2 Nov

Coffee History – A Rich Tradition For More Than 1,000 Years of Coffee Produced and Enjoyed Worldwide

The history of coffee has a rich and fascinating tradition, resulting in gourmet coffee available to you in your kitchen or at your favorite coffee house.

Coffee dates back to the 9th century. Today, a good cup of coffee ties our world together in ways that are truly amazing through the years.

The Origin of Coffee

No one knows how coffee was discovered. One popular legend says coffee was discovered by an Arabian shepherd named Kaldi who found his goats prancing around a shrub bearing bright red fruit. He tasted the fruit and experienced the same energy.

Kaldi shared his discovery with the local monks, and they used the fruit to stay awake during long hours of prayer. The “mysterious red fruit” spread to monasteries all over the world, starting the relationship between the church and coffee that has lasted for centuries.

Coffee is mentioned in writings as early as the 10th century, and historians since then have followed coffee’s history and use throughout the world.

In 1471, not long before Columbus left to discover America, the first coffee house opened in Constantinople. The merchant trade of Venice brought coffee to Italy, where the first European coffee shop opened in 1645. Coffee houses spread throughout Europe and England and later to America. By 1675, there were over 3,000 coffee houses in England, demonstrating coffee’s tremendous appeal so many years ago.

As coffee production started around the world in different tropical regions, the growing conditions produced new and distinctive flavors. Various cultures invented new ways of enjoying coffee, and starting new traditions.

Coffee Making Through the Years

How we roast, grind and brew coffee has changed tremendously over the years. At first, coffee was boiled after being crushed by a mortar and pestle, as it still done with Turkish coffee.

Drip brewing started around 1800 in France, about the same time as percolators were invented also. Vacuum coffee makers were invented in 1840 to brew coffee that was clear and without sediment. By the end of the 19th century, espresso machines were developed for brewing coffee through the pressure method. Paper filters were invented by Melitta Benz in 1908. She and her husband patented them and started the Melitta family coffee business, which their grandchildren continue to this day.

Drip coffee makers for home use in the United States became popular after the Mr. Coffee coffee maker was introduced in 1972. Prior to that time, most coffee at home was made with a percolator, either electric or on the stove top.

The rise of the corner gourmet coffee house in America is an even more recent event. Founded in 1971, Starbucks popularized dark, gourmet coffee and expanded on a massive scale in the 1990’s. Now there are 16,000 stores worldwide, including 11,000 in the United States and 1,000 in Canada. This rise in gourmet coffee houses has brought a new coffee lifestyle to American society, greatly increasing expectations for coffee quality.

Growing Coffee Around the World

From coffee’s start in the Arabian peninsula, coffee has become one of the largest commercial crops grown around the world.  Coffees are grown in tropical and subtropical areas, including some of the most impoverished areas of the world. The traditional coffee production areas in are in South America (with Brazil and Columbia as the two largest coffee producers in the world), Africa (primarily East Africa) and Indonesia. Other areas grow coffees that have become prized, including Jamaica, Hawaii, Australia, India, and Costa Rica, winning the hearts of coffee aficionados worldwide.

Gourmet Coffee Today

In general, the coffee beans from from Central and South America are known for their mild yet potent flavor. East African and Arabian coffee beans are known for their intense flavor and bright acidity.  Indonesian coffee beans produce smooth, rich and low acid flavors.

Coffee has brought amazing changes to our society and our world in the past 1,100 years. Coffee continues to span the globe, connecting us with people far away. The coffee in your cup came from beans grown in an exotic location far away and transported around the world to you.

What will be next for coffee? Who knows, so enjoy your cup of gourmet coffee and the rich tradition that goes with it!

27 Oct

History of Coffee: Part IV – Commercialisation of Coffee

For many connoisseurs, the period from the mid-19th Century to the late 20th Century is the ‘Dark Age’ of coffee. During this era, coffee lost its Middle-Eastern mystical charm and became commercialised and, quite frankly, ordinary.

When coffee was first introduced into Britain during the 17th Century, it was a drink enjoyed by every social class. While the rich would enjoy coffee almost ceremonially in their social clubs, the poor saw coffee as an essential nutrient, a hot drink to replace a hot meal, or hunger suppressant. It was only a matter of time, with the advancement of technology, that large companies would form to take advantage of the coffee commodity.

Traditionally coffee was roasted in the home or in the coffeehouse. A practice imported from the Middle-East was to simply stir-fry green beans in an iron pan over a fire till brown. Some coffeehouses used a more sophisticated method of a cylindrical unit hung above a fire with a handle to rotate the beans inside. Both these methods were only capable of roasting small batches of coffee, a couple of kilos or several pounds at most, which ensured that the coffee was always fresh.

However, with the onset of the industrial revolution and mechanisation, coffee roasting technology soon improved. Commercial coffee roasters were being invented which were capable of roasting much larger batches of coffee. It was now possible for the few to meet the coffee needs of the masses.

It was in the United States where coffee initially started to be commercialised. In 1865, John Arbuckle marketed the first commercially available packages of ground, roasted coffee. His brand, ‘Ariosa’, was sold over a far larger area then any other coffee roaster. Instead of being confined to a small area close to his roasting factory, Arbuckle was able to establish his coffee as a regional brand. Others soon followed suit and, by World War I, there were a number of regional roasters including companies such as Folgers, Hill Brothers, and Maxwell House. These companies offered customers consistent quality and convenient packaging for use in the home, but at a price: freshness. It could be several weeks, or even months, before the end product would reach the customer.

One approach to prolonging the freshness of roasted coffee was to glaze it with a glutinous or gelatinous matter. After the coffee beans had been roasted, a glaze would be poured over them, which would form a hard, protective barrier around the bean. Once such glaze patented by John Arbuckle in 1868, consisted of using: a quart of water, one ounce of Irish moss, half an ounce of isinglass, half an ounce of gelatine, one ounce of white sugar, and twenty-four eggs, per hundred pounds of coffee. Arbuckle experimented with many different glazes over the years, eventually settling on a sugar based glaze. In fact, Arbuckle became such a prolific user of sugar that he entered into the sugar business rather then give a profit to others for the huge quantities he required.

So why were customers willing to buy this coffee? Once ground, coffee quickly loses its flavour and therefore should be consumed as soon as possible (at the very latest within 48 hours). But this was the age of the brand, where consistency ruled king over quality. Local roasters would often produce excellent coffee, but they could also produce foul coffee, occasionally containing a number of adulterations. Customers wanted to trust what they were buying. They wanted their coffee to taste exactly the same, time and time again.

The first coffee brand to come to Britain was Kenco. In 1923, a co-operative of Kenyan Coffee farmers set up a coffee shop in Sloan Square (London), called the Kenyan Coffee Company, to distribute high quality coffee beans around Britain. Their shop proved very popular and their brand of coffee (renamed Kenco in 1962) soon spread throughout the UK.

Worse was to come to the brew known as coffee. As regional roasters grew into national roasters and then into international roasters, their pursuit of profit intensified. Traditionally coffee came from the ‘arabica’ variety of coffee bush. But in the 1850s, the French and Portuguese began to cultivate a different variety of coffee bush, known as ‘robusta’, on the west coast of Africa between Gabon and Angola. Robusta beans were (and still are) cheaper then arabica beans as they are easier to grow and have an inferior flavour. Coffee roasters looking to minimise their production costs started blending robusta beans with arabica beans in increasing quantities. They also used shorter roast times, to reduce weight loss stopping the coffee from fully developing its complex flavour.

However the lowest point for coffee comes with the introduction of instant coffee – a drink bearing little resemblance in taste to actual coffee. Although the first commercially produced instant coffee, called ‘Red E Coffee’, invented by George Constant Washington, an English chemist living in Guatemala, was marketed in 1909, it is Nestlé who are generally attributed with the invention of instant coffee. In 1930, Nestlé were approached by the Instituto do Café (Brazilian Coffee Institute) to help find a solution to their coffee surpluses. They believed that a new coffee product that was soluble in hot water, yet retained its flavour, would help stimulate World coffee sales. After seven years of research and frequent tasting, scientist Max Mortgenthaler finally achieved the desired results and, on 1st April 1938, Nescafé was launched, first in Switzerland and then later in Britain.

Some claim that it was the introduction of commercial television in 1956 that acted as a catalyst to the success of instant coffee in Britain. The commercial breaks were too short a time in which to brew a cup of tea, but time enough for an instant coffee. There is probably some truth to this claim as, by the 1960s, the majority of the tea industry started producing tea bags, an invention by Thomas Sullivan over half a century earlier (1904). Tea bags were seen as more convenient, simpler and quicker to use then traditional loose leaf tea and so could compete against instant coffee.

The coffee industry soon realised the association between commercial breaks and coffee drinking and started investing heavily in television advertising. Probably the most famous series of coffee advertisements were made for Nescafé Gold Blend. First aired in 1987, these advertisements focused on the sexual chemistry between a couple, played by Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan, acted out in a mini soap opera. The advertisements gripped the whole nation, featuring as frequently as Eastenders or Coronation Street as topics of conversation. This original series of advertisements ran for ten years, increasing sales of Gold Blend by 40% in the first five years (there were two further, less successful, sets of advertisements with different actors). Such was the profile of these advertisements, that they even featured as a news article on the ‘News at Ten’.

With the coffee industry focused on price rather then quality, it was little wonder that coffee sales became stagnant. Coffee drinking was now more about a caffeine fix rather then about savouring the taste, to be drunk in a break from work, rather then to be enjoyed over conversation or while reading the newspaper. Unsurprisingly the younger generations born in the 70s and 80s turned their back on bitter coffee, preferring sugary soft drinks such as Coca Cola and Pepsi for their caffeine kicks.