December 27, 2010

A Brief History of Coffee

This a sampling of Mokah’s new barista training manual. I thought I would start it out right with a little history (borrowed from The Coffee Book: Anatomy of an Industry From Crop to the Last Drop). Give us some feedback (like or dislike) via e-mail :!!


Contrary to popular belief, coffee has been around since before the times of Starbucks. Coffee has a history all its own, and to start this manual off on the right foot we will give you a brief overview of what, exactly, that history entails.

It is traditionally held that the first “users” of this wonderfully caffeinated drug were the nomadic mountain warriors of the Galla tribe in Ethiopia (the home of the coffee plant). Some 400 years (give or take a few hundred) before coffee was roasted and ground to make the popular drink, the beans were crushed and rolled into balls of animal fat which the nomads ate for some quick energy while on long treks. The fat combined with the caffeine and protein (found in the raw bean) made for a nice, although primitive, energy bar.

Another story surrounding the origin of the use of coffee holds that a young goat herder named Kaldi sampled some of this mysterious “red fruit” after noticing that his goats were eating it and acting strangely. Upon sampling the fruit, he himself gained a burst of energy and started to dance around with his goats! Kaldi started to indulge in this little fruit every day and soon caught the eye of a monk who decided to try it for himself. The monk thought he would boil the berries and make a drink to serve at the monastery, and before long devout monks were using the drink to stay alert during long nighttime prayers.

However coffee was first discovered, by the late 16th century it was a world-wide phenomenon that had become wildly popular as a cure for many ailments. Because of the prohibition of alcohol in Islamic countries coffee became a popular alternative, and people from all over Europe began to travel to the Middle East just to try this “drink they call Chaube [coffee].” This was also around the time the first coffeehouses were erected. In that day they were centers for people to gather, play chess, make music, sing, dance, and drink coffee. Coffeehouses were known as “schools of the cultured” and were popular among all different classes of people.

Although it was becoming widely known, coffee was an exclusive export of the Middle East until an Indian traveler named Baba Budan successfully smuggled out the first germinable seeds. Before then, those growing and selling the product were taking extreme measures to guard this hot commodity. They were not only prohibiting tours of the farms, but also boiling the raw beans before shipping them out to destroy their potential to germinate. Shortly after Baba Budan’s successful smuggling, Dutch spies did the same and started growing colonies in the Java region. This made coffee’s prevalence in the lives of countless people inevitable.

Coffeehouses were soon opening in England, and by 1715 there were 2,000 shops in London alone. Coffee in England is an interesting part of the story because of England’s high esteem for the drink as a healing agent. One doctor, in 1785, claimed that drinking coffee could cure one of an addiction to Opium. Coffee houses were multi-class in England, and this was one of the things that made it so appealing. One could always stroll into a coffee shop and find a variety of happenings going on.

The coffeehouse found a permanent spot in the lives of people a long time ago, and carries with it many more interesting facts (it is even rumored that the Boston Tea Party was planned in a coffeehouse). Today coffee remains a staple in the lives of many, and now you, by learning and refining the skills of a barista, will get to partake in its rich and diverse history.