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A Brief History of Coffee

For all the struggle and day to day uncertainty out there, I think it’s important to remember and appreciate that some things in life are good all the way around. If you’re having trouble coming up with something, I think that many of us can agree that a fresh brewed cup of coffee is an excellent example of this phenomenon. It tastes good, smells good, wakes you up, warms you up; It’s even been linked by some studies to lower incidences of skin cancer and liver disease, reduced stress levels, and improved athletic performance. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason not to have a cup or 3 every day (at least not one that I choose to acknowledge). But I got to thinking, how much do I really know about this wonder drink that’s such a big part of my diet and day to day life? I mean, we all know it’s basically just hot water and beans… right? Wait, they’re seeds? Of some sort of coffee fruit?! Alright, maybe this deserves a little bit of investigation.140826_RiverMarket_L_027

One of the earliest legends regarding the discovery of coffee is the story of an Ethiopian goatherd who, somewhere around the mid-15th century, noticed that his goats would get a little extra perky after nibbling on the fruit of a certain plant he passed by every day. The first evidence of the brewed drink we know today is found shortly thereafter in Yemen, from where its use soon spread to the rest of the Middle East and Northern Africa, into Europe, and eventually to the Mr. Coffee sitting on your kitchen counter.

But what is it, exactly? Coffee, as we know it, comes most commonly from the seeds of two species of the Coffea plant; Coffea canefora, and Coffea Arabica. Today, the Coffea plant is most commonly cultivated in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. A newly planted Coffea will typically take about 3-4 years to begin producing fruit in the form of red to purple colored “cherries” (Yes, these are edible. You can even buy the bottled juice from a company in Hawaii!) which are typically hand harvested when ripe. In many countries, the cherries are then simply set out to dry in the sun, though many modern operations will put the cherries through a pulping process to thoroughly remove the fruit from the “pits” (what we call “coffee beans”) before drying in the sun or in large tumblers similar to your home drying machine. Once dried, the “beans” are then put through a sorting process to remove any extra plant debris or undesirable beans, and separated based on size. The beans are then placed in warehouses until they are exported off to various roasters (like our own Peace Coffee) and other buyers around the world. Once at the roasters, the beans are placed in what’s essentially a rotating oven (they’re spun for even heating and to avoid burning) and heated to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point they begin to brown and release an oil called caffeol and start to look and smell much like the beans you’ll find in our bulk department.

And that’s about it! From there we buy them and take them home and grind ‘em up and brew ‘em using our preferred method (or let places like The Daily Grind take care of that part as well…)and head off to work or the bathroom or wherever our morning routine happens to take us. More than 500 years of history from around the world culminating in the contents of your favorite mug. Almost makes you appreciate it even more.

By Anthony Orlando