How Well Do You Know Your Favorite Bean?
That’s a trick question, by the way. Coffee isn’t actually a bean; it’s a stone fruit, like cherries and plums. But seriously, how well do you know your coffee?
You might not put too much thought into the series of events that brought that delicious, stimulating beverage through the mists of time and into your coffee cup, but as it turns out, coffee has a very interesting backstory.
Let’s step into our caffeine-powered time machine and make a few stops along the timeline of everyone’s favorite pick-me-up beverage.
The World’s First Energy Bar
According to coffee historians, the very first coffee plants originated on the shores of the Red Sea, in the Horn of Africa. East African warriors would grind the cherries and mix them with animal fat. Then, they’d roll the resulting paste into little balls, and would pop a few before battle to amp themselves up.
The Tale of Kaldi and the Rambunctious Goats
An apocryphal legend tells of a 6th century goat herder named Kaldi, who noticed that his flock seemed to really relish the coffee cherries. After dining on the ripe, red fruit, they’d frolic in the fields for hours. So, he decided to try those strange berries for himself. And wow – they really packed a wallop!
Knowing there was something magical about them, he went to the local monastery to share his discovery with the learned monks. After some experimentation, they discovered that they could make a deliciously invigorating hot beverage by roasting, grinding, and boiling the beans. Voila! Coffee was born.
Word Travels Fast
The monks shared their secret with other monks, and over the years, coffee’s popularity grew and grew. By the 15th century, coffee cultivation was in full swing, and coffee houses had opened their doors throughout the Arab world.
Coffee became a valuable cash crop, and the coffee magnates of Yemen were eager to maintain control. After all, if everyone could grow coffee, theirs wouldn’t be nearly as valuable. They outlawed the export of fertile coffee cherries to prevent anybody else from encroaching on their monopoly.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. An Indian pilgrim named Baba Budan masterminded the first known successful coffee heist during the 17th century.
In the early 1600s, Dutch traders absconded with fertile beans and hightailed it back to Holland from the Yemeni port at Mocha. Before too long, they’d set up coffee plantations in Java, Timor, Ceylon, Sumatra, and Bali. From those places, it made its way to the West Indies, Jamaica, and Brazil.
As coffee spread, so did the concept of the coffee house – a place where patrons from all walks of life could gather to talk politics, conduct business, and hold forth on the issues of the day. Coffee houses caught on in metropolitan cities throughout Europe and eventually America.
Modern Coffee Comes in Waves
Of course, the story of coffee doesn’t end in the 1700s. Since then, the coffee world has undergone continual evolution.
The first wave of coffee started in the 1800s. It was all about mass production, convenience, and innovation. This was the era that brought us instant coffee, vacuum packaging, and household-name brands like Folgers and Maxwell House.
The second wave brought an increased appreciation for specialty coffee beans and coffee connoisseurship. It was a time of cross-cultural pollination that introduced lattes, espresso, and the French press to coffee lovers everywhere. In time however, the second wave became more about the branding and the social experience than the coffee itself. Big second-wave names include Starbucks, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, and Caribou.
In the third wave, the art and science of coffee is the main event. Increased transparency and innovative production techniques are the order of the day, and while marketing certainly plays a role in the third wave, it generally showcases sustainability, quality, and fair trade coffee practices instead of focusing on the social aspect of the coffee shop experience. Cornerstones of the third wave include Counter Culture Coffee, Intelligentsia, and Portland’s homegrown Stumptown Coffee Roasters.
Waiting for the Next Wave
What will the fourth wave bring? Only time will tell. But we’re excited to find out, and we know you are, too. Unfortunately, our caffeine-powered time machine doesn’t travel into the future, so we’ll just have to wait and see.