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A cup of coffee
A cup of coffee


Coffee is a popular beverage prepared from the roasted seeds – commonly referred to as beans – of the coffee plant. It is usually served hot but can also be served cold. A typical 7 fluid ounce (ca. 207 mL) cup of coffee contains 80-140 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the method of preparation.[1] Coffee represents 71% of all the United States caffeine consumption followed by soft drinks and tea.[2] Coffee, along with tea and water, is one of the most frequently-drunk beverages, its volume amounting to about a third that of tap water.[3] In 2003, coffee was the world's sixth largest agricultural export in terms of value, behind wheat, maize, soybeans, palm oil and sugar.[4]

Etymology and history

The history of coffee begins in the 9th century. It originated in the highlands of Ethiopia and spread to the rest of the world via Egypt and Europe.[5] The word coffee is believed to be derived from the word Kaffa, a region in Ethiopia where coffee originated. Later through its expansion, the name later evolved into Arabic word قهوة Qah'wa, over Ottoman Turkish Kahve, which originally meant wine or other intoxicating liquors. In the 15th century, Muslims introduced coffee in Persia, Egypt, northern Africa and Turkey, where the first coffeehouse, Kiva Han, opened in 1475 in Constantinople. The stimulant effect of drinking coffee caused it to be forbidden among orthodox and conservative imams in Mecca in 1511 and in Cairo in 1532 by a theological court. In Egypt, coffeehouses and warehouses containing coffee cherries were sacked. But the product's popularity, particularly among intellectuals, led to the reversal of this decision in 1524 by an order of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Selim I.[6]

From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Europe, where it became popular in the 17th century. Dutch traders were the first to start the large scale importation of coffee into Europe. In 1538, Léonard Rauwolf, a German physician, having come back from a ten-year trip in the Near East, was the first westerner to describe the brew:[7]

A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach. Its consumers take it in the morning, quite frankly, in a porcelain cup that is passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed of water and the fruit from a bush called bunnu.

These remarks were noted by merchants, who were sensitive to this kind of information through experience in the commerce of spices. English coffeehouses were centers of intellectual and commercial activity. Lloyds of London, the famous insurance firm, was originally a coffeehouse.[8]

Coffee seed types

Coffea arabica—Brazil
Coffea arabica—Brazil

There are two main species of the coffee plant, Coffea arabica being the older one. Coffee is thought to be indigenous to south-western Ethiopia, specifically from Kaffa, from which it may have acquired its name.[9] While more susceptible to disease, it is considered by most to taste better than the second species, Coffea canephora (robusta). Robusta, which contains about 40-50% more caffeine, can be cultivated in environments where arabica will not thrive and probably originated in Uganda.[9] This has led to its use as an inexpensive substitute for arabica in many commercial coffee blends. Compared to arabica, robusta tends to be bitter and has little flavor, with a telltale "burnt rubber" or "wet cardboard" aroma and flavor. Good quality robustas are used in some espresso blends to provide a better "crema" (foamy head), and to lower the ingredient cost. In Italy, many espresso blends are based on dark-roasted robusta. The large industrial roasters use a steam treatment process to remove undesirable flavors from robusta beans for use in mass-marketed coffee blends.[10] Other species include Coffea liberica and Coffea esliaca, believed to be indigenous to Liberia and southern Sudan respectively.[9]

Arabica coffees were traditionally named by the port they were exported from, the two oldest being Mocha, from Yemen, and Java, from Indonesia. The modern coffee trade is much more specific about origin, labeling coffees by country, region, and sometimes even the producing estate. Varietal[11] is a botanical term denoting a taxonomic category ranking below species, a designation more specific than arabica or robusta and unrelated to the coffee's place of origin. Coffees consisting entirely of beans from a single varietal, bourbon, for example, are generally referred to as such, along with a reference to their place of origin (as in: Rwanda Blue Bourbon). Coffee aficionados may even distinguish auctioned coffees by lot number.

Most arabica coffee beans originate from one of three growing regions; Central America, East Africa/Arabia and Asia/Pacific. Beans from different countries or regions usually have distinctive characteristics such as flavor (flavor criteria include terms such as "citrus-like" or "earthy"), aroma (sometimes "berry-like" or "flowery"), body or mouthfeel, and acidity. Acidity refers to a tangy or clean-tasting quality, typically present in washed or wet processed coffees. It does not refer to a coffee's pH level. (Black coffee has a pH of around 5).[12] These distinguishing taste characteristics are dependent not only on the coffee's growing region, but also on its method of process and genetic subspecies or varietal.[13]

A peaberry, (also sometimes called a "Caracoli" bean) is a coffee bean that that develops singly inside the coffee cherry instead of the usual pair of beans. This situation occurs 5-10% of the time. Since flavour is concentrated when only a single bean is grown inside the cherry, these beans (especially Arabica) are highly prized.[14]

Processing and roasting

Roasted coffee beans
Roasted coffee beans

Much processing and human labour is required before coffee berries and its seed can be processed into the roasted coffee with which most Western consumers are familiar. Coffee berries must be picked, defruited, dried, sorted, and—in some processes—also aged.

Coffee is usually sold roasted, and the roasting process has a great degree of influence on the taste of the final product. All coffee is roasted before being consumed. Coffee can be sold roasted by the supplier; alternatively it can be home roasted.

Everyday alchemy, coffee roasting coaxes golden flavor from a bland bean. Unroasted beans boast all of coffee’s acids, protein, and caffeine—but none of its taste. It takes heat to spark the chemical reactions that turn carbohydrates and fats into aromatic oils, burn off moisture and carbon dioxide, and alternately break down and build up acids, unlocking the characteristic coffee flavor.


Espresso brewing
Espresso brewing

The processing of coffee typically refers to the agricultural and industrial processes needed to deliver whole roasted coffee beans to the consumer. Grinding the roasted coffee beans is done at a roastery, in a grocery store, or at home. It is most commonly ground at the roastery and sold to the consumer ground and packaged, though "whole-bean" coffee that is ground at home is becoming more popular despite the extra effort required. A grind is referred to by its brewing method. "Turkish" grind, the finest, is meant for mixing straight with water, while the coarsest grinds, such as coffee percolator or French press, are at the other extreme. Midway between the extremes are the most common: "drip" and "paper filter" grinds, which are used in the most common home coffee brewing machines. The "drip" machines operate with near-boiling water passed in a slow stream through the ground coffee in a paper filter. The espresso method uses more advanced technology to force very hot (not boiling) water, through the ground coffee, resulting in a stronger flavor and chemical changes with more coffee bean matter in the drink. Once brewed, it may be presented in a variety of ways: on its own, with sugar, with milk or cream, hot or cold, and so on. Roasted arabica beans are also eaten plain and covered with chocolate. See the article on coffee preparation for a comprehensive list.

A number of products are sold for the convenience of consumers who don't want to prepare their own coffee. Instant coffee has been dried into soluble powder or freeze dried into granules, which can be quickly dissolved in hot water for consumption. Canned coffee is a beverage that has been popular in Asian countries for many years, particularly in Japan and South Korea. Vending machines typically sell a number of varieties of canned coffee, available both hot and cold. To match the often busy life of Korean city dwellers, companies mostly have canned coffee with a wide variety of tastes. Japanese convenience stores and groceries also have a wide availability of plastic-bottled coffee drinks, which are typically lightly sweetened and pre-blended with milk. Lastly, liquid coffee concentrate is sometimes used in large institutional situations where coffee needs to be produced for thousands of people at the same time. It is described as having a flavor about as good as low-grade robusta coffee, and costs about 10 cents a cup to produce. The machines used to process it can handle up to 500 cups an hour, or 1,000 if the water is preheated.[15]

Economics of coffee

Coffee being ground at a coffee shop in Chennai, India
Coffee being ground at a coffee shop in Chennai, India

Coffee is one of the world's most important primary commodities due to being one of the world's most popular beverages. In total, 6.7 million tonnes of coffee were produced annually in 1998-2000, and the forecast is a rise to 7 million tonnes annually by 2010.[16] Coffee also has several types of classifications used to determine environmental and labor standards.

Shade-trees in Orosí, Costa Rica. After the harvest, they are pruned
Shade-trees in Orosí, Costa Rica. After the harvest, they are pruned
Unroasted Coffee (Coffea Arabica) - Brazil
Unroasted Coffee (Coffea Arabica) - Brazil
Unroasted Coffee (Coffea Canephora / Robusta)
Unroasted Coffee (Coffea Canephora / Robusta)

Brazil remains the largest coffee exporting nation, but in recent years the green coffee market has been flooded by large quantities of robusta beans from Vietnam.[17] Many experts believe the giant influx of cheap green coffee after the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement of 1975-1989 with Cold War pressures led to the prolonged pricing crisis from 2001 to 2004.[18] In 1997 the "c" price of coffee in New York broke US$3.00/lb, but by late 2001 it had fallen to US$0.43/lb. Robusta coffees (traded in London at much lower prices than New York's Arabica) are preferred by large industrial clients (multinational roasters, instant coffee producers, etc.) because of their lower cost.

The preference of the "Big Four" coffee companies for cheap robusta is believed by many to have been a major contributing factor to the crash in coffee prices,[19] and the demand for high-quality arabica beans is only slowly recovering. After the crash, many coffee farmers in Africa, Indonesia and South and Central America lost their livelihoods, or turned to illicit crops such as coca to earn a living. The Dutch brand 'Max Havelaar' started the concept of fair trade Labelling, which attempted to remedy the situation by guaranteeing coffee growers a negotiated pre-harvest price; many smaller roasters and recently Procter & Gamble and Starbucks have joined Fair Trade.[20] Another issue with coffee is ecological: the American Birding Association has led a campaign for sustainably harvested, shade-grown and organic coffees vs. the newer mono-cropped full-sun varieties, which lead to deforestation and loss of bird habitat.[21]

Coffee ingestion on average is about a third that of tap water in most of North America and Europe.[3] In 2002 in the US, coffee consumption was 22.1 gallons per person.[22]

Health and pharmacology of coffee

Many studies have been performed on the relationship between coffee consumption and many medical conditions, ranging from diabetes and cardiovascular disease to cancer and cirrhosis. Studies are contradictory as to whether coffee has any specific health benefits, and results are similarly conflicting with respect to negative effects of coffee consumption.[23] In addition, it is often unclear whether these risks or benefits are linked to caffeine or whether they are to be attributed to other chemical substances found in coffee (and whether decaffeinated coffee carries the same benefits or risks).

One fairly consistent finding has been the reduction of diabetes mellitus type 2 in coffee consumers, an association that cannot be explained by the caffeine content alone and indeed may be stronger in decaffeinated coffee.[24]

Recently, coffee was found to reduce the chances of developing cirrhosis of the liver: the consumption of 1 cup a day was found to reduce the chances by 20%, and 4 cups a day reduced the chances by 80%.[25]

Social aspects of coffee

Coffeehouse in Damascus
Coffeehouse in Damascus

Coffee plays an important role in many societies throughout the world today. From the coffeehouses of the 16th century, to the modern day cafés, coffee has had a profound impact on the lifestyles of people from all walks of life. When it first appeared in Africa and Yemen, it was commonly used as a type of religious intoxicant. This usage in religious rites among the Sufi branch of Islam led to it being put on trial in Mecca for being a "heretic" substance much as wine was. It was briefly repressed at this point, and was later part of a larger ban in Ottoman Turkey under an edict that led to the death of thousands of people.[26] Its early association in Europe with rebellious political activities led to its banning in England, among other places.[27]

In India the Indian Coffee Houses became an icon of the worker's struggle. This restaurant chain is now owned by the workers of ICHs, as a result of the struggle performed by the thrown-out workers from the Coffee Houses of Coffee Board. This struggle was led by famed Communist leader of India A. K. Gopalan. Thus the ICHs became the meeting places of the progressive-minded in India later.

Other uses

Spent coffee grounds are a good fertilizer in gardens because of their high nitrogen content. Starbucks, and some other coffee shops, have a specific policy of giving away their used coffee grounds to gardeners. While they tend to be only slightly acidic, they also tend to improve the acidity of garden soil through the same chemical processes that make sawdust a good fertilizer. Coffee grounds raise soil acidity sooner if they are added fresh, instead of after brewing. Likewise, coffee diluted with four times its volume of water can be used to amend soil acidity, especially useful for tomatoes, chili peppers, blueberries, and other plants that like high soil acidity.

The grounds are also used as bait in "Vegas roach traps".

Some use coffee to create art. Latte art involves designs in the foam of espresso-based drinks. Arfé is the use of coffee as a coloring for painting or other visual effects.

See also


  1. ^ Erowid (2006). Caffeine Content of Beverages, Foods, & Medications. Retrieved on 2006-10-16.
  2. ^ Traister, Rebecca. Glamour Magazine. October 2006.
  3. ^ a b Villanueva1, Cristina M., Cantor, Kenneth P.; King, Will D.; Jaakkola, Jouni J. K.; Cordier, Sylvaine; Lynch, Charles F.; Porru, Stefano; Kogevinas, Manolis (2006). "Total and specific fluid consumption as determinants of bladder cancer risk". International Journal of Cancer 118 (8): 2040–2047. DOI:10.1002/ijc.21587. Retrieved on 2006-08-02.
  4. ^ FAOSTAT Agriculture Data. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved on 2005-10-31.
  5. ^ John K. Francis Coffea arabica L. RUBIACEAE Factsheet of U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
  6. ^ J. E. Hanauer (1907). “About Coffee”, Folk-lore of the Holy Land, 291. “(...) [All] the coffee-houses [were] closed, and their keepers pelted with the sherds of their pots and cups. This was in 1524, but by an order of Selìm I., the decrees of the learned were reversed, the disturbances in Egypt quieted, the drinking of coffee declared perfectly orthodox”.
  7. ^ Léonard Rauwolf. Reise in die Morgenlander (in German).
  8. ^ Lloyd's. Chronology. About Us. Retrieved on 2006-10-17. “Edward Lloyd opened a coffee house [in London] in 1688, encouraging a clientele of ships' captains, merchants and ship owners - earning him a reputation for trustworthy shipping news”
  9. ^ a b c Mekete Belachew, "Coffee," in von Uhlig, Siegbert, ed., Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (Weissbaden: Horrowitz, 2003), p.763.
  10. ^ Process for improving the quality of Robusta coffee - US Patent 5019413. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
  11. ^ Dictionary Version 1.0.1 (1.0.1) Copyright © 2005 Apple Computer, Inc.,
  12. ^ pH Scale: Some Common Solutions - Chart - MSN Encarta. Retrieved on 2006-07-23.
  13. ^ The Perfect Cup, by Timothy James Castle; Coffee: A Guide to Buying Brewing and Enjoying, 5th Edition, by Kenneth Davids
  14. ^ Feature Article: Peaberry Coffee. Retrieved on 2006-11-10.
  15. ^ Regarding liquid coffee concentrate: Wall Street Journal, March 21st, 2005, page C4, Commodities Report
  16. ^ FAO (2003). Coffee. Medium-term prospects for agricultural commodities. Projections to the year 2010. Retrieved on 2006-10-16. “Global output is expected to reach 7.0 million tonnes (117 million bags) by 2010 compared to 6.7 million tonnes (111 million bags) in 1998 - 2000”
  17. ^ "Vietnam has played a major role in the increase of global coffee supply", "Nearly all coffee grown in Vietnam is of the Robusta variety"
  18. ^ amsterdam coffee shop, amsterdam coffee shop information. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
  19. ^ CoffeeGeek - So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
  20. ^ Fair Trade Coffee. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Bottled water pours past competition - Brief Article DSN Retailing Today - Find Articles. Retrieved on 2006-07-23.
  23. ^ Kummer, Corby (2003). The Joy of Coffee, pp 160-165.
  24. ^ Pereira MA, Parker ED, Folsom AR. (2006). "Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.". Arch Intern Med 166 (12): 1311-1316. PMID 16801515.
  25. ^ Klatsky, Arthur L., Morton, Cynthia, Udaltsova, Natalia, Friedman, Gary D. (12 June 2006). "Coffee, Cirrhosis, and Transaminase Enzymes". Archives of Internal Medicine 166 (11): 1190–1195. DOI:10.1001/archinte.166.11.1190.
  26. ^ Hopkins, Kate (2006-03-24). Food Stories: The Sultan's Coffee Prohibition. Retrieved on 2006-09-12.
  27. ^ Allen, Stewart. "The Devil's Cup".


  • Allen, Stewart Lee. The Devil's Cup. Random House
  • Chambers, Robert (1869). Chambers' Book of Days for January 27, retrieved February 21, 2006.
  • Erowid (2006)Caffeine Content of Beverages, Foods, & Medications retrieved October 16, 2002.
  • Francis, John K. Coffea arabica L. RUBIACEAE Factsheet of U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
  • Hanauer, J.E. (1907). Folk-lore of the Holy Land.
  • Jacob, Heinrich Eduard: Coffee. The Epic of a Commodity. Short Hills: Burford Books, 1998. ISBN 1-58080-070-X. (Introduction: Lynn Alley).
  • (German)Mai, Marina. "Boom für die Bohnen" in Jungle World Nr. 1, 2006/January 4, 2006. ISSN 1613-0766.
  • Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World, Basic Books, 1999. ISBN 0-465-05467-6
  • (German)Rauwolf, Léonard. Reise in die Morgenlander.
  • Traister, Rebecca. Glamour Magazine. October 2006.
  • United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. FAOSTAT Agriculture Data Accessed October 31, 2005.
  • Villanueva1, et al. (2006) Total and specific fluid consumption as determinants of bladder cancer risk. International Journal of Cancer 118(8):2040–2047

External links

  • Coffee & Conservation - Many resources on sustainable coffee, including reviews, especially shade coffee and biodiversity
  • Benjamin Joffe-Walt and Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, 16 September 2005, "Coffee trail" - from Ethiopian village of Choche to London coffee shop
  • Coffee news page - Alcohol and Drugs History Society
  • - Espresso Shorts - Short Films Inspired by the Coffee Ritual

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