Coffee is one of the most universally loved beverages in the world with more than 2.2 billion cups consumed daily. But where did it come from? Which type of bean – and which process – makes the best cup of coffee? As a member of the cherry family (yes, really), coffee’s confirmed origins as a drink are shrouded in legend and mystery. But one thing is certain – coffee is here to stay.
DANCING GOATS & COFFEE CLUBS
Folklore claims that coffee was first discovered in 8th century Ethiopia when a shepherd noticed his goats dancing after eating the magic bean. From Ethiopia, coffee made its way across the Red Sea to Yemen, but not for a very long time. It didn’t make that crossing until the 15th century. The port it landed at was called Mocha (yes, it’s where the coffee term comes from, thanks to the popularity of the liquid brown gold). And in the 17th-century Dutch traders brought coffee to the Indonesian Island of Java, another well-known nickname for coffee.
The first Coffee Club at Oxford in the United Kingdom also opened in the 17th century. Engaging in intellectual discussions while drinking coffee became a thing way back then, as it is today.
WHEN COFFEE BECAME PATRIOTIC
A few beans were smuggled from France to Martinique in 1720 and soon coffee bean plants populated the entire Caribbean and Central and South America. But coffee’s big break came at The Boston Tea Party, in 1773. Tea became very unpatriotic and thereafter, coffee was the American beverage of choice. The US has been the leading importer of coffee since those days and continues to import more coffee than any other country. Oil is the only commodity that is more traded in the world.
COFFEE WAS BANNED FIVE TIMES
Coffee did not have a smooth start and it was banned five times around the globe. First in Mecca, in 1511, for stimulating “radical thinking”. Then in Italy for being “satanic”, but only until the pope declared it “delicious”. Constantinople declared it illegal in 1623, with second-time offenders being placed in a leather bag and drowned in the Bosporus River. Sweden banned it in 1746 to protect its citizens from coffee’s “deleterious effects”, and Prussia followed suit in 1777 but their reason was to help promote beer… for breakfast.
Napoleon called it “the intellectual drink”. Voltaire consumed over 50 cups a day. Louis XV not only grew his own coffee on the Versailles Palace grounds, but he picked, roasted, and ground them personally.
COFFEE BUZZ WORDS AND WHAT THEY MEAN
Single Origin: Bolder and more robust, single-origin coffee can be traced to one grower, farm, or region in one country. Single-origin coffee has the most unaltered and original flavour.
Mountain-Grown: Mountain growing, at higher altitudes, produces a richer, more flavourful bean with a delicate finish.
Ethical: Ethical coffee means complete traceability and transparency. It means the workers are treated fairly. It means the environment has been respected in the growing and the processing.
Organic: This designation means that there are no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals used in growing or production.
Small Batch/Artisanal: The flavour of small-batch coffee is much more intense than the industrially grown beans. This describes small farm-grown, carefully harvested and hand-roasted coffee beans. How could that not taste better?
Specialty Coffee: This title is bestowed by the Specialty Coffee Association and considers all aspects of growth, processing and roasting.
WHICH TYPE OF COFFEE BEAN IS THE BEST BEAN?
There are two main types of beans, making up almost all the coffee sold in the world: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica has lower acidity and a delicate flavour and is the most widely used type of bean. The bean is rounder and larger with richer flavour and is more expensive to grow. Robusta can be grown in harsher climates and is less expensive to grow but has more acidity and bitterness.
DOES THE GROWING REGION MATTER FOR FLAVOUR?
Most assuredly. The four major coffee-growing regions all produce different effects. Central American beans are smooth, bright and acidic (but not bitter). South American coffee has a slight sweetness and is mellow. Asian beans are woody and earthy but it’s African beans that take the prize. They are fruity and floral, with hints of berry. It’s all a matter of taste but most experts recommend an African Arabica or high-altitude beans for a great tasting cup of Joe.
WHAT ABOUT THE ROAST? DOES IT MATTER?
Yes, it does. A lighter roast produces not only a more flavourful coffee but one with stronger levels of caffeine. A dark roast takes on the flavour of the roast, and caffeine levels are reduced the longer you roast.
WHAT IS THE BEST METHOD FOR MAKING COFFEE?
First (as if we have to say it), grind your own beans less than three minutes before using them for the freshest coffee (provided your beans are fresh to start with). And while coffee doesn’t spoil, it does lose flavour the longer it’s in your cupboard so don’t buy those big bags. And use a burr grinder—you’ll thank us later.
Drip Coffee Maker: The most popular and most widely used and is convenient and foolproof. Use freshly ground beans with as many buzz words as you can find, use filtered water, and start with a ratio of 1:16 (coffee weight to water weight) and you won’t be disappointed.
The Pour Over: This method gets you a delicate and lighter tasting coffee and some (especially Europeans) swear by it. A simple cone filter is placed over a carafe, filling it with ground coffee, then pouring hot water over and letting it drip through.
French Press: Invented in 1929, the French Press coffee maker, with a plunger action, is heralded as the best-tasting coffee. Aficionados swear it extracts superior flavours, compared to other coffee makers.
Moka Pot: Boiling water is pressurized by steam and passed through ground coffee on top of the stove in this favourite of Italian coffee fanatics. Coffee produced in a Moka Pot is strong, flavourful and takes some practice to get right.
Whether you call it mocha, java, or a cup of Joe – human beings have been romanced by coffee for over a thousand years, and the allure of the humble coffee bean is not likely to diminish any time soon. Make your morning coffee ritual mountain-grown, organic, and ethical. Like Obakki's artisan-grown Ugandan Specialty Highland Coffee.
The world runs on coffee. Make sure your choices help it to run a little bit better.
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