The Origins of Coffee | The Different Kinds of Beans
There may be nothing more ubiquitous in our culture than the revered elixir known as coffee, purveyor of what many affectionately dub “St. Caffeine.” According to market research, three of every four Americans drink at least one cup of coffee a day, and nearly half of those who drink coffee average three to five cups daily. One-third of all consumers stop at a coffee shop at least once a week to get a cup of their favorite joe. A startling 87% of Americans admit to a coffee obsession.
What Are the Origins of Coffee?
Though the precise details of coffee’s birth are unknown, there’s substantial evidence that coffee originated in the Middle East, along the Red Sea. Archeological relics indicate that coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed in a manner similar to modern-day coffee in the 15th century, in Sufi shrines in what is now Yemen. It’s believed, though, that those coffee seeds, and the beans that ultimately became the source of coffee, originally came from Ethiopia. This jibes with an Ethiopian legend, which attributes the invention of coffee to a goat herder named Kaldi, who noticed that both he and his goats became restless and energetic when they chewed on the berries of a specific tree.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, coffee consumption spread throughout the Arabian peninsula, and then to Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Persia. Coffee houses became hubs of social gathering, where people listened to music, played games like chess, and caught up with each other (hmm…that sounds familiar). In fact, Mecca, the Islamic holy city, was a prominent center of Middle Eastern coffee culture. Many of the pilgrims who made their hajj to Mecca brought this so-called “wine of Araby” back with them to other parts of the world.
Coffee’s reception in Europe, though, was not without controversy. Many viewed it with suspicion or even fear, with some clergy referring to it as “the bitter invention of Satan.” The religious squabble ended when Pope Clement VIII intervened, tasting the black elixir for himself, and giving it papal approval. By the middle of the 18th century, London boasted more than 300 coffeehouses. And long before the American Revolutionary War, coffee was a staple in the New World.
The Different Kinds of Coffee Beans
There are over 120 different varieties of coffee plants, but just four basic types of beans: Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa, and Liberica. Currently, more than two-thirds of the world’s coffee production is the Arabica bean. The Robusta bean accounts for most other commercially available coffee. The Arabica bean is generally considered to offer a sweeter and smoother taste, often with hints of sugar and chocolate. The Robusta bean has a more bitter taste and is typically stronger. The Arabica bean also has significantly more caffeine than the Robusta bean—about twice as much per cup.
Next month — The Different Kinds of Coffee Roasts