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A mini history of... COFFEE

April 11, 2014

Its currently #coffeeweek in the UK. To have an actual week dedicated to coffee is a sign of how ubiquitous the stuff has become. But even though we all drink a lot of it, we don’t seem to think about it all that much. We thought we’d gather up all the info you might not know about coffee into one 5minute article, so you can get up to speed over the space of time it takes you to drink, say, a coffee.

Magic Beans

The awesomeness of coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in 6 th century. Legend has it that a goat herd discovered the magical properties of coffee after his flock became hyper-active after grazing on coffee fruits (berries or cherries as they are known, although apparently they tastes nothing like as nice as either). Coffee as we know it is made from not the berries but from the seeds of the plant. Or, rather, the beans of the plant. 

There are two different species of coffee plant:  Robusta and Arabica. Arabica is superior, has a more mellow flavour, less caffeine, and can be drunk on its own. Robusta is almost never used on its own but blended in with Arabica to boost the caffeine content and add body to the taste. 

Economic Gold Dust 

Coffee has always been the kind of product that quickly becomes precious to a country’s economy. The first coffeehouses were in Mecca and then spread throughout Arabia. By the 15 th century, coffee started to be grown commercially there and was one of the most valuable exports of the region. To protect the economy, Arab leaders banned the beans from being exported, so it was only possible to export the finished product. 

To break the Arabian state’s ownership of the this valuable product, sometime in the 17 th century, some beans were smuggled to India by a pilgrim called Baba Budan, who took the plant to his home in India.  It travelled to Europe via Dutch traders who stole a plant from a port in Yemen. The Dutch then set up a series of plantations in their colonies such as Java and Sumatra. In 1714, the Dutch presented Louis XIV with a coffee sapling, showing how precious the ability to grow coffee was. It spread quickly throughout the colonised nations. The high altitude of the South American colonies made ideal conditions for growing the fine Arabica. And the rest, as they say, is history.


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