Coffee, the wonderfully aromatic conduit for the world’s most popular drug -- caffeine -- began its spread from Ethiopia in the 15th Century and never stopped.
Arab world with an alternative to alcohol, it gave rise to a coffeehouse
culture that revolved around stimulating intellectual conversation and the
exchange of new ideas. Then in Europe during the 18th-century Age of
Enlightenment, coffeehouses simultaneously became places for playing chess, political
strategizing, talking business and socializing, wrote Tom Standage in his book A History of the World in Six Glasses.
Today, coffee is enjoyed all over the world, with Finland (surprisingly) consuming
more than any other country – imbibing 608.2 litres of coffee per capita.
After oil, coffee is the most valuable commodity exported by developing
countries, according to the World Bank. Yet, the farmers growing the
plants are left with only 10% of the $80 billion that the industry rakes in
annually. The average coffee farmer makes as little as 15 cents per pound sold, and coffee bean
pickers make as little as four cents per pound.
In an effort to
combat this, a movement to institutionalize the fair trade of coffee began in 1988
in the Netherlands. Fair trade certification seeks to ensure fair labour
conditions, a reasonable price, environmental sustainability, direct trade,
transparency and support for community development. Although fair trade coffee
makes up only a tiny percentage of the global supply, it is grown in countries throughout
Africa, Central and South America, Oceania and Asia, and is becoming easier to
find in metropolitan area coffee shops.
connoisseurs say that well-crafted coffee exhibits “terroir”, meaning that it
tastes like the place it comes from. According to the experts, some Kenyan coffees are dry with
berry notes and acidic brightness, while coffees from South America’s Andes
Mountains may be smooth and sweet, full of sugar cane flavours. Brazil, which
pumps out a third of the world’s coffee, is known for its low-acidity coffee, which
makes it a prime candidate for blends, wrote Kevin Sinnott in his book The Art and Craft of Coffee. Coffee beans from Yemen, he said,
are both balanced and complex in flavour and tend to blend well with beans from
Java or Sumatra.
Coffee is made by roasting the seeds (beans) of a coffee plant, grinding them and
brewing the resulting grounds using a number of methods. In Turkey, coffee is
brewed by boiling finely ground coffee in a copper pot called an ibrik, while in Italy, espresso is
“pressure-brewed” in about 30 seconds (either in an electric machine or in a stovetop pot) by pushing nearly boiling water through very
tightly packed grounds.
coarsely ground coffee is combined with boiling water in the country’s national
coffee pot, the French press -- a device with a plunger that is pushed down post-brewing
to separate the grounds from the resulting coffee. Although they did not yet
have the press when the French colonized Vietnam in the 1800s, they brought coffee
with them, which is why the beverage is now grown and consumed widely in the
Southeast Asian country. Vietnamese coffee is brewed in single servings, using
a small metal drip filter that sits atop the coffee cup.
become famous for its iced coffee, which is made by brewing hot coffee and
instantly chilling it. Coffee grounds are first put into a filter, which is
placed over an ice-filled serving pot. Then boiling water is poured over the
grounds, so that as the coffee drips, it immediately begins to cool. Proponents
of this method say it locks in aromatics and keeps out oxygen, resulting in a sweeter,
less harsh cup of coffee.
Coffee has been central to Turkish culture since the first coffeehouses in the
1500s. The Turkish word
for breakfast, kahvaltı, means
“before coffee”, giving some insight into when
locals take their first cup of the day. Turkish coffee, which is served in small
cups where the grounds settle at the bottom, is very thick, dark, strong and
sweet. Plenty of sugar and sometimes spices like cardamom and chicory are added
to produce a rich, dessert-like treat.
that has been passed down through the generations is coffee fortune-telling. After a guest finishes his or her
coffee, a host may turn the cup upside down, allow the grounds to cool and then
tell a fortune by reading the grounds.
In Italy, un caffé is a “shot” of
espresso -- an ounce of concentrated coffee. Although Italians drink caffé (espresso)
all day long, two of the country’s national beverages, cappuccino and caffé latte,
are traditionally only consumed in the morning. Cappuccino is made with
espresso, steamed milk and steamed-milk foam, while caffé latte is made with
espresso and steamed milk. As travel writer Lee Marshall noted in his “10 commandments” on Italian coffee culture, drinks with milk are not usually
taken after meals because “Italians cringe at the thought of all that hot milk hitting a full
Brazilians drink espresso all day long. Brazil’s version, cafezinho, is made by mixing hot water, finely ground coffee and
sugar, and then straining the mixture through a filter. Like Turkish coffee,
cafezinho is dark, strong and sweet – but not nearly as thick – and served in
small cups. In South America and Central America, coffee
is sometimes brewed using a “sock” filter, a simple cloth pouch that serves as
During the 19th
Century, when Vietnam was under French rule, fresh milk was difficult to store,
so condensed milk took
its place. A delightful indulgence, Vietnamese iced coffee, called cà phê sữa đá, is made by brewing concentrated coffee over condensed milk, stirring it
up and pouring it over ice. On a hot, humid summer day, it is sweet perfection.
The weather in
Thailand also lends itself to cold, sweet, creamy coffee. Thai coffee is brewed
strong, spiced with chicory and combined with condensed milk and ice. It is the
perfect dessert to follow a spicy Thai meal.
Nations includes “Viennese Coffee House Culture” in its National Inventory of Intangible Cultural
Heritage for Austria. It
dates back to the 1600s after the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks. When
the Turks were defeated and driven out, they were said to have left behind
sacks of coffee beans. Today, Viennese coffeehouses, or kaffeehaüser, often
stay open from 6 am until midnight, welcoming customers to sit and relax for
hours over a wiener mélange: coffee
with steamed milk, topped with milk foam.
Coffee has always been popular in the US, in large
part because tea was heavily taxed by the British. But coffee culture became a
commercial stronghold when chains such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea
and Starbucks were founded, in 1966 and
Although drip coffee is ubiquitous throughout the US,
the country is often associated with the Americano, which is espresso mixed with
hot water. The drink is said to have evolved
during World War II, when American soldiers stationed in Italy discovered that
“coffee” was just a shot of espresso. As the story goes, in order to make the
drink more like regular coffee, they added hot water.
Major coffee producer Kenya
has long had a specialised way of drinking coffee. Kahawa chungu, or “bitter coffee”, is a traditional drink made in
brass kettles over a charcoal stove and is typically
enjoyed by men, according to Reuters. A far more recent phenomenon is the advent
of the coffeehouse in major cities such as Nairobi. Unfortunately for
Kenyans, most of the highest quality coffee produced in their country still
gets exported to other parts of the world.
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