic legend tells of how Sheikh Omar discovered coffee growing wild while living as a recluse near the port of Mocha (Yemen).

He is said to have boiled some berries, and discovered the stimulating effect of the infusion, which he administered to the locals who were stricken with a mysterious illness and thus cured them. However, it is more likely that coffee spread to Yemen through Sudanese slaves. These slaves are thought to have eaten coffee beans to help them stay alive as they rowed ships across the Red Sea between Africa and Arabian Peninsula.

Evidence suggests that coffee was probably not enjoyed as a beverage until around the 10th Century. It is at this time that the oldest known documents describing the beverage coffee were written. Two Arabian philosophers: Rhazes (850-922AD), and Avicenna of Bukham (980-1037AD); both refer to a drink called ‘bunchum’, which many believe is coffee.

As the Quran forbids Muslims from drinking alcohol, the soothing, cheering and stimulating effects of coffee made it a popular substitute in Islamic countries for wine. The first coffeehouses are said to have been established in Mecca (Saudi Arabia). Known as the Kaveh Kanes, they were public places where Muslims could socialize and discuss religious matters.

The relationship between Islam and coffee has not always run smoothly though. Some Muslims believed coffee was an intoxicant and therefore is banned by Islamic law. In 1511, the governor of Mecca, Khair Beg, saw some worshipers drinking coffee in a mosque as they prepared for a night-long prayer vigil.

Angered, he drove them from the mosque and ordered all coffeehouses in Mecca to be closed. This incited the pro-coffee Muslims and a heated debate soon ensued. In this dispute, two unscrupulous Persian doctors, the Hakimani brothers, who were infamous for testifying on the side of the highest bidder, condemned coffee as an unhealthy brew.

The doctors had good reason for wanted it banned, for it was popular cure among the depressed patients who would otherwise have paid the doctors to cure them. The matter was only resolved when the Sultan of Cairo, Khair Beg’s superior, intervened, demanding that a drink that was widely enjoyed in Cairo should not have been banned without his permission.

Khair Beg soon paid for his insolence, as when in 1512 he was accused of embezzlement; the Sultan sentenced him to death.

By the late 16th Century, the use of coffee was widespread throughout the Arabia, North Africa and Turkey. The nutritional benefits of coffee were thought to be so great that coffee was considered as important as bread and water. So much so that a law was passed in Turkey making it grounds for divorce if a husband refused his wife coffee.

Wherever Islam went, coffee was sure to follow. With the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, coffee quickly spread to the Eastern Mediterranean. However, it is believed that no coffee seed sprouted outside Africa or Arabia until 17th Century.

Coffee beans exported from the Arabian ports of Mocha and Jidda, were rendered infertile by parching or boiling. Legend has it that this changed when a pilgrim named Baba Budan, smuggled fertile coffee beans out of Mecca, strapped to his stomach. Returning to his native India he successfully cultivated the beans.

The Coffee Bean Story

This is the story of how the humble coffee becomes a world celebrity. It is not about the Labrador dog named Coffee Beans attached to the Sheriff’s Department sniffing drugs and bombs. It’s about “the” coffee beans we are familiar with. 

It is also about the fragrant aroma that stimulates our senses in the morning. The tingling sensation we get when we take the first sip in the morning. How we manage to get an extra boost of energy whenever we feel tired and sleepy. Let us take some time to ponder the processes the coffee beans have to go through before it can be marketed.

Processing The Coffee Beans

After the coffee berries have been harvested, it needs to undergo a process where the flesh of the coffee berries is removed. The coffee berries are placed in special machines separating the flesh from the seed. This coffee seed is commonly called “coffee beans”. The coffee beans will now undergo a fermentation process for a period of time so as to to remove the slimy mucilage coating the coffee beans.

After the coffee beans have undergone the mandatory fermentation, they are thoroughly flushed with clean water. This process is to remove the foul smelling residue due to the fermentation process and the waste water is a main cause of pollutant.

The coffee beans are then dried under the sun or by machines, until the moisture level is about 10% before they can be packed for storage.

Another method of getting to the coffee beans without undergoing the fermentation process is to dry the whole berry in the sun. It normally takes about 10 to 14 days to complete the process with constant raking of the coffee beans to prevent mildew from forming.

This method is popular and widely used by coffee producers where water is scarce. The dried flesh is then physically removed leaving only the coffee beans. The dried coffee beans is then sorted and graded before they can be stored or shipped to buyers. At this stage, the coffee bean is called green coffee beans.

Sometimes the coffee beans will undergo an additional aging process. The reason for this is when coffee was first introduced into Europe, the coffee beans have undergone a journey of about six months. Europeans have already developed a preference for this taste and therefore to simulate the taste, the coffee beans are further aged.

Roasting The Coffee Beans

Roasting is the final process the coffee beans have to undergo before they are commercially marketed. It is also possible to purchase unroasted coffee beans that you can personally roast them yourself.

When the coffee beans are subjected to heat, there’s a chemical reaction happening within the coffee beans where the sugar and acid will begin to react releasing its aroma. The coffee beans will turn darker due to caramelized sucrose. When this happens, the coffee beans are quickly cooled to prevent damage to the coffee beans.

When roasting the green coffee beans, a lot of carbon dioxide is released as a by-product. The carbon dioxide helps to “seal” the coffee beans from loosing its flavor and aroma. Depending on how the coffee beans are stored, it may take some time before the flavor peaks After reaching its peak, it will start to lose quality slowly.

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