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The history of coffee

The history of coffee can be traced at least as early as the 9th century, in the highlands of Ethiopia. From there it spread to Egypt and Yemen, and by the fifteenth century had reached Persia, Egypt, Turkey, and northern Africa.

From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Europe, where it became popular during the seventeenth century. The Dutch were the first to start the large scale importation of coffee into Europe, and eventually smuggled out some seedlings in 1690, as the Arabs were not allowed to export the plants or unroasted seeds. This led to coffee growing in Java, which was owned by the Dutch. In 1538, Leonhard Rauwolf, a German physician, having returned from a ten-year trip to the Near East, gave this description of coffee:

“ 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. ”

When coffee reached the American colonies, it was initially not as successful as it had been in Europe, as colonists found it a poor substitute for alcohol. However, during the Revolutionary War, the demand for coffee increased to such an extent that dealers had to hoard their scarce supplies of it and raise prices dramatically; part of this is due to the reduced availability of tea from British merchants. Americans' taste for coffee grew during the early nineteenth century, following the War of 1812, which had temporarily cut off access to tea imports, and high demand during the American Civil War as well as many advancements in brewing technology cemented the position of coffee as an everyday commodity in America. Coffee is consumed often for breakfast.

Coffee seed types

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. 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.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. Other species include Coffea liberica and Coffea esliaca, believed to be indigenous to Liberia and southern Sudan respectively.

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 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; Latin America, East Africa/Arabia and Asia/Pacific. Beans from different countries or regions usually have distinctive characteristics such as flavour (flavour 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).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.

A peaberry, (also sometimes called a "Caracoli"[citation needed] bean) is a coffee bean 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.

Processing and roasting

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 in a roasted state, and the roasting process has a considerable 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.

Coffee roasting is a complicated chemical process that creates the distinctive flavor of coffee from a bland bean. Unroasted beans contain 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. One of these aromatic oils is caffeol, which is largely responsible for coffee's aroma and flavor.

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