“Coffee: A Special Commodity”

Coffee is a drink that is boundlessly popular in every part of the world. As much as people drink coffee, it’s extremely unfortunate that the beverage is taken for granted, thought merely as a vessel to deliver caffeine into the system. The often overlooked miracle that is coffee, slowly but certainly, is finally getting the love and attention it truly deserves, as the number of people who are passionate about coffee is in a steady rise.

Image by Coffee State

Introduction to Coffee: Culture, Experience, and the Café Ethos

In many cultures, experiencing the wide array of coffee’s roasts, varieties, brewing methods, and styles has been made extremely easy. With the introduction of specialty coffee houses all over the world you no longer have to be a coffee connoisseur to get such an experience. For anyone who has or wants to develop an appreciation for the value of quality, sustainability, and care, a specialty cafe’ is the perfect place.

Few people are truly aware that a coffee bean needs to be roasted before it can be ground and brewed. Information like this is commonly absent in the minds of the average coffee drinker, but it has all changed with the introduction of specialty coffee houses. 

A specialty coffee house, stays true to traditions established centuries ago. It’s the heart of the coffee scene of an area, and is the perfect place to socialize, explore intricate flavors and soak up the unique atmosphere that can only be offered there. It’s easy to get lost in the smells, tastes, and the art of brewing; expertly showcased by a barista.

Image by Meraki Coffee Roasters

The barista of a specialty coffee shop is a professional brewer, equipped with expert knowledge on how to efficiently brew your choice of coffee. Baristas can prepare coffee in a specialised manner, ensuring not only a caffeine kick, but also make it taste exciting, compelling, and significant.

One of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest, faced by growers of coffee is that they are offered absurdly low prices for their yields in a treacherous commodity market. Due to this, a large number of cafés treat coffee as a fresh, seasonal product that it rightfully is, while promoting it as an ingredient and beverage needing skill to cultivate and prepare. Specialty cafés are more important than ever now, because their focus remains on quality, transparency, and sustainability, and embraces the concept that “quality is more expensive”. Rapidly, consumers are also accepting and embracing this concept, as they have when it comes to other commodities like wine. 

Journey, Discoveries, and Spread of Coffee

The history of coffee spreading across the world is a story of religion, slavery, smuggling, love, and community.

Coffee was first discovered over at least 1000 years ago. There’s a cloud of uncertainty about the origins of the species of Coffeea, but it’s commonly believed that the roots of Arabica lie in South Sudan and Ethiopia, and that Robusta was born in West Africa. 

Image by Modus Operandi

There’s proof of traveling herders in Africa that mixed coffee seeds with fat and spices, creating ‘energy bars’, for their prolonged times away from home, and the leaves of coffee plants were boiled with the skins of coffee cherries, to create a drink rich in caffeine.

It is thought coffee made its arrival to Yemen and Arabia through African slaves. In the 1400s, Sufis used coffee cherries to make a tea called “Quishr” or “Arabian wine” that helped them stay awake during their nightly prayers. The news of this stimulant spread and “schools for the wise” were established as spaces where traders and scholars could drink and interact freely. Quishr was highly controversial, as some people believed it was incompatible with their (Islamic) religious beliefs, but the early cafés persevered, adding to the popularity of coffee. Much later, in the early 1500s, Arabs started roasting and grinding cherry beans to create a beverage similar to current day coffee that spread to Turkey, Egypt, and North Africa.

The Arabs were protective of their coffee to a fault, as they were the first to begin trade of coffee. They explicitly boiled the beans so that no one else could cultivate them. However, in the early 1600s, some seeds were smuggled by a Sufi from Yemen to India, and a Dutch trader planted them in Amsterdam. Towards the end of the 17th century, coffee was planted in Dutch colonies, specifically throughout Indonesia.

The Caribbean and South American colonies planted coffee in the early 1700s, and in 1727 the Portuguese tasked a naval officer with bringing back coffee seeds from Brazil to French Guiana. Legend has it, that at first he was denied by the Brazilian authorities, but he succeeded as he seduced the Governor’s wife who smuggled them to him in a bouquet spiked with seedlings. Coffee then spread to Central America and Mexico, and towards the end of 1800s, seedlings were returned to colonies in Africa. Coffee production has since spread to new areas of the world, notably Asia.

Words by Ifaz