What is coffee?
Coffee is one of today’s most popular drinks. Most people take this for granted, but the truth is that the trajectory of coffee is just like that of a rising star: in just a short couple of centuries, it has entered the olympus of the world’s favorite drinks.
All of these drinks have been around for thousands of years; wine, tea, beer. And now, coffee has written itself into history as one of the world’s most loved beverages.
And it didn’t get to where it is by coincidence: coffee has a wide variety of benefits that make it much more than just a delicious drink. But before we delve into these, let’s take a little time to get to know some coffee history.
To trace back the origin of coffee, we need to go back all the way to where language, and even the Homo sapiens, originated: Ethiopia. This country lies in eastern Africa, very close to what is the middle east.
It is in Ethiopia where the coffee plant was first found, and to this day the country still holds the record for the most wild-growing varieties of the coffee plant. The precise origin of the drink eludes written history, but there are two widely believed stories in the country. The first is rooted in an old Ethiopian religion;
“When Waqa, the god of many names, still walked the earth, he became friends with a man. The years passed, and the man became old. Upon his death, Waqa shed a single tear, moved by the tragedy of death. There, where his tear fell, a coffee shrub emerged.”
If anything, this tale illustrates how intertwined coffee has been with the Ethiopian people since before written history.
Then, there is a much more widespread tale across the world;
It tells of a Sufi monk on a pilgrimage. Passing through Ethiopia, he rested when a flock of goats happened to be near him. As he tried to meditate, he witnessed the goats feeding on some local cherries – he thought nothing of it until, about half an hour later, the goats started becoming energetic, frisky. His curiosity was spiked and, after trying it himself, he decided to bring the beans with him to Yemen, where as we know now, the beverage was popularized.
In Yemen, the drink was popularized and it started to be exported through Yemen’s most important port city– Mocha. This is probably the reason why a certain coffee drink is now called Mocha. Even for sometime, coffee itself was called Mocha among Europeans.
Now -and before we get into how delicious coffee is- we need to talk about the benefits of coffee beans, or coffee itself. Coffee beans are, in fact, seeds: they are to be found inside the fruit of the coffee plant, otherwise called cherries because they look a lot like cherries. They start out green and, as they become ripe, they acquire a vibrant red color. Here, they are picked from the shrubs (by hand!) and left to dry out in the sun.
Once about two thirds of the moisture has left the fruit, it is ready to be processed: bean and fruit are separated, and the bean is prepared to be sold. At this point, it is preserved carefully as a green bean, very different in appearance to the image of the perfect, cinnamon-colored coffee bean with seemingly endless benefits for our health.
Of course, coffee did not get to where it is because it was healthy. Many would argue that the sole reason coffee is what it is today is because of caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant, which means it can get you a little wired, depending on how much you drink. It is also found in tea! But because of caffeine, this little bean was seen as a sort of evil drug by outsiders. In the eighteenth century, when coffeehouses were appearing over Europe, they were seen by outsiders as nothing more than leveled-up opium houses. But of course, they were wrong.
Today, science has confirmed many of our suspicions, plus added many benefits to the list. For example:
It relieves fatigue
We did not need science to tell us this, but we’re glad to have concrete proof. Coffee makes you alert and helps with whatever existing tiredness you are experiencing. This is thanks both to the caffeine in it and also because of the citric acid that can be found in the coffee beans. This acid helps your body be more efficient at metabolizing energy.
Full of antioxidants
Antioxidants consist of several different elements, like acids and polyphenols. These circulate in your blood, looking for pesky free radicals. Free radicals are the main cause of premature aging signs and diseases such as cancer: the higher the presence of these in your blood, the sooner your body -including your internal organs- will feel the effects of time, and the more likely you are to experience disease.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, making you protected against disease and effectively helping you live longer.
Coffee is not only full to the rim with antioxidants, but is one of our most important sources of antioxidants nowadays. It is estimated that in today’s modern diet, coffee can be attributed to more than 70% of our daily intake of antioxidants.
Aids weight loss
Thanks to the many stimulants present in coffee, this beverage helps boost metabolism, which enables us to burn fat more effectively.
Furthermore, coffee has a mild effect on appetite, functioning as an appetite suppressant. Fortunately, caffeine is very mild and we develop a tolerance easily, so it cannot be abused. Instead, the effects of coffee are seen with moderate intake that is sustained over long periods of time; just introducing a morning coffee habit to your life is enough to help you lose weight over time.
Keeps you socially active
One of the best things about coffee is that it brings people together. Coffee is more than frequently used as an excuse for people to get together, being a catalyst for a thousand different types of social occasions.
In Sweden, for example, coffee serves as a time-off from daily lives and all the little things that it entails. They engage in a break from work, studying, or whatever they might be doing, called fika. During fika, people get together to talk, drink one or two coffees, and recharge their energy.
In our culture, we experience something similar; the coffee break. However, the concept of the coffee break has become a little outdated in a culture where we have coffee machines in our office that do all the work for us and there is no reason for us to stop working. Similarly, big coffee chains that serve coffee to-go have helped to ease out this tradition, and coffee in some countries can sometimes be relegated to fuel to keep us going through our workdays.
And now, let’s explore some fun, interesting, and surprising facts that you may or may not know about coffee.
Coffee’s the world’s most popular drink, being the most valuable traded commodity next to petroleum (gas).
Instant coffee is mostly made from robusta coffee, a variety that is not as tasty but is higher in caffeine.
Coffee helps low-resource communities stay afloat thanks to demand.
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter, exporting nearly one third of the world’s coffee.
The coffee plant is almost impossible to grow in harsh climates, which means it can only be farmed in tropical and subtropical climates.
While too much coffee is considered harmful for your heart, coffee in moderation helps your heart stay healthy.
There are oils in your coffee that can help you lower cholesterol levels. This, however, only works if you filter your coffee using paper filters, as they trap harmful oils better than metallic filters (or no filters).
While coffee was farmed in South America, at first, thanks to slave labour, it helped prop up the economy of many countries after independence, and it continues to be very important to this day.
There are two variations of coffee; robusta and arabica. Consequently, arabica can be divided into more than a dozen subvarieties.
The world’s most expensive coffee is grown in Panama, and can reach up to 2000 dollars a pound of roasted coffee beans.
There are many different ways of brewing coffee
…Which takes us to our next point: what ways are there around the world for making coffee, and which one is better?
There are many ways of brewing coffee, some of them based on practicality, while some of them are based on achieving a better taste. While we might think that most of the ways we consume coffee are recent inventions, the truth is that most of them date back centuries, the most recent one being the espresso. But complex and sophisticated ways to make coffee have always existed: here’s a short but helpful list of some of the most popular coffee brewing methods.
This method relies on steeping; coffee grounds are steeped in hot water for an average of three minutes, then a practical plunger attached to a filter is used to push all the coffee grounds to the bottom while still letting the coffee beverage circulate freely. This way, we can enjoy coffee without coffee grounds floating about in our cups (a common problem, long ago).
The French press continues to be relevant thanks to its minimalistic, yet practical design. A well-built French press can last years, and it can double as a milk frother and a tea maker.
One of the oldest methods of brewing coffee and also one of the most respected among coffee connoisseurs, this brewing method is considered a delicacy and at the same time not easy to drink for those with inexperienced palates.
Turkish coffee is brewed in a special saucepan which differs only in shape, made to accommodate for enough cups of coffee while still being easy to handle with one hand. It also features a long handle to avoid burning your hand and to facilitate pouring.
Using a unique coffee grind, called powdered coffee or turkish coffee, the coffee is brewed with hot water in this vessel, called an Ibrik. It is then drunk without filtering, making for a drink with a unique
taste… and texture!
Though this type of drink has been around for a couple of centuries, being invented in Japan almost entirely by accident when they tried to conserve coffee beans by storing them in water at room temperature, it has only recently gained real popularity.
Thanks to the marvels of the new world, we can now enjoy cold coffee everywhere, which is how this method of brewing coffee has really begun to shine: instead of using room temperature, cold brew is made at cool temperatures to achieve a type of coffee that is very different to any other, thanks to the lack of heat that is usually the source of bitterness in coffee.
Cold brew requires no particular container or device; all that’s needed is coffee, water, and some type of filtering. The coffee grounds are steep for a minimum of twelve hours, and that’s how cold brew is made.
A relative of cold brew, iced coffee also originated in Japan. However, iced coffee is coffee that is brewed normally, typically in a pour-over, and directly into ice: this gives us an instantly cold drink that is both delicious and refreshing.
Finally, we arrive to everybody’s favorite drink. Espresso is thought to have been of lesser quality in its beginnings, and owes its popularity not to its quality over other brewing methods, but to its appeal. In other words, espresso was able to go viral, mostly thanks to how fast it could be made, making it possible to serve many people at the same time, giving birth to coffee shops all over the world, all eager to get their hands on an espresso machine.
Espresso today is recognized as the epitome of coffee, being the tastiest and most fragrant of all coffees, and it has spawned an endless menu of espresso-based drinks, like the latte or the cappuccino.