Last week I researched tea, so it seems only right that this week I look at coffee, which is a drink prepared from roasted coffee beans. Darkly coloured, bitter, and slightly acidic, coffee has a stimulating effect on us humans, primarily due to its caffeine content and it has the highest sales in the world market for hot drinks. Though coffee is now a global commodity, it has a long history, dating back through centuries of oral tradition. Coffee plants grew wild in Yemen and were widely used by nomadic tribes for thousands of years and Sufi monasteries there employed coffee as an aid to concentration during prayers, but roasting the seeds was not a way to serve coffee until the 1400s. In fact, during the cultivation brewed coffee was reserved exclusively for the priesthood and the medical profession and doctors would use the brew for patients who were experiencing a need for better digestion, also priests used it to stay alert during their long nights of studying for the church. Evidence of knowledge of the coffee tree and coffee drinking first appeared in the late 15th century, where a Sufi Imam is known to have imported goods from Ethiopia to Yemen. Coffee was also exported out of Ethiopia to Yemen by Somali merchants. Apparently Sufis in Yemen used the beverage as an aid to concentration and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God, also using it to keep themselves alert during their night-time devotions. By 1414, the plant was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt and North Africa from the Yemeni port of Mocha. Associated with Sufism, many coffee houses grew up in Cairo and these also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo (then in Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire. But in 1511, it was forbidden for its stimulating effect by conservative, orthodox Imams at a theological court in Mecca. However, these bans were to be overturned in 1524 by an order of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I, with the Grand Mufti issuing a fatwa (a legal ruling on a point of Islamic law) allowing the consumption of coffee. In Cairo a similar ban was instituted in 1532, and the coffee houses and warehouses containing coffee beans were sacked. It then reached the rest of the Middle East and from there coffee drinking spread to Italy, and to the rest of Europe, with coffee plants transported by the Dutch to the East Indies and to the Americas. Coffee was banned by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church some time before the eighteenth century, but in the second half of the nineteenth century attitudes softened towards its drinking and consumption spread rapidly. This was largely due to the Emperor, who himself drank it, and to priests and religious seniors who did much to dispel the belief of the clergy that it was a Muslim drink. Meanwhile in Islam, early practitioners of Islamic medicine and science fought against the notion that the effect of coffee was like that of hashish or alcohol, and instead argued the benefits of the drink, which would stimulate the mind whilst protecting against the allure of alcohol and hashish. Coffee houses in Mecca, Yemen, and Cairo began to explode in popularity, and they become centres of public life within the sprawling cities of the Islamic Empire. The coffee houses sometimes acted like regular meeting places which were centres of Islamic life, arts, and thinking, so it was one of the keys to the economy around the Red Sea. Those of Islam were the primary consumers, ingraining it into the culture of the people within the Muslim faith and from Islam, the rest of the world would go on to experience something that holds influence over the world today.

The Coffee Bearer by John Frederick Lewis (1857).

Coffee was first introduced to Europe when the Turks invaded Hungary in 1526. Later in the sixteenth century, coffee was introduced on the island of Malta through slavery. Turkish Muslim slaves had been imprisoned by the Knights of St John in 1565, the year of the Great Siege of Malta, and they used them to make their traditional beverage. A professor of theology and oriental languages in Rome mentioned in one of his works about “Turks, most skilful makers of this concoction”. Also a German traveller wrote in 1663 “the ability and industriousness with which the Turkish prisoners earn some money, especially by preparing coffee, a powder resembling snuff tobacco, with water and sugar.” Coffee was a popular beverage in Maltese high society and many coffee shops opened. The vibrant trade between the Republic of Venice and the people of North Africa, Egypt, and the East brought a large variety of African goods, including coffee, to this leading European port. Venetian merchants introduced coffee-drinking to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for the beverage and in this way, coffee was introduced to the mainland Europe. The first route of travel for coffee was through the massive, sprawling Ottoman Empire that enabled the transportation of goods such as coffee to make their way into Europe and the second route of travel was from the port of Mocha in Yemen, where the East India Trading Co. bought coffee in masses and transported it back to mainland Europe. Coffee became a crucial part of the culture in most of Europe, with kings, queens and the general public all becoming extensively enthralled with the product.

Pope Clement VIII, who popularised coffee in Europe among Christians.

Soon coffee shops started opening and became the drink of the intellectuals, of social gatherings, even of lovers as plates of chocolate and coffee were considered a romantic gift. By 1763 Venice alone accounted for more than two hundred shops, and the health benefits of this miraculous drink were celebrated by many. Some representatives of the Catholic Church opposed coffee at its first introduction in Italy, believing it to be the ‘Devil’s drink’, but Pope Clement VIII, after trying the aromatic drink himself, gave it his blessing, thus boosting further its commercial success and diffusion. Upon tasting coffee, the Pope declared: “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptising it.” Some say that he later on baptised coffee beans because it appeared better for the people than alcoholic beverages. The race among Europeans to obtain live coffee trees or beans was eventually won by the Dutch in 1616 when a Dutch merchant obtained some of the closely guarded coffee bushes from Mocha, Yemen. He took them back to Amsterdam and found a home for them in the Botanical Gardens, where they began to thrive. This apparently minor event received little publicity, but was to have a major impact on the history of coffee. The beans adjusted well to conditions in the greenhouses there and produced numerous healthy bushes. In 1658 the Dutch first used them to begin coffee cultivation in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and later in southern India. They abandoned this cultivation to focus on their Javanese plantations in order to avoid lowering the price by oversupply. Within a few years the Dutch colonies, Java in Asia and Suriname in the Americas, had become the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.

A 1652 handbill advertising coffee for sale in St. Michael’s Alley, London.

The first coffee house in England was opened in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, London. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods. Edwards imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment. Coffee was also brought in through the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century. Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. By 1675, there were more than three thousand coffee houses throughout England and during this enlightenment, these early English coffee houses became gathering places used for deep religious and political discussions among the populace, since it was a rare opportunity for sober discussion. This practice became so common, and potentially subversive, so much so that in the 1670s King Charles II made an attempt to crush coffee houses. The banning of women from coffee houses was not universal, for example women frequented them in Germany, but it appears to have been commonplace elsewhere in Europe, including in England. A 1661 item entitled “A character of coffee and coffee-houses”, written by one ‘M.P.’ lists some of these perceived benefits as follows:“’Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the Stomack, and for expelling Fumes out of the Head. Excellent Berry! which can cleanse the English-man’s Stomak of Flegm, and expel Giddinesse out of his Head’. Except this new commodity proved controversial among some subjects. For instance, the anonymous 1674 “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” declared “the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE has Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent as Age”. Meanwhile in France, one writer praised the Muslim association with various drinks, saying “We are indebted to these great Arab physicians for introducing coffee to the modern world through their writings, as well as sugar, tea, and chocolate.” In 1669 an ambassador from Sultan Mehmed IV arrived in Paris with his entourage bringing with him a large quantity of coffee beans. Not only did they provide their French and European guests with coffee to drink, but they also donated some beans to the royal court.

Monsooned Malabar arabica, compared with green Yirgachefe beans from Ethiopia.

Coffee came to India well before the East India company, through an Indian Sufi saint named ‘Baba Budan’. The first record of coffee growing in India is following the introduction of coffee beans from Yemen by Baba Budan to the hills of Chikmagalur, Karnataka, in 1670. Since then coffee plantations have become established in the region, extending south to Kodagu. Coffee production in India is dominated in the hill tracts of South Indian states, with the state of Karnataka accounting for 53%, followed by Kerala at 28% and Tamil Nadu at 11% of production of 8,200 Tonnes. Indian coffee is said to be the finest coffee grown in the shade rather than direct sunlight anywhere in the world. There are approximately 250,000 coffee growers in India, 98% of them are small growers. As of 2009, the production of coffee in India was only 4.5% of the total production in the world and almost 80% of the country’s coffee production is exported. Of that which is exported, 70% is bound for Germany, the Russian federation, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, United States, Japan, Greece, Netherlands and France, whilst Italy accounts for 29% of the exports, with most of the export shipped through the Suez Canal. So coffee is grown in three regions of India with Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu forming the traditional coffee growing region of South India, followed by the new areas developed in the non-traditional areas of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa in the eastern coast of the country and with a third region comprising the states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh of Northeastern India, popularly known as ‘Seven Sister States of India’. Because of this, Indian coffee which is grown mostly in southern India under monsoon rainfall conditions, is naturally termed as ‘Indian monsooned coffee’. Its flavour is seen by some as the best Indian coffee, reaching the flavour characteristics of Pacific coffees, but at its worst it is simply bland and uninspiring. The two well-known species of coffee grown are the Arabica and Robusta. The first variety that was introduced in the Baba Budan Giri hill ranges of Karnataka in the seventeenth century was marketed over the years under the brand names of Kent and S.795. Coffee is served in a distinctive “drip-style filter coffee“ across Southern India.

Café Zimmermann, Leipzig (engraving by Johann Georg Schreiber, 1732).

In Germany, coffee houses were first established in North Sea ports from about 1673. Initially, this new beverage was written in the English form ‘coffee’, but during the 1700s the Germans gradually adopted the French word café, then slowly changed the spelling to Kaffee, which is the present word. In the eighteenth century the popularity of coffee gradually spread around the German lands and was taken up by the ruling classes. Coffee was served at the court of the Great Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg as early as 1675, but Berlin’s first public coffee house did not open until 1721. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who was cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig from 1723 to 1750, conducted a musical ensemble at the local Café Zimmermann, and sometime between 1732 and 1735 he composed the secular Coffee Cantata ‘Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht’ in which a young woman, Lieschen, pleads with her disapproving father to accept her devotion to drinking coffee, then a newfangled fashion. The libretto includes such lines as:

Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!

Which translates to:
Oh! How sweet coffee does taste,
Better than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscat wine.
Coffee, coffee, I’ve got to have it,
And if someone wants to perk me up,
Oh, just give me a cup of coffee!

A coffee house of culture between Vienna and Trieste.

Meanwhile, the first coffee house in Austria opened in Vienna in 1683 after the Battle of Vienna by using supplies from the spoils obtained after defeating the Turks. A Polish military officer of Ukrainian descent who received the coffee beans opened a coffee house and helped popularise the custom of adding sugar and milk to the coffee. ‘Melange’ is the typical Viennese coffee, which comes mixed with hot foamed milk, and is usually served with a glass of water. A very special Viennese coffee house culture developed in Vienna in the 19th century and then spread throughout Central Europe. Scientists, artists, intellectuals, diplomats and financiers met in this special microcosm of the Viennese coffee houses. World-famous personalities such as Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, James Joyce and Egon Schiele were inspired in the Viennese coffee house. This special multicultural atmosphere and culture was largely destroyed by the later National Socialism and Communism and only survived in individual places such as Vienna or Trieste. In this diverse coffee house culture, different types of coffee preparation also developed. This is how the world-famous cappuccino from the Viennese Kapuziner coffee developed over the Italian-speaking parts of the northern Italian empire.

Over in the Americas, a French Naval officer brought coffee seedlings to Martinique in the Caribbean in 1720. Those sprouts flourished and 50 years later there were 18,680 coffee trees there, enabling the spread of coffee cultivation to Saint-Domingue (now part of Haiti) and other islands of the Caribbean. This French territory saw coffee cultivated starting in 1734, and by 1788 supplied half the world’s coffee. Also, after the Boston Tea Party of 1773, large numbers of Americans switched to drinking coffee during the American Revolution because drinking tea had become unpatriotic. Coffee had a major influence on the geography of Latin America. The French colonial plantations relied heavily on African slave labourers, however the dreadful conditions that the slaves worked in on coffee plantations were a factor in the soon-to-follow Haitian Revolution and the coffee industry never fully recovered there. Coffee also found its way to the Isle of Bourbon, now known as Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. The plant produced smaller beans and was deemed a different variety of arabica. The Santos coffee of Brazil and the Oaxaca coffee of Mexico are the progeny of that Bourbon tree. Then in 1727, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Brazilian army was commissioned by the Portuguese government (who ruled Brazil at the time) to steal coffee from the French, who had several colonised countries nearby growing coffee but had refused to share. So the King of Portugal sent this Lieutenant-Colonel to French Guiana to obtain coffee seeds to become a part of the coffee market. He initially had difficulty obtaining these seeds, but he captivated the French Governor’s wife, and she sent him enough seeds and shoots to commence the coffee industry of Brazil. Except cultivation did not gather momentum until independence in 1822, leading to the clearing of massive tracts of the Atlantic Forest, first from the vicinity of Rio and later São Paulo for coffee plantations. In 1893, the coffee from Brazil was introduced into Kenya and Tanzania (Tanganyika), not far from its place of origin in Ethiopia, 600 years prior, ending its transcontinental journey. In the twentieth century Latin American countries faced a possible economic collapse. Before World War II, Europe was consuming large amounts of coffee. Once the war started, Latin America lost 40% of its market and was on the verge of economic collapse. Coffee was and is a Latin American commodity and the United States saw this, so talked with the Latin American countries and as a result the producers agreed on an equitable division of the U.S. market. The U.S. government monitored this agreement. For the period that this plan was followed the value of coffee doubled, which greatly benefited coffee producers and the Latin American countries. Brazil became the largest producer of coffee in the world by 1852 and it has held that status ever since. It dominated world production, exporting more coffee than the rest of the world combined, from 1850 to 1950. The period since 1950 saw the widening of the playing field due to the emergence of several other major producers, notably Colombia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and, most recently, Vietnam, which overtook Colombia and became the second-largest producer in 1999 and reached 15% market share by 2011. A recent change to the coffee market are lattes, frappuccinos and other sugary coffee drinks. This has caused coffee houses to be able to use cheaper coffee beans in their coffee but the cheaper coffee beans, called Robusta, contain more caffeine than expensive beans. This makes them more popular as well. The producers, however, receive less money for the production of cheaper beans than they do for the production of higher quality beans. Since the producers get paid less, they are receiving a smaller income, which in turn hurts the economy of Latin America.

There are several legendary accounts of the origin of the consumption of coffee. According to one, ancestors of today’s people in the Kingdom of Kaffa, an area located in what is now Ethiopia, were the first to recognise the energising effect of the coffee plant. But it is also said that in the ninth century, an Ethiopian goat-herder who, noticing the energising effects when his flock nibbled on the bright red berries of a certain bush, chewed on the fruit himself and his exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to a monk in a nearby monastery. But the monk disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed, causing other monks to come and investigate. The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee! Since this story is not known to have appeared in writing before 1671, some 800 years after it was supposed to have taken place, it is highly likely to be apocryphal. There seem to be a few accounts of when coffee was discovered as a drink, one involving a thirteenth century Moroccan Sufi mystic who was travelling in Ethiopia. The legend goes that he observed birds of unusual vitality feeding on berries and, upon trying the berries, experienced the same vitality. Yet another attributes the discovery of coffee to a Sheikh’s disciple and according to the ancient chronicle, he was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer so was once banished from Mecca to a desert cave. Starving, he chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be too bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavour, but they became too hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. After drinking the liquid, he was revived and survived for days. As stories of this ‘miracle drug’ reached Mecca, the man was asked to return and was eventually made a saint. Another origin of coffee was described in Homer’s Odyssey and at one point in his Epic, Helena, daughter of Zeus, mixes a drink in a bowl “which had the power of robbing grief and anger of their sting and banishing all painful memories”. It is also said that the Greek gods used coffee for medicinal and spiritual purposes while they lounged at Mount Olympus. Coffee also became associated with Muhammad’s birthday and various legends have ascribed coffee’s origins to Muhammad, who, it is said, brought it to man through the archangel Gabriel to replace the wine which Islam forbade! It fascinates me as to who comes up with these ideas…

This week…
Some films, especially comedies, have great lines. Here is a favourite of mine.
“My mind is aglow with whirling transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapour of invention” ~ Hedley Lamarr, ‘Blazing Saddles’.

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