Coffee Talk

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    Have you been to a coffee shop yet this morning? Did you go to the coffee shop even after making coffee in your own kitchen? Addicted doesn’t even begin to describe the world’s obsession with quhwat al-bunn or as we call it, coffee.
    Throughout world history, coffee has played a part in political oppression, economic development and social prejudice. And though we are continuously finding out the health benefits of this addictive stimulant, it is interesting to note its dark, rich and flavorful story.

    Coffee goes as far back as the ninth century. Ethiopian shepherds were the first to discover its caffeine influence. Then this “Arabian wine” traveled from Ethiopia to Egypt and Yemen. It reached the Middle East by the 15th century, and from there was taken to Persia, Turkey and Africa. Lucky for us, it then moved on to Italy.

    Italy is responsible for the first coffee house, established in 1645. To this day, being a “barista” is a highly respected job title in Italy. In fact, it is an important position all over the globe. This past July, Tokyo was home to the World Barista Championship. That’s taking your job seriously!

    In some parts of the world, coffee hasn’t always been a way to catch up with friends or an essential part of the taking a break equation. (Speaking of…do employees who work in a tea factory get a “coffee break?”) It wasn’t until 1600 that Pope Clement VIII allowed coffee to be consumed as an acceptable Christian beverage. Go back even farther than that however, and the drink was already being used as a substitute for wine in religious ceremonies in both Africa and Yemen.

    In 1714, King Louis XIV received a coffee tree as a gift from the Dutch. Thirteen years later, in 1727, seedlings were smuggled out of Paris and into Brazil — which, as we all know, is the world’s largest producer of the product.

    Though the Arabs discovered roasting in the late 1300s, the first coffee percolator wasn’t invented until 1818. In 1907, a German housewife by the name of Melitta Benz created the coffee filter. And the next year saw the first electric coffee maker in America. Our lives did not become as they are today though, until 1972 when the “drip process” was created by Mr. Coffee.

    A coffee tree produces approximately 4,000 beans a year. That is equal to only one pound of roasted coffee. An average American consumes over 10 pounds of coffee per year. (Does that include what was consumed by the cast of “Friends” do you think?) And did you know that the lighter the roast, the higher the caffeine?

    Middle Easterners were the first to use cinnamon to flavor their coffee. But no matter how you take your coffee variation of choice, you probably haven’t thought to mix in what use to be traditional in London. It’s said that in the 17th century, the British would add ale, oatmeal, butter or mustard. Go to your local coffee shop tomorrow and order a tall coffee of the day with a shot of butter! Yikes!

    Here in America, coffee is a way to start the day; but in many countries, it’s a way of life. Want to know a good way to support your habit? Check out This is an organization whose sole purpose is to help “children, women and men in coffee-producing regions around the world improve the quality of their lives and build more sustainable communities.” The foundation was started in 1988, and you can make a tax deductible donation to help the cause.

    If you’ve made it to the end of this article without feeling a gravitational pull to your local coffee house, you might be all right. And if you are leaving to go there right now, I’ll have mine on ice. Thanks!