ORIGINS OF COFFEE
In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi, the goatherd, originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries.
It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.
Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.
Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend.
We do know for sure that the coffee plant originated from a plateau in Ethiopia, given its proclivity for spontaneous growth there as nowhere else. The region is known as Kaffa. It’s not clear if coffee took its name from the region, or vice versa. So it’s a short leap to assume that coffee was first consumed on a large scale in Ethiopia, and to figure out roughly when.
COFFEES OF THE WORLD
Originally known and used only by a few insiders (doctors and botanists), coffee gradually spread throughout the East, particularly from Moka (port of Yemen).
The Venetians then brought the precious beverage from Constantinople to Europe.
During the Renaissance, from the early seventeenth century, trade between East and West advanced but very few countries consumed this strangely coloured brew. A captain of the Dutch East India Company brought the first coffee seeds to Amsterdam. They were planted in a greenhouse of the famous Botanical Garden (Hortus Botanicus).
The Dutch eventually began to cultivate coffee plants in India, Ceylon and Java. The success was such that Holland quickly became the world’s leading power for coffee production.
DID YOU KNOW
In 1720, the French Chevalier de Clieu introduced a coffee shrub to Martinique. The plant prospered and bore fruit, which were then planted on other islands, such as Guadeloupe and Santo Domingo. A century later coffee was grown in all Latin American countries.
There are two species of wild Coffea originating from Africa:
- Coffea Arabica from the Abyssinian plains (former name of Ethiopia). This coffee is marketed under the name Arabica Coffee.
- Coffea Canephora from the African tropical forests. This coffee is marketed under the name Robusta Coffee (in terms of taste its variety is far less interesting than Arabica).
The best altitude for growing coffee is between 1200 and 1800 m, and the shrub grows particularly well in volcanic soil. The plant likes heat but is sensitive to direct sunlight.
CUPPING AND TASTING
Cupping is a word used by people inside the coffee industry to describe a technique for judging coffee based on the senses of taste, smell and touch. Coffee tasting is a difficult and very disciplined process. An expert must evaluate the brew and determine the characteristics of this sort. Firstly the expert estimates the appearance of green beans.
Then a small portion is roasted and the taster tests the beans for the aroma and flavor. After that coffee is macerated in water and the expert scents brew. After couple minutes the brew is lightly stirred and smelled again. The foam must be removed and here the taste testing begins. The taster takes a teaspoon of coffee into the mouth and rinses around before expectorating. The procedure is repeated several times accompanied with notes and remarks. There are four criteria for coffee taste: , aroma, flavor, acidity and body.
Aroma: Coffee aroma is a pleasant subtle odor arising from a cup. Brewed coffee has “floral” or “winy” characteristics.
Flavor: Coffee flavor is the overall distinctive taste of the coffee in the mouth. Different roasts have different nuances of perception.
Acidity: Acidity in coffees is actually quite welcome. Acidity gives coffee its sparkle, brightness and much of its complexity. The darker a coffee is roasted, the more its acidity dissipates.
Body: Body is the viscosity, heaviness, thickness or richness that the coffee has in the mouth. Coffees with a heavier body will maintain more flavors.