Brief view of Coffee - Part-1


A favorite drink for many, consumed historically for many hundred years. A drink consumed at an estimated 2.25 billion cups everyday globally. Coffee has history and story of its own. As a coffee lover, I want to share its origin and spread and its first step in process - Roasting. Moreover, I come from southern India where Coffee has a strong presence culturally. Now being in U.S, which is a coffee drinking country, writing about coffee naturally fits in my blog.

Brief History of Coffee

No one knows when Coffee drinking came into being. Common story is about an Ethiopian shepherd. His goat chewed some green leaves and red berries that he has not seen before. Goats were bleating in excitement. Something was amiss, he chews the leaves and red berries himself. Leaves tasted bitter and berries tasted a bit sweet. He was sensing a tingling feel over his throat. Now when chewing seeds, he was sensing an invigorated energy. By word of mouth, news of bunn ( Coffee back then ) spread and people chewed it. But Ethiopians figured better ways to consume coffee.

People boiled coffee leaves. They grounded seeds and mixed with animal fats as high energy bars. They also made low caffeine drink qishr from outer shells of coffee beans. But it was not until 15th century, someone (possibly Arabia) grounded coffee beans and brewed coffee as we know it today.

For Ethiopians, Coffee is an important part of their culture. It is called as Bunna Ceremony. Coffee is so significant that we can say it is the backbone of their economy. The Coffee beans got washed and roasted. Grind it in their traditional mortar-pestle and brew the ground coffee in clay pot.

There are many varieties of Coffee, out of which Arabica and Robusta variety makes the most.

Spread of Coffee

There is evidence that there has been coffee drinking back in 15th century. Coffee from Ethiopia got introduced to Yemen via trade across Red Sea. Ali Ben Omar who was staying with Adal king came to know about Coffee in 1401 AD. He then introduced it to Arabia. Sufi saints used Coffee to stay awake for their rituals. Coffee Houses started to appear in cities as a place to meet and greet. They first appeared in Constantinople around 1475 A.D started with trade circle. But they got banned in Mecca (1511) and Cairo (1532) as it entwined with political and religion. Bans got lifted due to the Coffee’s popularity.

Around 16th century, a Sufi saint Baba Budan took coffee seeds from Mocha, Yemen. He was returning from Hajj back to India. He then planted seeds on Chandragiri Hills of Chikkamagaluru district, Karnataka. This started the India’s journey with Coffee and its coffee plantations. Coffee in India got fueled by British East India company investment and access to easy labor.

Around same time, Coffee got introduced to Europe. First Coffee House opened in Europe around 1600s. Coffee was getting traded to Europe for medicinal purposes than regular drinking. It was Venice which got introduced to Coffee drinking for first time and then the rest of Europe. This is due to thriving trade back then between the Middle East and Venice. Venice had its first coffee house in 1645 AD. London (through efforts of British East India Company) got one by 1652. It inspired cultural art, fashion and influenced politics. Vienna was another city that got its first coffee house by 1685.

Dutch moved Coffee to Ceylon and Indonesia through Trade around 1711 AD. But this kick-started a large scale coffee plantations.

French ( specifically Gabriel de Clieu) was responsible to take coffee to Caribbean islands and eventually to western Hemisphere around 1720s. Francisco de Melo Palheta planted first coffee bush in Brazil in 1727 AD. Legend has it that he smuggled coffee beans into Brazil when he didn’t get approval of the Portuguese governor.

Brazil became world’s largest producer of Coffee by 1830 from having none in 1800. Coffee plantation had heavy dependency on imported slaves. As per reports, plantation owners imported more than 1.5 million slaves to work on the plantation. This was to meet the demand of American and European Coffee demand. Once Slavery got abolished by 1888 in Brazil, it attracted labor. Coffee production and large scale industrialization attracted labor into São Paulo. This turned a small town into booming city and industrial center.

Coffee Cultivation in South America came with side effects. The large scale displacement of indigenous population and deforestation happened to make place for plantation needs and housing labors etc.

Coffee’s One Key Moment

Coffee’s key moment in history was from unexpected corner. Boston Tea Party (1773 AD) where American Colonists protested British taxation acts without representation in parliament, dumped 342 tea chests imported into the harbor. This also marked Coffee being a patriotic drink instead of Tea. U.S was back then a growing population, so a growing market played an important role in popularizing coffee in years to come.

Processing Coffee

Roasting is unique process ( historically we have no evidence when roasting beans started ) where unflavored raw green beans into an aromatic beans. This step also ensures the kind of coffee this is going to turn out to be. “Light , Dark” attributing to amount of roasting and “slow or fast” time it is roasted. This process control 3 factors of Coffee. Acidity, Sweetness and Bitterness.

Moisture is lost during this step and thus making beans light weight. Economically this was an important in terms of trade and exports.

Coffee Roasting

Roasting process breaks down many acids in the coffee beans. Acid of interest for roasters is Chlorogenic Acid. The phenolic acid is the reason for Coffee’s many claimed benefits. Chlorogenic Acid like all polyphenol, is a known biological antioxidant. The roast temperature and time affects how acid breaks. Medium roast results in 60% loss of oils. It is 100% in dark roast. Much research is happening to increase CQA content in coffee to reap the health benefits.

Roasting breaks down simple sugars and changing them to brown. This is the reason for brown color of coffee. Sucrose sugar is completely lost in dark roast and oils starts to develop. Caffeol oil comes out at around 200 °C which is the reason for aroma and flavor. Around 235 °C Caffeine degrades.

Coffee has influenced culture, helped booming of cities, enhanced trade, involved in politics. It aided slavery, abolished it, affected economics of countries and influenced art. It has liberated culture and social aspects. There is much more. I will write my part-2 of this blog. I love this topic and fascinates me to understand a beverage I started loving in recent times.

I will cover brewing, package and culture in my next part of this coffee. If you liked this, let me know this will enable me to write history and spend time on research.

But before leaving I want to share rule of thumb for fresh coffee based on my readings.

Golden rules for fresh coffee

  • Buy Coffee with clear roast date
  • Buy within 2 weeks of roasting
  • Buy Coffee only for 2 weeks
  • Buy whole beans and grind them yourself


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