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The Book of Coffee & Tea
A Guide to the Appreciation of Fine Coffees, Teas, and Herbal Beverages
By Joel Schapira, David Schapira, Karl Schapira, Meri Shardin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1982 Joel Schapira and Karl Schapira
All rights reserved.
The Story of Coffee
THE ORIGINS OF COFFEE
Coffee was first prepared not as a beverage but as a food. African tribes would use stone mortars to crush the ripe cherries from wild coffee trees, mix them with animal fat, and then fashion this exotic blend into round balls which they consumed on their war parties. This food had two advantages: the fat, combined with raw coffee's high protein content (lost when coffee is prepared as a beverage), provided concentrated nourishment; and the considerable caffeine content of the mixture acted as a stimulant to spur the warriors on to heights of savagery.
Coffee as a beverage appeared next — not in the form that we know it, but as a wine made in Africa from the fermented juice of the ripe cherries mixed with cold water. Or in some cases, the aroma of the dried beans was so attractive to early coffee drinkers that they simply immersed them in cold water and drank the resulting beverage; as a later refinement they crushed the beans. It wasn't until 1000 A.D., when the Arabs learned to boil coffee, that it became a hot drink.
From its first discovery the new drink was shrouded in mystery, imbued with magical properties, and surrounded with controversy. Legends link coffee with doctors, priests, poets, and philosophers. The first coffee drinkers experienced sensations ranging from exhilaration to religious ecstasy.
One legend concerns the adventures of the dervish Omar. Condemned by his enemies to wander and die of starvation in a desert outside the Yemenite port of Mocha, Omar is awakened at midnight by an enormous apparition, the spirit of his dead mentor. He is guided to a coffee tree, where he picks the fruit and roasts the seeds. He then tries to soften them in water, and, when this fails, drinks the liquid. Astounded at his physical and mental feeling of well-being, he introduces the beverage to Mocha where its beneficial effects, attested to by his survival, are considered signs from God.
In another legend Kaldi, a young goatherd, sees his flock prancing and cavorting on their hind legs after eating certain cherries. Being of a melancholy disposition, he resolves to try the fruit himself. A passing monk is astonished one day to see herdsman and flock merrily dancing together in a meadow. After learning Kaldi's secret and adding the refinements of drying and boiling the fruit, the monk uses the new drink to keep awake for night-long religious ceremonies.
So the coffee beverage took on a mythical status — somewhere between that of the manna of the Old Testament and the heady wine of Bacchus — and began to spread throughout the Arab world. At first consumed only on the advice of a physician or as an adjunct to a religious ceremony, the beverage rapidly became popularized. More and more doctors accepted coffee as beneficial and prescribed it to their willing patients. Dervishes introduced the drink at nightlong religious ceremonies in Aden, Yemen, Cairo, and Mecca, where they passed huge jars of coffee around and chanted prayers until the newly risen sun glinted on the hot, dark liquid. Scholars, lawyers, artists, and those who worked at night discovered the delights and beneficial side-effects of coffee. Doctors no longer had to prescribe the drink; coffee was becoming a permanent part of the civilized Eastern world.
To supply the growing demand for the new drink the Arabs developed a simple but effective form of cultivation, starting their coffee plants in nurseries from seed and transferring the young plants to plantations in the foothills of nearby mountains when they were strong enough. An irrigation system of pebble-lined trenches distributed water from the mountain streams among the young coffee trees, and shade poplars protected them from the sun.
Methods of preparation also became more sophisticated as the popularity of coffee grew. Around 1200 A.D., coffee was being prepared as a decoction from the dried hulls of the bean. Soon someone got the idea of roasting the hulls over a charcoal fire. The roasted hulls and a small amount of the silver skins were thrown into boiling water for half an hour, producing a pale yellow liquid. By the sixteenth century further advances had been introduced: the whole bean was roasted on stone trays, then on metal plates; the roasted beans boiled in water produced a strong liquor. Finally the roasted beans were pulverized with a mortar and pestle and the powder combined with boiling water. This decoction was consumed grounds and all, and was the reigning method of coffee preparation for over 300 years.
At the same time as coffee beans were introduced, the Arabs made changes in coffee preparation that greatly improved its flavor. Powdered coffee was steeped in water for a day, and half the liquor was boiled away and then stored in pots to be reheated and served when needed. The invention of the ibrik, or coffee boiler, speeded up the process; powdered coffee, cinnamon, cloves, amber, and sugar were boiled together and the brew was served in tiny china cups. The grounds were allowed to settle and the coffee was sucked up in sips as hot as the human tongue could stand.
When coffee began to lose its purely religious associations, the first coffee houses, or qahveh khaneh, sprang up in Mecca to accommodate secular demand for the beverage. The music, gambling, and free-wheeling social, political, and religious discussions that were a part of Levantine coffee-house life threatened rulers of the sixteenth century. At three different times the government, aided by clerics who saw their congregations deserting the temple for the coffee house, and by doctors who were interested in dispensing coffee as a costly medicine, attempted to shut down the qahveh khaneh. These persecutions eventually failed; coffee was too delicious to be restricted, and since wine was forbidden, water in the Levant was scarce and brackish, and goat's milk hardly palatable, coffee was the perfect thirst-quencher. Finally, the grand viziers realized that the coffee houses could provide an important source of tax revenue.
The cafenets of Constantinople and Damascus were the protoypes of the great Western coffee houses. These Eastern establishments were devoted to enhancing in leisure the sensibilities of the men of the age. Simple and comfortable, with prints and rugs decorating the walls, they were located in cool, pleasant open squares, often with a view onto water or a wide landscape, and represented a welcome refuge from the scorching desert. Friends met here to talk and contemplate life. The excitement of the city was concentrated here; for patrons of the coffee house it was opera and theater combined. Backgammon and chess were played in coffee houses, and it is said the game of bridge originated in the coffee houses of Constantinople.
Once coffee had become popularized in the coffee houses it moved into the home, where the drink took on an ever-increasing importance in the lives of Near Eastern peoples. An elaborate coffee ceremony evolved that rivaled the Japanese Tea Ceremony in complexity, beauty of implements, and decorum, if not in spiritual import. The ceremony took place in the K'hawah, or coffee hall, which featured a charcoal-burning fireplace, decorative rugs and cushions, and ornamental copper coffeepots around the place of honor. The host and his guests exchanged salaams along with formal salutations invoking the blessings of Allah. The host then roasted the green beans, crushed them with a mortar and pestle, and ceremoniously prepared the drink. Dates dipped in butter were served as a refreshment. When the coffee was ready the host poured for everyone and drank the first cup himself, assuring the company there was no "death in the pot."
Coffee touched all aspects of life in the Near East. Arab drivers and laborers had coffee kits in their saddle bags and packs. They would build a fire by the roadside, roast their supply of green beans on an iron plate, pound them in a mortar, and boil the strong, foaming brew in their ibriks. Merchants served coffee to their customers before the bargaining began. Barbers gave it to patrons waiting for haircuts. And Turkish wives could legally divorce a husband who failed to supply them with the all-important beverage.
THE SPREAD OF THE COFFEE BEAN
It is probable that Italy, and more specifically Venice, was the first part of Europe to become acquainted with coffee. Venetian fleets plied the waters of the world and had a tremendous trade in silks, spices, perfumes, and dyes with the East; coffee, imported from Constantinople, probably came to Europe as part of this trade. When the drink reached Rome, fanatic priests attacked it with such virulence that it was almost forbidden to the Christian world. The priests maintained that coffee was the drink of the Devil. Since Moslems were forbidden the use of wine — a drink sanctified by Christ and used in the Holy Communion — Satan, leader of the infidels, had invented coffee as a substitute. Were Christians to drink this hellish brew, the priests reasoned, they would risk eternal damnation. Towards the end of the sixteenth century Pope Clement VIII asked that the beverage be brought before him in order to settle the dispute. Attracted by its characteristic pungent aroma, he took a sip and found it delightful. He realized that to allow coffee to be banished from the Christian world would be a sin indeed and, turning the tables on Satan, baptized it on the spot.
The Pope's blessing quickened the flow of coffee throughout Italy and made it possible for that country to open the first western coffee houses. These were at first plain, unadorned, windowless, rather dimly lit rooms. Slowly they became an integral part of Italian life. They were patronized in the mornings by doctors, merchants, and artisans, and in the afternoons and evenings by the leisure classes and the ladies, and soon became vivacious centers of business, politics, and gossip.
The English did not become acquainted wtih coffee in their homeland until nearly a century later, well after their explorers had encountered it on journeys to the East. In 1599 Anthony Sherley, an English adventurer, set sail for Persia to convince the Shah to join forces with the West against the Turks, and to foster British trade interests. An account of the expedition contains the first mention by an Englishman of coffee drinking in the Orient; it tells of "damned infidells drinking a certaine liquor, which they do call Coffe." In following years of the seventeenth century the English seamen Captain John Smith and Francis Bacon described coffee in their travel books. Robert Burton, English philosopher and humorist, painted a pen portrait of Turkish coffee houses, and Sir Henry Blount, "the father of the English coffee house," told of his coffee-drinking experiences in Turkey and Egypt.
When Cyrill, Patriarch of Constantinople, was strangled by the vizier in 1637, his disciple Conopios fled in terror to England. A native of Crete trained in the Greek Church, Conopios was given sanctuary by Archbishop Laud, who made a place for him at Balliol College, Oxford. Every morning he would take coffee, and as the strong fragrant brew passed his lips we may imagine the fugitive cleric offering a silent prayer for his murdered mentor while giving thanks for his own deliverance. Conopios' escape is the earliest reliable date given for coffee's entry into England, although it is probable, given the many previous descriptions of it by writers and travelers, and the vast trade between the Orient and the British Isles, that coffee was introduced into England somewhat earlier.
Coffee became a great favorite with the students who formed the Oxford Coffee Club, which was later to become the Royal Society. The first coffee house in London was opened by Pasqua Rosée in 1652, and other coffee houses were soon to be seen in many cities throughout Great Britain.
Coffee first came to France in 1660, when several merchants of Marseilles, who had acquired the habit of drinking the beverage while living in the Levant, decided they could not forgo the pleasure of having it at home. So they brought beans with them and soon were importing coffee commercially in bales from Egypt. The merchants of Lyons followed a similar pattern. In 1671 the first coffee house was opened in Marseilles. The spread of coffee through France was fought by the wine makers and doctors; the former feared its popularity would change the drinking habits of Frenchmen and cut into their profits, while the latter wanted to retain control over experimentation with and dispensation of the new beverage, thus keeping it at the level of a rare medicine.
The drink's popularity won out, and coffee received its final approbation in the Paris of Louis XIV in 1669, when the Turkish ambassador, Suleiman Aga, began holding flamboyant coffee parties for the French nobility. These elaborate bashes were held in an opulent rented palace and were fueled by Suleiman Aga's enormous personal coffee supply. These exotic affairs are described by Isaac D'Israeli in his Curiosities of Literature:
On bended knee, the black slaves of the Ambassador, arrayed in the most gorgeous Oriental costumes served the choicest Mocha coffee in tiny cups of egg-shell porcelain, hot, strong and fragrant, poured out in saucers of gold and silver, placed on embroidered silk doylies fringed with gold bullion, to the grand dames, who fluttered their fans with many grimaces, bending their piquant faces — be-rouged, be-powdered and be-patched — over the new and steaming beverage.
Captain John Smith, who founded the colony of Virginia at Jamestown in 1607 and who knew of coffee from his Turkish travels, was probably the first to introduce the beverage to North America. The cargo list of the Mayflower carried this item: a wooden mortar and pestle used for grinding coffee powder. It is quite likely that Dutch New Amsterdam was familiar with coffee, but not until 1668, when the town was called New York, does the earliest reference to coffee appear. Mention is made of a drink made from roasted beans and flavored with sugar or honey and cinnamon. In 1683 William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was aghast at the price he was forced to pay for a pound of coffee from New York: 18 shillings 8 pence, or the equivalent of $4.65. It can readily be seen why the early colonists made do with beverages prepared from herbs, spicewood, sassafras root, and other shrubs.
As coffee cultivation spread and travel to the East increased, coffee drinking came to Europe, spurred by the tales and by samples brought to the continent by enthusiastic returned voyagers. But it wasn't the people like Suleiman Aga, Conopios, and John Smith who popularized coffee as much as the little businessmen — the Italian lemonade vendors who added coffee to their other refreshments; Pascal, an Armenian who first sold coffee in the streets of Paris from a tent in the fair of St. Germain; and countless unnamed peddlers who spread throughout the streets of Europe carrying on their backs the gleaming tools of their trade — coffeepots, trays, cups, spoons and sugar. These men bore the steaming, potent gospel of coffee beyond the boundaries of the East to the as yet uninitiated West.
A colorful story is told of how one of these peddlers got his start and introduced coffee to Vienna. On July 7, 1683, the city of Vienna was surrounded by 300,000 Turkish troops led by Kara Mustafa. The capture of Vienna was to be the first step in the plan of Mohammed IV to annihilate Christendom and occupy Europe. Vienna was completely sealed off from the rest of the world, but Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I had escaped before the final closing of the trap and was waiting nearby with an army of 33,000 Austrians for the promised aid of King John Sobieski of Poland. Count Rüdiger von Starhemberg, commander of the besieged city, called for a volunteer to slip through the Turkish lines with a message to the Emperor: hurry!
Franz George Kolschitzky, a Polish adventurer who had lived for many years among the Turks and spoke their language, stepped up to offer his services. Putting on a Turkish uniform, he started on his perilous journey. Infiltrating enemy lines and swimming the Danube, he reached the friendly forces outside the capital. After receiving assurances of rescue, he returned to Vienna to relay the good news and raise the failing spirits of the defenders. As the siege continued Kolschitzky served as intermediary between city and camp, until finally King John arrived with his supporting troops and the Christian forces were poised for the attack. A final time Kolschitzky returned to Vienna with the signals for the start of the battle. At that instant the Viennese troops were to mount a charge of their own from inside the walls of the town.
The battle was a stunning victory for Christendom. The Turks fled, leaving behind an enormous amount of gold, equipment, and supplies, among which were numerous sacks of an all but unknown substance — green coffee. When the spoils were distributed no one wanted the coffee. Kolschitzky, who had lived among the Turks and so knew the value of the strange beans, offered to take them off the soldiers' hands. Within a short time the enterprising courier was selling the drink in the streets and from house to house. Soon afterward he opened the first coffee house in Vienna, The Blue Bottle.
Excerpted from The Book of Coffee & Tea by Joel Schapira, David Schapira, Karl Schapira, Meri Shardin. Copyright © 1982 Joel Schapira and Karl Schapira. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword to the Second Revised Edition,
1. The Story of Coffee,
2. How Coffee Is Grown,
3. Brown Gold: The Roasting Process,
4. Varieties of Coffee,
5. Making Coffee,
1. The Story of Tea,
2. How Tea Is Grown,
3. Making the Leaf: The Manufacture Process,
4. Varieties of Tea,
5. The Art of Tea and Tea Drinking,
6. Tea Recipes and Tea Fortunes,
1. Definitions, History, Cultivation, and Uses,
2. A Catalogue of Herbal Teas,
About the Authors,