The History of Coffee: The New Elixir Of Life


Humanity clearly has a thing for drippy dark liquids. In fact, two of these are the most traded commodities in the world. The first one is oil for which many wars have been fought. The other commodity, a widely consumed drink; meanwhile also has had a very interesting and controversial history. In fact there have been at least five attempts to have it banned throughout history. The first of these was in Mecca in 1511 when the Governor of Mecca thought that this commodity can stimulate radical thinking and might unite the opponents and overthrow the government. Then in the 16th century the Catholic priests tried to ban it labelling it Satanic. The Swedes meanwhile preferred punishing their murderers by a slow death and this involved giving them cups of this supposedly ‘Satanic’ drink until they kicked the bucket. In Prussia this drink was so popular that it exceeded the beer consumption in the country. So in 1777, Frederick the Great of Prussia issued a statement claiming beer’s superiority over this drink. This drink has had to deal with a lot of prohibition and survived. In case you are still wondering what I am talking about, it is Coffee.

In fact, according to legends, it all started with dancing goats. According to this story, in the 9th century an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi observed that his goats appeared to be unusually energized after they had consumed the bright red berries from a nearby bush. Curious, Kaldi himself had one and experienced this himself. Excited, he brought these berries to a monk residing in the nearby monastery. But the Monk who disapproved of its use, threw these berries in to the fire. The coffee beans began to get roasted and released an alluring scent, causing the other monks to investigate. The beans were picked up from the fire, ground and then dissolved in the water. Thus was born the world’s first cup of coffee. Another story attributes this discovery to Sheikh Omar from Mocha, Yemen; who was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer. Omar, who was once exiled to the desert found the berries while he was wandering through the desert starving and hungry Omar initially chewed on these berries but found them to be bitter. He roasted the seeds to improve the flavour but found it to be hard. He finally tried boiling them to soften the hard seed and this resulted in what we now know as coffee. Omar found that he could sustain himself for days on drinking this miracle drink.

The Ethiopians introduced the coffee plant into the Arab World. The current methods of brewing coffee evolved from the Arabs who first roasted the seed and then brewed coffee. Coffee was treated as a National secret and the Arabs guarded this secret closely. All exported coffee seeds were either roasted or sterilised. Baba Budan, a sufi saint revered by both the Hindus and Muslims in India was the one who smuggled the first coffee seeds to India by strapping the seeds to his chest. The smuggled seeds were then planted in Mysore. Soon after coffee spread to Europe, Indonesia and the Americas. Coffee which is a labour Intensive cash crop has now become a very important source of income for many countries with over 10 Crore people depending on it for the livelihood. Now of the several species of Coffee plants grown throughout the world, Arabica and Robusta are the most common. Since Arabica tends to have more flavour it is the most widely cultivated. Robusta meanwhile has a more bitter taste because it has 50% higher caffeine presence and is also inexpensive when compared to the Arabica seeds. Hence this often used as a substitute for Arabica in Coffee blends as well as in Espresso Coffee.

The Increasing consumption of coffee has also resulted in the proliferation of cafes and espresso bars which serve coffee and tea beverages as well as hot snacks. Contrary to popular belief espresso is not a flavour of coffee, but a preparation method that was devised by the Italians where concentration and intensity are more focussed upon. For this method, finely ground coffee is packed into a filter. Highly pressurised water is then forced through this filter and is then extracted in small amounts the resulting coffee would have a high concentration of caffeine is darker in colour. The Espresso when served solo are referred to as a shot are served in small cups. Based on the amount of espresso in a serving they are referred to as Ristretto (3/4th of an ounce), Single Shot, Lungo (1.5 ounce shot) and Double Shot.

Now let us also look at different types of espresso.

• Espresso Macchiato: This brand of espresso is basically espresso with an added layer of Milk foam on top of it.

• Espresso Con Panna: This brand of espresso has espresso and whipped cream on top of it.

• Cafe Breve: This brand of espresso has espresso and light cream on top of it.

• Cappuccino: This brand of espresso has espresso and steamed milk on top of it. This espresso is so named because its colour resembles that of a Capuchin monk’s cloak.

• Cafe Latte: One of the most popular espresso in the US due to its sweet flavour this espresso is made by adding 6-8 ounces of milk to a double shot espresso. This is followed by a foam topping.

• Cafe Americano: this is a diluted version of espresso is similar to normal coffee. To make Cafe Americano one simply needs to add 6-8 ounces of water to an espresso shot. This espresso owes its origin to the American soldiers who preferred their espresso diluted with water in order to reduce the strong flavour; and hence the name Americano. The term “cup of joe” also owes its origin to the American GIs.

This drink which was once considered satanic has now been found to have many benefits according to various studies. From improving energy levels to help burn fat to help improve physical performance to help reduce risk of diabetes, dementia, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and even cancer, this wonder drink can do it all. So a case can rightly be made to call coffee the new elixir of life.

From a carefully guarded national secret to a widely consumed everyday beverage, this drink has seen it all. So the next time you feel like visiting a cafe for a cup of joe, do remember to the exuberance of those Ethiopian goats.



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