Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coffee 101

Coffee lovers often take their daily fix for granted. You may know you love the taste of this great beverage, but how much do you really know about the stuff?

Ever wonder where all the different types come from? Wonder why it is sometimes called java? Heck - where does it come from anyway?

References to coffee drinking in America date back to 1668 and not surprising there was a spread of the coffee-houses thereafter. The coffee-house has played a significant role in American history. In fact, The Boston Tea Party was planned in a coffee-house. I have long thought that the popularity of coffee over tea in America was part of a larger cultural rejection of British culture that goes back to the Tea party of 1773, but I haven't seen anything to prove this.

Globally, its origins go back even further in time. Thought to originate in the Horn of Africa way back in the 12th Century, it is said that the fruit of the plant was called "coffee-cherries." Arabs of the time attempted to impose a ban on the export of coffee plants, but the clever Dutch found their way around this ban in 1616 and managed to cultivate some plants in greenhouses in the Netherlands.

By the late 1600s, the Dutch were expanding and colonizing around the world and they spread the cultivation of this great plant as they went. It's the Dutch who are responsible for coffee growth in both India and Java (now Indonesia). The British brought it to Jamaica, where some of the most expensive brands in the world originate.

We can thank the Dutch for spreading coffee around the world because they became the great supplier of coffee internationally. Today, coffee is second only to oil as a global traded commodity and is responsible for as much as 50% of the foreign exchange income of some developing countries.

Although coffee is grown around the world, its unique flavor for each region comes from their soil and growing conditions.

North American coffee typically comes from the Vera Cruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas regions of Mexico and tends to have a sharp taste. By contrast, Hawaiian coffees often called Kona coffee has a smooth, medium body taste.

Central American varieties from Costa Rica are wet processed. Many believe they have the perfect balance. These coffees are known as Arabicas. Guatemalan coffee in particular is known for its rich and distinctive flavor.

South American coffees come mostly from Colombia and Brazil - these have a reputation for mild flavor and a balanced acidity.

Asian coffees from Indonesia are where we get the name Java for coffee. The Java coffees are said to have low acidity and a rich full body. Some coffees get their names from the islands upon which they grow - Sulawesi and Sumatra for example is both islands and coffee names.

Kenyan coffees are well-known by most everyone. These coffees grow at the base of Mount Kenya and are said to have a sharp, fruity acid taste and full body.

And if you love espresso, you should know that the most robust coffees in the world are grown on the Ivory Coast. Dark roasted and strong, this coffee is most often found in espresso blends.

So there you have it - a primer on coffee. Now you can order your daily caffeine fix with just a bit more knowledge under your belt.

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