(From the pages of ‘Teeswater.ca’, an online newspaper I published a few years back)

In Seattle you haven’t had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it’s running.

– Jeff Bezos

What is it about coffee that brings out the best (and worst) of us? That makes us consume 7.5 million metric tonnes of coffee beans every year (twice the tonnage of Tea) and is the preferred ‘day’starter’ for more than half the population of the planet?

Coffee use can be traced at least to as early as the ninth century, when it appeared in the highlands of Ethiopia.[2] According to legend, an Arab goatherder named Khalid noticed that his goats became more lively after eating the berries of the coffee plant.Intrigued, he boiled the berries, thus producing the first coffee. From Ethiopia, coffee spread to Egypt and Yemen. It was in Arabia that coffee beans were first roasted and brewed, similar to how it is done today. By the 15th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa.

From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Italy. The thriving trade between Venice and North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East brought many goods, including coffee, to the Venetian port. From Venice, it was introduced to the rest of Europe. Coffee became more widely accepted after it was deemed a Christian beverage by Pope Clement VIII in 1600, despite appeals to ban the “Muslim drink.” The first European coffee house opened in Italy in 1645. The Dutch were the first to import coffee on a large scale, and they were among the first to defy the Arab prohibition on the exportation of plants or unroasted seeds when Pieter van den Broeck smuggled seedlings from Aden into Europe in 1616.[16] The Dutch later grew the crop in Java and Ceylon. The first exports of Indonesian coffee from Java to the Netherlands occurred in 1711. Through the efforts of the British East India Company, coffee became popular in England as well. It was introduced in France in 1657, and in Austria and Poland after the 1683 Battle of Vienna, when coffee was captured from supplies of the defeated Turks.

When coffee reached North America during the Colonial period, it was initially not as successful as it had been in Europe. During the Revolutionary War, however, the demand for coffee increased so much that dealers had to hoard their scarce supplies and raise prices dramatically; this was also due to the reduced availability of tea from British merchants. After the War of 1812, during which Britain temporarily cut off access to tea imports, the Americans’ taste for coffee grew, and high demand during the American Civil War together with advances in brewing technology secured the position of coffee as an everyday commodity in the United States.

Intrinsically coffee beans can be classified into two categories: Arabica, generally from Central and South America (although Indonesia has recently become the world’s largest producer of Arabica beans), and Robusta, basically from everywhere else. Arabica beans are generally higher priced and thus sought after by small lot producers and connoisseurs, while the lower priced Robustas are sought after by larger multinational coffee companies for large lot production. By the time your favourite blend reaches the store shelves it will generally be composed of

While there are probably as many different ways to produce steaming mugs or ice-cold glasses of coffee as there are types of beans, the main methods of brewing will produce significantly different amounts of caffeine per cup (aka Go Juice, The Good Part of Coffee and Zippity-Doo-Dah):

  • Drip coffee: 115–175 mg (0.56–0.85 mg/ml)
  • Espresso: 60 mg (2 mg/ml)
  • Brewed/Pressed: 80–135 mg (0.39–0.65 mg/ml)
  • Instant: 65–100 mg (0.31–0.48 mg/ml)
  • Decaf, brewed: 3–4 mg
  • Decaf, instant: 2–3 mg.
    (Decaf is included for reference only as the jury is out on whether it is really coffee or not…)

In our house we have gone for simplicity, in the form of a fairly inexpensive French Press (about $10 from Walmart as I remember).  The pot makes about 8 cups at a time and surprisingly makes even the most generic coffee taste just plain scrumptious. It is important though, to use regular grind rather than fine grind and make sure your water is boiling furiously before pouring into the press. One small family secret (am I giving away something here I wonder?) that was given to my wife by one of her suppliers when she had her restaurant is that the No-Name roast coffee (Value-Mart has it for about $6 per kilo – look for the bright yellow package with the red top) is actually Mother Parker’s Coffee, which is also the coffee supplier for Tim Horton’s.  Whether or not that is still the truth is debatable but for my money this generic brand is AS GOOD as Timmys.  Four coffee scoops (tablespoons?) of coffee for 8 cups works just fine. If using drip grind in your press or drip machine then 5 measures for 8 cups works about the same…

And if you prefer decaf… you have my sympathies…

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