A brief history of coffee

Joe, Java, Jolt-juice, High Test, Slow-crank. What's in a name?

We are talking about coffee, espresso, cappuccino, or latte and we love it and need it. What do we really know about its origins? Curious? Read on.Joe, Java, Jolt-juice, High Test, Slow-crank. What's in a name? We are talking about coffee, espresso, cappuccino, or latte and we love it and need it. What do we really know about its origins? Curious? Read on.

Let us move back a few steps in time to the lands known as Ethiopia and Yemen, about 600 AD where locals boiled the complete fruit of the little understood coffee arabica plant. Not far from there was the now dry port of Il Mucha. Hence the name Mocha.

Rumor has it a sheep herder, named Kaldi, noticed his goats were enthusiastically eating the fruit of the coffee plant. Why did they do it? It seems the caffeine buzz gave the goat that extra something for keeping his ewes happy.

Coffee didn't really have that grand an entrance in the early days of mass consumerism. Needless to say, there were no Starbucks in early middle eastern history. People were making a drink out of the coffee berry husk, called Kishir, still drunk til this day in some Middle-eastern ethnic communities. Roasting the green beans, the way we do it today, may have begun as early as 1000 AD, how or why, we do not know. Perhaps by chance, or accident, a tradition was born.

Arab traders and their countrymen were roasting and drinking coffee by the end of the 13th century. It was good as gold and in political circles would give them an enormous trading tool. Eventually, coffee cultivation spread west, deeper into Africa, despite dedicated attempts to control the movement of the plants.

The Arabs made every effort to prevent other countries from getting fertile beans for cultivation. Coffee beans couldn't even be taken out of the country unless the seed was killed by boiling or drying the beans. Africa and Arabia had a monopoly on coffee until the 1600's. For the longest time, North Africa and the Middle East were the world's only source for coffee.

It may have been ingenious traders that first smuggled some of the unsterilized beans out of the region. It is unclear. At some point in time, some early entrepeneurs put their life on the line in the name of early international commerce.

By the middle of the 16th Century, coffee was being enjoyed in Egypt, Syria, Persia and Turkey. Cafes flourished in cities like Baghdad, Istanbul and Cairo. Cafes of London would soon be refered to as the "penny universities". One's education, and access to this new social environment, could be had for the price of a cup of coffee! By 1608, coffee found its way to Vienna, Austria, home of Europes first cafes.

In 1690 the Dutch became the first to transport and cultivate coffee in the New World. They spirited the beans or seedlings out of the Arab port of Mocha and transported them to Ceylon and the East Indies for cultivation. A French naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu, smuggled the precious seedlings to Martinique in 1715.

By the 18th Century, Europe was hooked up to coffee in a way that would change their social fabric and consuming habits forever. The Cafe revolution, as we know it today in the Western World, was about to begin.

With coffee consumption booming in the new world, better methods of coffee brewing techniques followed from Europe. In 1822, a Frenchman named Louis Bernard Rabaut invented a machine which, by using steam, forced the hot water through the coffee grounds instead of the typical 'drip' method. Hence, the birth of the first espresso machine.

By 1901, Luigi Bezzera built the first coffee machine that contained a boiler. Boiling water and steam were forced through the filters, much like the modern design (portafilters), and espresso coffee was now being brewed in an entirely new way. Then in 1905 the Pavoni company began manufacturing machines based on the Bezzera style machine. They mass produced these machines and in 1927 the first espresso machine was installed in the United States at Regio's Cafe, in New York, where it is still in use today.

In 1938 Cremonesi developed a piston pump that forced hot (but not boiling) water through the coffee. Earlier espresso machines had forced steam through the coffee, causing a burnt flavor. This new design was first used at Achille Gaggia's coffee bar. After World War II, Gaggia begins manufacturing a commercial piston machine. This espresso coffee had a layer of foam that we call "crema" today.

In 1961, M. Faema created a pump-based machine where the water is forced through the finely ground coffee by an electric pump. This, and other similar machines, would bring cafe quality espresso into the average home. Espresso machines have had many design changes in order to produce a consistent product. Early designs were based on the operator deciding when to stop the machine but now we rely on digital timing.

Decaffeinated coffee was first invented in 1903. What was it named? Sanka, from the French phrase, "Sans Caffeine".

The first mass produced instant coffee was invented by an English chemist named George Constant Washington in 1909. In World War 1, this coffee was ubiquitous with the American soldier in the trenches of Europe. The term "George", for hot instant coffee, was born.

In 1962, coffee export quotas were set on a worldwide basis called the International Coffee Agreement. This coffee cartel collapsed in the 1980's leading to the unbridled volatility that we experience in the coffee markets of today. This lack of regulation, in the coffee business, would guarantee a rough ride for traders on the stock exchange floors of the world, and chronic uncertainty for coffee farmers.

In the 21st century, coffee goes through many processes to become the "Double-tall, half-caf latte" you enjoy today. The next time you reach for your coffee, think about this: Imagine a world without a hot cup of joe?