What's in my cup?

Jun 27, 2017
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Back in the 11th century in Abyssinia now known as Ethiopia, man's first experiences with coffee occurred. .There are many legends about how coffee came to be used by the human race. The most popular is that a goat herder was tending his flock. After the goats ate a certain plant, they seemed to have boundless energy. So much energy that they were not sleeping at night. Staying awake at night to protect the goats from predators did not seem like a bad thing. So the goat herder, named Kaldi, took the leaves from the plant and boiled them for the first taste of coffee.

It seemed to work. So he took his findings to a local monastery. The arabica plant which has white blossoms that smell like jasmine produced a red, cherry-like fruit. The head monk at the monastery felt that the leaves had magical properties and that the leaves, when boiled in water, produced a decoction of importance. This monk went one step further and took the berries of the plant to produce the drink. He found that when he drank the resulting brew, he was able to stay awake and alert during the long hours of evening prayers. He took this knowledge to the rest of the monks, and before long the news began to spread.

The coffee bean is actually a seed rather than a bean. The berry is red when ripe, and the pit is referred to as a cherry. There are 129 known species of coffee plants, but only two are produced for mass production: coffee arabica and coffee canephora (robusta).

Cultivation of the berries and trade of them began on the Arabian Peninsula. The Yemin district of Arabia was growing them by the 15th century. By the 16th century, it was found in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Its use was primarily in homes, but before long, coffee houses called qahveh khan eh appeared in the cities of the Near East. They were the gathering places where men mostly would come together to discuss art, music, and politics. Coffee would stimulate the conversation making these pleasant places to gather. Listening to music, watching performances, and getting the keeping current on the news were the draw to these coffee houses.

Coffee houses became such important places for the exchange of information that they were often referred to as "Schools of the Wise".

Thousands of visitors to the holy city of Mecca came from all over the world. They returned from this pilgrimage with the knowledge of the "Wine of Araby." And the popular drink continued to spread.

By the 17th century, European travelers brought news of this unusual dark beverage. It quickly became popular there, and again coffee houses popped up in the cities. By mid century there were over three hundred coffee houses open just in London.

Coffee came to America in the mid-1600's. However, tea was the favored beverage. That all changed in 1773. The heavy tax on tea that was imposed by King George III prompted t he famous Boston Tea Party. Patriots dumped the tea into Boston Harbor and refused to pay the tax. It forever changed the American drinking preference to coffee.

Coffee has gone through stages in the United States. The post war coffee staple was instant coffee. The advent of coffee chains changed that. Now it was available without the hassle of the home brew. The long lines of cars at any Starbucks or another favorite chain will attest to that. Starbucks, as it's popularity has grown, has gone through a metamorphosis itself. First came the availability of multiple flavor additions, it became more a coffee flavored drink. Lately, the emphasis has been on the country of origin. People with small budgets can easily become connoisseurs of and comment with accuracy on the flavors each bean imparts.

But the primary focus of coffee has not changed. It is a stimulant. I stumble into the kitchen each morning. I plug in the percolator and eagerly anticipate that first hot sip - that eye opener.

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