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Confessions of a ... Coffee Bean
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO COFFEE CUISINE
By Marie Nadine Antol
Square One Publishers
Copyright © 2002
Marie Nadine Antol
All right reserved.
Chapter One Coffee Through the Ages
Coffee is the common man's gold, and like gold, it brings to every man the feeling of luxury and nobility. Where coffee is served, there is grace and splendor and friendship and happiness. All cares vanish as the coffee cup is raised to the lips. -SHEIKH ABD-AL-KADIR, 1587
The coffee plant and its rosy fruits first came to the notice of humans in Kaffa, Ethiopia, sometime in the third century, CE. And the rest, as they say, is history. From nearly the moment of its discovery, the coffee plant was valued and hoarded; planted and nurtured; sold, traded, and even stolen. It was brewed as an aromatic beverage, it was prized as a medicine, it was used to curry favor with kings and courtiers, and, more than once, it was nearly banned as a dangerous stimulant. The amazing story of coffee's rise from an unknown plant to an international phenomenon is the subject of this chapter.
Most experts agree that it was around the third century when the extraordinary powers of coffee first came to light in Abyssinia, known today as Ethiopia, in the province of Kaffa. It was this province, of course, that gave coffee its name. Here's how the legend goes.
One day, a lonely Abyssinian goatherd named Kaldi went searching for his wandering goats. Night was falling. He was tired and he wanted to get the goats home and into the fold so he could have supper with his good wife. It had been a very long day, and Kaldi was drowsy from the heat. He heard his goats bleating excitedly somewhere in the distance. He couldn't imagine what they were up to, but he followed the sounds and found them munching on some small reddish fruits he had never seen before. The animals were frisking and frolicking in a patch of shrubs, making their way from one bush to the next, bleating and eating as they went. Kaldi saw that his goats were full of some kind of super-charged energy, and he couldn't help but laugh at their antics. "Well," thought the goatherd, "it certainly seems that these berries are making my goats very happy. I'm going to try some of these strange fruits myself."
Kaldi plucked a berry and nibbled off a bit. The flesh of the berry was tender and juicy, but not very flavorful. He saw that there were two green seeds inside. "Well," he thought, "my goats are eating the whole fruit, and so will I." The seeds seemed tough, but Kaldi had strong teeth. He popped the rest of the berry into his mouth and crunched down, chewing mightily. By the time he had eaten several more of the fruits, the goatherd realized that he no longer felt tired. In fact, he felt so good that he was tempted to dance along with the goats, but he still wanted his supper. He filled his pouch with the berries. It took him awhile to get the goats on the road home. In fact, he had to give a couple of them a good clout with his stout stick before they would stop munching on the rosy fruits.
After trying a few of the berries herself, Kaldi's good wife shared his enthusiasm and said, piously, that the fruits must truly be a gift from God. "Tomorrow," she told Kaldi, "you must pick some of these miracle berries and take them to the monastery. The monks should know of these wondrous fruits." Kaldi knew she was right, so he carried a pouchful of berries to the monks the very next day. It is written that the monks were greatly inspired after they partook of the rosy, red fruits. They became ever more diligent in their devotionals, and were even more eager and energetic at their work.
While researching this book, I discovered that everyone who has anything to say about coffee relates this little folk tale. Although some accounts attribute the discovery of coffee berries to a shepherd, not a goatherd, I just couldn't imagine sheep frisking and frolicking. Goats, yes. Sheep, no. Sheep graze and have a placid disposition, while goats are adventuresome, curious critters with a reputation for investigating everything and eating anything. Let that be the final word on the subject, coffee lovers. Our gratitude must go to Kaldi and his nosy, noisy goats.
All good stories conclude with "The End," but for coffee, this was just the beginning of an epic saga. It took many hundreds of years for coffee to travel from Abyssinia to the breakfast table of the average American. Let's continue this remarkable journey.
THE OLD WORLD
Now that you have read the legend of Kaldi, you know that the story of coffee began in northeast Africa, where an excited goatherd discovered the plant and introduced it to very appreciative monks. Soon, the monastery became famous for the spirited praying of its coffee-inspired residents. And eventually, the demand for coffee spread throughout the Old World.
Historical records show that there was a thriving trade between Yemen and Africa as early as the fourth century. Authorities say that it was most likely traders who brought coffee to the interior of Arabia sometime in the sixth century. It is written that, early on, the beans were soaked in boiling water and the energizing drink that resulted was much appreciated. The beverage was called gahua or qahwa, which means "that which prevents sleep."
By the year 1000, evidence shows that not all the beans were brewed into a sort of tea. At least some of the green beans were planted, and eventually, coffee plantations were established at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, primarily in the countryside surrounding the city of Mocha, Yemen, just across the Red Sea from Ethiopia. The trees thrived and coffee became an important export; Mocha soon was a very busy port of call for merchant ships. A trader described it in these words:
The city is very populous as it is filled with merchants from the many cities of Islam and The Indies. Because of the staple [coffee], there be thirty-five sailing ships crowded into the harbor, alongside freighters from Suez.
Early on, mocha-like kaffa-was a common name for coffee. Both of these names, of course, were derived from the places where the sought-after beans originated. Mocha's importance to the coffee trade declined with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Today, we recognize mocha not as a major player in the world of coffee, but as the name of a delicious combination of coffee and chocolate-a result of the chocolate aftertaste for which Mocha coffee beans are known worldwide. (You'll learn more about the different coffees of the world in Chapter 5.)
The ancient city of Mocha is where the historical thread unravels. It starts up again several centuries later. Here's what I picked up, a tidbit at a time, to provide a more complete picture of the story of coffee.
For a very long time, only Africa and Arabia grew Coffea arabica, the earliest cultivated species of the coffee plant. By the fifteenth century, Arabia was exporting coffee beans to North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and India. Arabian merchants were especially jealous of their coffee trade and went to great lengths to protect their monopoly. To prevent other countries from growing their profitable product, merchants had the beans parched before exportation, rendering them infertile.
No one seems to know just when the green beans were first roasted or when coffee, as we know it today, was first brewed. However, it seems likely that people eventually noticed that the parched beans made a richer beverage than the fresh beans. It may have been only a short step from parching to roasting.
Sometime in the mid-1400s, coffee made its way to Constantinople, crossroads of the known world, where it was embraced by the Turks. In the private households of the wealthy, coffee was carried to the salon by servants with slippered feet bearing coffee services on brilliantly lacquered trays. The brew was served in tiny exquisite cups, the finest being the Finjan cups from China, with small, elaborately chased silver spoons alongside. Silk napkins finely embroidered with strands of silver and gold thread completed the picture.
In 1453, a coffee shop-the Kiv Han-opened its doors for business in that most cosmopolitan of cities. Records shows that this was the first true coffee shop anywhere. The Turks still love their coffee. (For more information on Turkish coffeehouses, see Chapter 3.)
Coffee had established itself as an important food in one corner of the world. But as the sixteenth century dawned, it would become apparent that not everyone loved the beverage. Even more important, throughout the 1500s, news of the "secret" brew would begin to spread to other portions of the globe.
It was in 1511 that the governor of Mecca, Khair Beg, tried to outlaw coffee. He somehow got it into his head that coffee was too popular, and imagined that its stimulating properties would energize the opposition. What he hadn't counted on was the fact that the sheikh himself was hooked on the stuff. The sheikh had Khair Beg beheaded.
Travelers to coffee-loving countries soon began sampling the brew, and their writings relate their delight. Leonhard Rauwolf, a German adventurer who visited Constantinople in 1573, wrote a passage in his journal attesting to his pleasure upon tasting coffee for the first time. A few years later, in 1580, Prospero Alpinus, a botanist and physician of Padua, Italy, wrote a book in which he recalled his first sight of a coffee tree while visiting foreign lands, and mentioned the "decoction" made with the fruits of the tree. Although the coffee bean itself had not yet travelled to Europe, word of it was beginning to leak out.
The Sufis of Yemen considered coffee a blessing that was given to man to help him better execute his religious duties. Although it's certain that the Sufis had been performing a ritual involving coffee for many centuries, it was in the late 1500s that this practice came to the notice of the outside world through the writings of one Abd al-Ghaffar. This is how the ceremony was described:
They drank kaffa every Monday and Friday eve, putting it in a large vessel made of red clay. Their leader ladled it out with a small dipper and give it to them to drink, passing it to the right, while they recited a ritual phrase such as, "There is no god but God, the Master, the Clear Reality."
The beloved "kaffa" had certainly invaded all areas of life-even religious observance. But it was the leader of another group of believers who would help make coffee the favored beverage of Europe.
Sometime in the early 1600s, a merchant of Venice wrote home, "The Turks have a drink of black color. I will bring some with me to the Italians." When coffee arrived in Italy, it soon became a sensation. No less a personage than the Pope was reportedly enamored of the brew. When devout Catholics urged the Holy Father to ban the drink on the grounds that it was a ritual beverage of Islam, the Pope refused. Instead, he baptized the brew, thereby legitimizing it and "converting" it to an acceptable Christian beverage.
In July of 1669, ambassadors of Mohammed IV, Sultan of the far-flung Byzantine Empire, traveled to Paris bearing gifts for the king. Along with silks and spices, the ambassadors carried several sacks of coffee beans, which were distributed among the king's favorite courtiers. Rich Parisians began making arrangements to import their own beans. Soon, all across Europe, ships' captains who sailed to ports of call in Arabia were inundated with orders for coffee beans.
Coffee was beginning to be more and more commonplace in the drawing rooms and salons of royalty, the aristocracy, and the wealthy, but the common folk had yet to have a taste. That state of affairs ended in 1672, when an enterprising Armenian merchant who made his home in Paris offered coffee to the public for the first time by dispensing steaming cups of the brew at the fair of St. Germaine. The exotic beverage was an immediate hit with the man-and woman-on the street.
Around the same time, a lame street merchant named Candiot began offering coffee on the streets of Paris. By all accounts, he was scrupulously clean and neat and wore a spotless white apron that covered him from shoulder to shoes. With the help of his Arabian companion, Joseph, Candiot walked the streets crying out the wonders of the brew. Between them, they carried a coffeepot, a vessel holding burning charcoal to heat the pot, a pitcher of water, and a basket of serving cups and utensils. Parisians, eager to sample the exotic drink, made the venture a success.
No source seems quite sure how it happened or exactly when it occurred, but at some point in the late 1600s, Arabia lost its monopoly on coffee growing and exportation. (Note that although coffee also grew in Africa, Africa's coffee was not exported.) That's when Baba Budan, an enterprising trader of India, managed to smuggle out seven live coffee beans by binding them to his midsection with a strip of cloth. One source says that Baba Budan planted the seeds in a secluded place in southern India, near a village named Chikmagalgur. However the seeds made their way to India, the resulting trees flourished. It is written that coffee beans harvested from the offspring of the original seven seeds are known as "Old Chik," and that "Old Chik" beans total about one third of India's coffee today.
Indian merchants weren't the only ones who wanted to cut out the middleman and grow their own coffee. By the end of the seventeenth century, many countries were using coffee as both medicine and beverage. In 1690, the Dutch managed to smuggle a living coffee plant out of the port city of Mocha, Yemen. Not long after that, the Dutch established the first European-owned coffee plantations, one in Ceylon and another in their East Indian colony on Java. The Arabian monopoly had been broken.
As the eighteenth century dawned, coffee was no longer considered an exotic taste of the East. Rather, the robust brew was viewed almost as a necessity. Everyone, it seemed, wanted their cup of coffee. And the law of supply and demand being what it is, the price of coffee beans was ready to escalate. Let's set the scene.
Because the Red Sea ports of Egypt were under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman Turks, as rulers of Egypt, controlled much of the shipping trade. Although they had lost what amounted to a monopoly on their spice trade when the Dutch entered the picture, the Turks still had control of coffee exports coming out of Arabia, and they decided to capitalize on this good fortune. In an indignant letter written to a friend in the early 1700s, a Frenchman named Jean de la Roque analyzed the problem:
The potentates of Egypt [the Turks] have become more difficult in letting that commodity [coffee] be transported, which has caused a scarcity and raised the price to six and seven haucks per pound.
The newly inflated coffee prices were considered unconscionable. Everyone agreed that it was becoming increasingly important to find an alternative source of the precious coffee beans. For both individuals and governments, wealth was represented by control of important commodities, such as sugar, tobacco, tea, cotton, and, increasingly, coffee. Holland, England, and France, the great powers of the day, wanted in on the coffee trade. Although by 1706, the Dutch were exporting beans from their coffee plantations established in Java and Ceylon near the end of the 1600s, their yield was small. Clearly, coffee was a commodity with a bright future, and the race was on to establish new, higher yielding plantations.
Even though the European climate was hostile to the fussy tropical plant, the Dutch managed to coax several trees to bear fruit at their Hortus Botanicus arboretum in Amsterdam. An account of the circumstances written by an informant of the times survives, as follows:
The Hollander told us there was a great Coffea tree of the species in the Hortus Botanicus of Amsterdam whose height was equal to a two-story house. This great tree originally came from Arabia, brought while very young, and transported to Java. After some stay there, it came at last to Holland, where it grew to perfection. The fruits of this tree have produced diverse young plants, some of which have borne fruit from the age of three years.
Excerpted from Confessions of a ... Coffee Bean by Marie Nadine Antol Copyright © 2002 by Marie Nadine Antol. Excerpted by permission.
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