The Origins and Evolution of Coffee
This entry was posted on 23rd December 2014.
Coffee Production: How It Has Evolved and How It Differs Around the World
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. The way it is enjoyed in different countries varies, with many countries having their own style. However, where did coffee come from, and how is it currently produced?
Origins and Spread of Coffee
Coffee originated in Ethiopia where, as legend has it, a goatherd named Kaldi noticed the effect the beans had on his goats and told a local abbot, who made a drink from them. Whether the legend is true or not, coffee soon spread from Ethiopia to the Arabian Peninsula, where the Arabs became first to cultivate and trade it.
By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district, and by the following century it had spread to Egypt, Turkey, Persia and beyond.
Pilgrims to Mecca spread word of coffee far and wide, and it was not long before it reached Europe. It arrived in Venice in the early 17th century, where it was initially condemned by local clergy and had to be given Papal approval. Soon it spread to other countries, and coffee houses sprung up in Austria, Germany, England and others. By the middle of the 17th century, hundreds of coffee houses had opened in London.
Over the following century, the popularity of coffee grew as plantations began to appear all over the world. The Dutch started to cultivate coffee in Java in the 17th century, and the French took coffee to Martinique in the 18th century, where it flourished. From here coffee cultivation spread to South America and the Caribbean.
In a relatively short period of time, coffee spread all over the world, and it was soon grown on mountains and islands far and wide. By the end of the 18th century, it had become one of the most profitable crops in the world.
Arabica and Robusta Beans
Arabica and Robusta beans are the two main varieties of coffee grown in the world, although there are more. Arabica berries originally came from the mountains of Ethiopia, and these were the first to be cultivated. The quality is often considered to be higher than Robusta beans, and they are grown in far larger quantities around the world even though they are more expensive to grow.
Robusta berries contain more caffeine and the taste is therefore more bitter. They originated in Central Africa and are currently used in about 30% of the world's coffee. They have a larger crop yield and are less affected by pests, making them cheaper to cultivate. They are mostly grown in Vietnam, which is the biggest exporter of Robusta beans. Robusta is a strong and full-bodied coffee, and it is often used in espresso blends.
Coffee Producing Nations Today
There are a handful of countries that are now the largest coffee-producing nations in the world. You will find that the coffee has different characteristics wherever it is grown.
Columbia is a large producer of coffee. Coffee was originally brought here in the early 18th century by the Jesuits, and cultivation was established in various areas including Santander, Caldas, Antioquia and others. It is known for being some of the finest coffee in the world, with a pleasant acidity when freshly roasted, and a mild, aromatic flavour. The country is currently the third largest producer into world.
Brazil is the largest coffee producer, and about a third of all coffee comes from here. Coffee is grown mainly in the southeast of the country, which has ideal growing conditions. Both Arabica and Robusta beans are grown here, but mainly Arabica. It is known for its low acidity and sweet, nutty flavour. Many Brazilian coffees are low grade and used for instant coffee, but there is some very high quality coffee produced here, which is often used for espressos.
Kenya has some of the finest coffee in the world. Most coffee here is produced on small farms, and millions of people are employed in the industry. It is grown around Mount Kenya and in Bungoma and the Aberdare Range as well as other regions. The coffee has an intense flavour, and high-grade coffee here is very popular for its character and vibrancy.
Costa Rica has a large coffee industry, and its finest coffees are regarded as some of the best in the world. Cultivation began in the 18th century, and now it is grown in many regions, with the best regarded as that from Tarrazú. The coffee is grown very high in volcanic soil, and it is smooth and rich.
Honduras is the biggest producer in Central America, after starting commercial production in the 19th century. Coffee is wet processed, and although the quality is good, it is not rated as highly as from other countries.
Java in Indonesia has been producing coffee since the 18th century. Coffee here is characterised as being heavy, sweet and rich.
Discover Your Perfect Coffee
Next time you buy some coffee, find out where it is from. Coffee differs significantly depending on where it is grown in the world, and there are distinctive qualities that anyone can pick up on. Start taking notice where your coffee has come from, and you may find that you prefer the taste of beans grown in a particular region which can help you in your quest to find your perfect cup of coffee.
It's also important to find out about the freshness of the beans used to make your coffee, as this can have a huge impact on the quality of the taste. Just like a lot of other plant based ingredients, once coffee has been harvested the oxidisation process begins. Over time this can eventually turn the beans stale; and impair the flavour and quality of the product. Ideally, beans will be harvested, roasted, ground (if required) and sold for consumption as quickly as possible like our own Cafe Prima roasted coffee beans. We source and import the beans ourselves before roasting and blending in house then delivering within just a few days for guaranteed freshness and quality.