Celebrating annual International Coffee Day, or rather an ode to the known-by-all beverage, was the main reason why I wanted to write an article about coffee. While sipping on freshly brewed cup of Joe, ideas started popping in my head. I could write about the benefits and impacts on our health from drinking coffee, sometimes too much, or the environmental impacts and issues related to child labour. Various coffee methods on how to prepare you favourite cup seemed like a good idea too. Cultures around the world are built around coffee. Countless songs and poems celebrating the beverage have been written. But the question that bothered me the most: how do I introduce coffee to my peers? They all know what it is, and many of them are drinking it right now while reading this.
We’ve all had our liquid breakfast when there wasn’t simply enough time. Or lunch. Okay, sometimes even dinner. I am guilty of this too. As a heavy coffee drinker, mostly for its allegedly stimulating qualities, I gradually decreased my consumption. I rarely drink coffee these days to give me the morning kick or as a tool to meet the deadline on time.
A couple years ago at grammar school, when all my classmates had already been enjoying the magical beverage, I began to like the taste. At first what seemed as a drink only for busy adults, black as night and bitter as the darkest chocolate, slowly found its place to be on my menu. Every day.
And then there was Bean
According to an old myth, stimulating effects of coffee were discovered by goats prior to humans, as explained in “Commodities: High Finance in Coffee,” by Bernard Colodney. “An Arabian goatherd noticed that his charges were unusually frisky. He observed them carefully for a few days, and discovered that whenever they ate the bright red berries of a bush that grew wild in the area, the goats would dance and frolic,” Colodney writes. The goatherd tried some himself, liked their taste, and spread the news around.
Increased ability to work longer and increase energy are examples of modern coffee usage. However, coffee was primarily used as a social drink during ceremonies and helped transcend the material world and find peace during the long-lasting night religious rituals.
Interestingly, coffee was first sold in apothecaries as it was considered to be a drug, hence the prohibition by some religions in the early days of coffee.
Since the independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1822, Brazil has been exporting million bags of coffee each year. In 2005 more than 25 million bags were exported, giving Brazil the biggest coffee producer and exporter worldwide status.
As the most commonly used psychoactive substance today, coffee may induce a mild euphoria. Overconsumption may result in a dysphoric and depressive mood. Admit it, how many times you drank too much and had that funny feeling in your stomach?
Coffee Changing The History
Popularity of coffee can be attributed to its caffeine content, which is the world’s most popular legal drug. Well known rituals, such as “wake up and smell the coffee” or a “coffee break,” make coffee a social drug.
Rise of coffee houses’ popularity in Arab countries was questioned by Orthodox Muslims as they saw coffee houses as a threat to mosques, which were the centres of sociability.
Trade, diplomacy, war, and immigration all contributed to arrival of coffee in Europe. First rejected by the Catholic Church, based on the argument of Muslim popularity of the beverage, it became popular after the “reconciliation” with the Pope.
Coffee became popular and considered as a luxury good from the Orient. North Europeans enamoured the beverage the fastest, probably because of the heating properties the African bean brought to cold northern climes.
What caught my eyes while reading on the history of coffee was the relations to Brits and tea. Because of the English East India Company, Indian colonies, and high taxes on coffee, Brits turned to tea as their national beverage. Five o’clock tea, anyone?
During the 1980s adding flavours to coffee and rise of popularity among coffee-like drinks such as cappuccinos or lattes have rapidly changed the coffee industry.
Starbucks transformed coffee to a mainstream consumer good and its marking is noteworthy. Nevertheless, Starbucks has been criticized for a variety of reasons, for instance, for cultural homogenization, predatory intentions, using dairy products containing RGH, or over roasting its beans, which may result in destroying its essential parts.
Fuelling the Cultures
The coffee production industry not only employs more than 25 million people and is the world’s second most traded commodity, but it has inarguably become part of our culture in so many ways.
It has become part of social construct. We all know and have used the “Let’s grab a coffee” phrase many times. The fast paced environment of our wired 24 / 7 world accepted coffee as a tool through which we adapted our bodies to the unnatural biorhythms of artificial light.
The golden age for coffee began at 18th century with over 2,000 coffeehouses located in London, as well as the one penny admission fee and frequent visits from intellectuals, writers, and poets, to which customers could listen to. Later known as “penny universities,” it quickly became popular across Europe.
This could have partially been the reason why politicians throughout Europe imposed high taxes, tariffs, and duties on coffee. This has resulted in English coffee houses becoming private clubs, the French houses becoming restaurants, and the consumption of coffee fell off sharply. Only in Vienna did the coffeehouse culture continue pure in its bitter form.
Popularity of coffee on the old continent spread to its colonies overseas. The Boston Tea Party was organized in a coffee house, which caused a rise of coffee consumption across the New World. Surely John Adams, James Otis, or Paul Revere enjoyed a cup of brain juice. Symbolic separation from anything English followed, making a tea drinking practically treasonable.
Tale of Thousand and One Cup
As the Turkish say: “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.” But not everyone might enjoy their cup so dark, hence the opinion on how to drink coffee properly varies across culture.
Apart from enjoying ancient sites in Rome or falling in love with the sunlit Tuscan valley, Italy is definitely a good place to get espresso or a cappuccino. It is a common sight to see older men with tiny cups, discussing the meaning of life in the streets after work. La dolce vita!
Although not a cigarette smoker, I could always appreciate the romanticized scene from a black and white movie set in Paris: coffee shops, beautiful men and women smoking and browsing newspapers while jazz-like music plays in the background. But lattes and fresh croissants have treated me many times during lazy Sundays, and you don’t have to live in Paris for that.
Spice it up! If you fancy coffee with a taste of the Orient, then the Turkish way of preparing it is just for you. Traditionally boiled in copper pots known as Jezvas over open fire, Turks add cardamon, masala, clove, and cinnamon to the bean-blend mixture, along with a hearty amount of sugar. The Jezva is then left to boil three times. The final drink is poured into beautifully painted glasses with iron embroidery. There’s nothing better to treat yourself with while coursing through stony streets of Istanbul. Iyilik!
Just don’t try Turek while visiting my home country, the Czech Republic. We simply pour boiling water over ground beans and drink it. Yuck. Enjoy your cup!