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     According to handed-down tales, the invigorating qualities of coffee, beans were first observed by an astute shepherd in eastern Ethiopia. He noticed that his sheep munching on the berries of certain shrubs were more playful, energetic and agitated. Eventually, he tasted some of berries and felt an euphoria never experienced before. Thus was coffee born!

     At first people, would eat fresh “berries” to experience the affect of caffeine. Then the shrub was brought over the Red Sea to Yemen in 525 AD, where it thrived on certain locations with sufficient moisture. At first, coffee beans were used as medication, and for religious purposes by priests in meditation through the night. The word coffee is derived from Arabic qahwa.

     As time progressed, a few enterprising merchants dried the beans, and eventually though to roasting those them in an attempt to concentrate the flavour. Coffee beans were mixed with hot water and later sweetened with honey, or flavoured with cinnamon or other aromatic spices. Then, one particular individual, who must have been a genius, thought of grinding the roasted beans and brewing the finely ground coffee with water. Sugar was used later to sweeten the resulting liquid. Honey was the first coffee sweetener.

     Ottoman armies arrived in Yemen in 1536 and soon soldiers discovered the taste and coffee’s invigorating properties. Ottomans helped popularise coffee consumption throughout their vast empire, stretching from Yemen in the east to Hungary in the west. Wherever the army went, coffee was brought along. In fact, there were specially trained people in charge of coffee logistics – storage, preparation and service.

     Coffee fell into the hand of Austrian soldiers in the employ of Habsburgs when the Ottoman army was defeated close to Vienna and had to beat a hasty retreat.  In the confusion, the brigades in charge of coffee forgot to remove two sacks of coffee. Once the precious coffee was in the hands of Austrians, it took off in Europe.

     The Ottoman administration controlled coffee production and trade, but astute Dutch merchants, managed to spirit out a few plants from Yemen to Ceylon (Sri Lanka today), Java and Sumatra (Indonesia today). The English, not to be outdone, managed to smuggle a few plants to India, and eventually to the Caribbean Islands.

     Coffee trade throughout the Ottoman Empire went to Venice and then to other European countries. During the 17th century, Italian street vendors sold coffee along with chocolate and lemonade.

     The French invented filtration in the 18th century by putting the coffee in a cloth bag and immersing it in hot water. In Costa Rica, many families still use this technique of coffee preparation.

     Today, coffee is one of the most popular non-alcoholic beverages of the world. In some countries, more coffee is consumed than in others and yes in many Middle Eastern and Oriental countries it is becoming more popular.

     North Americans are big coffee fans and this started in the beginning of the 19th century; to be exact 1812, when the war prevented tea imports. Coffee was abundant and people switches readily.

There are three species of coffee: Coffea arabica, Coffea liberica and Coffea robusta.
Coffea Arabica smells and tastes best pending on provenance and terroir.
Coffea robusta is inexpensive and often over-roasted for espresso coffee. Many manufacturers of instant coffee use Coffea robusta as a base.
Coffea liberica is often used for instant coffee production. In less expensive blends Coffea liberica beans play an important role.

     Maxwell House (Kraft), Folgers (Procter and Gamble), Hills Bros (Sarah Lee) and Nescafe (Nestle) are dominant instant coffee brands mostly derived from liberica and robusta beans.

     Specialty coffees (flavoured coffees) were invented by A Peet of Peet’s Coffee in 1974 and quickly copied by many large processors. Eventually, flavoured coffees contained more sugar than anything else and fell out of favour.

     Fine coffee in North America was popularised by Starbucks, and American company out of Seattle, Washington State. The management decided to emphasise quality over quantity, introduced many preparation techniques ie. espresso, cappuccino, iced coffee, and filtered. Many young enthusiastic people were hired to cheerfully suggest bigger portions, options i.e café au lait, machiatto, Latte (sound better than café au lait, albeit produced somewhat differently), espresso, cappuccino, iced coffee, Viennese, just to name a few.

     Coffee is still a work in progress in many countries where markets are ready top be “opened” by astute merchants with a flair in marketing and retailing.

     Germans and Japanese prefer aromatic and fine coffees; Italians buy mostly Brazilian coffees and over roast them for their espresso and cappuccino preparations. Finnish people are so fond of coffee that the country ranks first in per capita coffee consumption.

     When the Soviet Socialist Empire dissolved and eastern bloc countries became free, again coffee consumption increased in Eastern Europe substantially. Previously populations were forced to drink more tea than coffee due to politics and foreign exchange reserves of the empire.

     Of all the republics of the former Soviet Union Armenia consumed most coffee and prices are very reasonable.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu



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