Also called kaffe, kahve, and kahwa, coffee (Coffea arabica) is surrounded by myths and legends, especially those dealing with the discovery of the plant, which seems to have originated in both Yemen and southern Ethiopia (in the province of Caffa). One of the most pervasive legends has an Arab goatherd around A.D. 850 becoming curious about the lively behavior of his goats and subsequently discovering that the animals were nibbling the coffee berries of nearby evergreen trees. Apparently, the first human use of coffee was to emulate the goats by also chewing the “beans” to get a lift, but by around A.D. 1000 (or even earlier) coffee beans were being roasted and crushed to make a beverage. From this point to the cultivation of coffee trees was a short step, and the beans came to be monopolized by Arab merchants, who shipped them from the Yemeni port of Mocha. Coffee quickly became an important beverage for the Muslims, who were prohibited alcohol (although many fanatically condemned the new drink), and coffeehouses of a sort were established in cities and towns throughout the Islamic world. Constantinople (Istanbul) has been put forward as the location of the world's first real coffeehouse, established at about the end of the fifteenth century (the dates given vary from 1474 to 1554), and at about the same time coffeehouses were also opened in Medina, Mecca, Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad - all of the capitals of the Islamic world. The new social centers were viewed with suspicion by various sultans worried about sedition, and coffeehouses were closed from time to time, but never for long. Coffee drinking had become an entrenched part of Arab life.
Europe soon had a similar experience. Venice, heavily involved in the spice trade, was exposed to coffee as early as the fifteenth century, and its first coffeehouse was established around the middle of the sixteenth century - about the same time that Vienna got its first one. Another century elapsed, however, before the new beverage moved northward and westward. Coffeehouses were opened at Oxford in 1650, at Marseilles in 1671, and at Paris the following year, but it was only in 1686 that the Café Procope, the first true café in Paris, opened its doors (it still exists although at a different location). It may be doubted that the first of the coffeehouses in England were inundated with patrons because - as late as 1657 in London - coffee was advertised as a medicine for ills such as gout and scurvy. But the coffeehouses clearly were doing a brisk business by 1675 when, like the Islamic sultans, King Charles II issued a proclamation to suppress them on the grounds that they were hotbeds of sedition. The proclamation, however, was rescinded the following year, and over time coffeehouses in England developed into gentlemen's clubs, whereas in France they continued to be cafés (albeit also clubs at times).
Both the British and the Dutch East India Companies bought coffee at Mocha for import into Europe, but as decades passed and overseas empires developed, the Arab monopoly on coffee became a major irritant. As the eighteenth century got under way, the Dutch began growing their own coffee in Java and later introduced it into Sri Lanka, whereas the English planted coffee in their West Indian colonies - especially Jamaica and Guiana. The Portuguese in Brazil were also in the coffee business (after the plant was introduced there from Guiana in 1727), and the French planted coffee, first in their colony of Martinique and a bit later in San Domingue - which, by the end of the eighteenth century (when the revolution began that would lead to the new nation of Haiti), was producing almost two-thirds of the world's supply. Later, coffee would also be a Cuban crop, and throughout the Americas coffee production became inextricably linked with slave labor, until abolition finally came to Brazil and Cuba in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Sugar was also cultivated with slave labor, and increasing sugar production, in turn, was inextricably linked with the soaring consumption of coffee - along with tea and chocolate - in Europe.
In 1774, in the soon-to-be United States, colonists were increasing their consumption of coffee as a protest against British taxes on tea, and this trend continued as a tea-drinking people were converted to coffee drinking. By 1850 or so, average per capita consumption exceeded 6 pounds annually. Americans were accustomed to buying their coffee beans green and doing their own roasting and grinding, but after the Civil War, Folger's Coffee (established in San Francisco) began to give people a choice. The Folger's brand was soon followed by Chase and Sanborn (which in 1878 became the first company to pack roasted coffee in sealed cans), Hills Brothers, and Maxwell House (named for a Nashville hotel). In 1901, the first “instant” coffee was invented in Chicago, and in 1964, General Foods introduced “Maxim” freeze-dried instant coffee.
Coffee is ground in different ways for different purposes: “Coarse” and “medium” for use in percolators, urns, and the like; “drip” (which is finer than medium) for use in electric drip coffee makers; and “fine” for cone filters and drip pots. There is also the very fine espresso, for espresso machines, and the even more finely ground Turkish, for use in Turkish brewers. Almost 90 percent of the world's coffee is C. arabica, but another species, C. canephora = C. robusta and generally known as Robusta, is cultivated in Africa and India and - because it is cheaper and contains substantially more caffeine - is often a component of supermarket blends. Brazil produces about half of the world's coffee and has been the major U.S. supplier since the early days of the republic. Jamaican Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona, Java, and Mocha coffees are relatively rare and highly prized, followed by the Andean-grown Colombian coffee (the top grade is supremo).
Common names and synonyms: Colombian coffee, espresso, Hawaiian Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Java, joe, kaffe, kahve, kahwa, Mocha, Robusta, supremo coffee, Turkish coffee.
See also: “Coffee,” Part III, Chapter 4.
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