By Lance Leasure, owner of Town & Country Coffee
Coffee. What is it and what is it made of? Is it a bean, a nut, or a seed? Where does it come from? A factory in Kent, or a building in SoDo? Who discovered it, or was it invented? Did it really involve overactive goats? And the most important question of all, what’s the best way to brew and drink it? We’ll get into all of these and much more in due time.
The world of coffee is at once vast, ancient, and constantly changing. Some estimates put the number at between 600 and 800 million people globally who depend on coffee for all or part of their income. Yep, that’s about 10% of the World’s population. Other estimates claim that worldwide we drink as many as 500 billion cups every year, which helps explain how it’s become the second most traded commodity in the world behind crude oil.
Not until the late 15th century were there written records of coffee being traded or consumed, but we know from accounts based on oral tradition that it was discovered and consumed long before.
Maybe you’re familiar with one of the stories about how coffee was first discovered. The most common is of the 9th-century goatherd who noticed his charges’ energetic and playful reaction to eating the berries of a particular bush. Then there’s a similar story from the 13th century involving overly-animated birds also eating the berries. In each case, the observer recklessly, in my humble opinion, decides to try the berries themselves, and, avoiding illness or worse, experiences a similar stimulating effect. My personal favorite involves a man once banished from Mecca only to be invited back and made a saint upon his discovery of the “miracle drug” we now know as coffee.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever know which, if any, of these is true, but we do know with some certainty that coffee originated in the area of eastern Africa now known as Ethiopia. The earliest known written records point to coffee being exported to Yemen around the beginning of the 16th century via the likely familiar-sounding port city of Mocha, located on the Red Sea. We’ve still got a lot to cover before we get to the “mocha” story though, so hang in there. It’s coming.
Before continuing our coffee journey, in the next few posts, we’ll dig into a bit more about the coffee plant, ideal growing environments, and the coffees still cultivated in Africa.
One final thought: Not everyone drinks coffee, prefers the same brands, or enjoys drinking it the same way. Hopefully, however, we can agree that the coffee story is interesting and worthwhile regardless of how you choose to wake up and live.