Facts and Fictions
always sure which is which!)
- Coffee originates in the Kafa zone, a rain/cloud forest, of
south west Ethiopia. Coffee trees grew wild here and still do. The people of
Kafa did not have a written language so exactly when they started drying coffee
cherries and roasting the seeds is not known. These people were the first to
grind roasted beans and make the drink we call coffee. The root of our word
“coffee” may even come from the name “Kafa”. In the 1700’s a Scot traveller,
James Bruce, wrote about the wild coffee from south-west Ethiopia but he was
not believed. Not until the 1960’s were scientists saying with any certainty
that coffee originated in Kafa. Coffee cultivation spread to other parts of
Ethiopia and then across the Red Sea to Yemen.
A Persian doctor references coffee in the tenth
century: our first known written record.
- There is a legend about an Ethiopian shepherd
boy who observed his goats doing a happy dance: the goats were chewing on the
cherries of coffee bushes. The shepherd boy, Kaldi, decided to join the goats
so he ate the fruit, got the same coffee buzz, danced with his goats and the
rest is history! There are many versions of this legend.
- In the fifteenth
century Sufi monks used coffee to keep themselves awake for meditation and
prayers in the evening.
In the late 1400’s coffee came to Turkey and
soon was a smash hit. A law in Turkey gave a woman the right to divorce her
husband if he did not provide her with coffee every day. Ouch! Is that law
still on the books?
Coffee seeds or plants or cuttings crossed the
Red Sea to Yemen. Mocha, a port in Yemen became so associated with the coffee
trade that “mocha” is another name for coffee. Attempts to control coffee seeds
and plants failed. Coffee cultivation spread to India and Sri Lanka. Dutch
traders spread coffee further and further. By 1700 Java, Indonesia had coffee
plantations controlled by the Dutch. Java is another name we use for coffee.
Our English word “coffee” is derived from the
Dutch “Koffie” derived from the Turkish “Kahre” originally taken from an Arabic
phrase meaning “wine of the bean.” Or our English word “coffee” originates from
“Kafa” the zone in Ethiopia where coffee originates. Cheer for your favourite
Today coffee is cultivated in many countries
between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer.
Ideal growing conditions are 3000 feet or more
above sea level, in volcanic soil, under the shade of taller trees. Cheaper,
poorer quality coffee is produced at lower altitudes from plants that thrive at
When Napoleon controlled most of Europe and the
British navy controlled the seas, Napoleon banned coffee in Europe and instead encouraged
drinks made from ground hickory roots. The British blockade made importing
coffee into Europe difficult. When Napoleon was exiled to the island of St.Helena
he tried to cultivate coffee on St. Helena: his efforts failed.
Most of the history of coffee spreading around
the world is a history of oppression by the developed nations in the
eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.
- It was in Boston’s Green Dragon coffeehouse that
leaders of the American Revolution met to plot rebellion. After the Boston Tea
Party happened next door, Americans opted for coffee over tea.
In 1674 the Women’s Petition Against Coffee
complained in graphic sexual terms to King Charles II that their men spent too
much time in the coffeehouses and their coffee drinking made them impotant. The
men responded in graphic sexual terms that coffee drinking made them more
Coffeehouses in Europe and England were places
that created unrest for rulers. In 1675 Charles II proclaimed the suppression
of the coffeehouses. The reaction was so strong the king had to back down.
J. S. Bach frequented coffeehouses. In 1735 he
composed his Coffee Cantata in which a daughter complains to her dour father
because he wants to curb her coffee drinking. Eventually the daughter prevails
over her dad. Bach’s composing is mostly sacred. His secular Coffee Cantata is
his veiled way of reacting to government suppression of the popular
In 1777 Frederick the Great issued a manifesto against
coffee to support the more traditional German drink of beer. Both German beer
and coffee continue to thrive.
It is estimated that 100 cups or five gallons of
coffee is lethal! The French philosopher Voltaire drank 50 cups of coffee a
day. This level of consumption is not recommended! President Teddy Roosevelt drank a gallon of
coffee a day. Neither is this level of consumption recommended!
In contrast composer Ludwig van Beethoven ground
exactly 60 roasted coffee beans to make a cup of coffee.
An American book about coffee published in 1872
laments the following fraud: “The ground coffee sold by grocers is to a large
extent adulterated. The principal substances used for this purpose are roasted
chiccory and roasted beans, peas, and corn.” Must have been an awful drink! The
rest of the paragraph in that book tells readers how to test for the
adulterating substances. Today Robusta coffee from Brazil, Vietnam, and Columbia
is so cheap there is no need to substitute.
- There are two main varieties of coffee plants.
One is Arabica from which all high quality coffees are made. The other is
Robusta which is a more vigorous plant, more disease resistant, more productive
and grows at low altitudes. Lots of low cost coffee contains much Robusta.
Beware of cans or bags that say “100% coffee.” As a bare minimum look for “100%
George Washington, not the famous one, but
George Constant Washington, an English citizen with a Belgian mother, living in
Guatemala invented instant coffee. Too bad! Instant coffee is mostly made from
Robusta and like military drones once the genie out of the bottle it is hard to
get it back in.
Since 1962 there have been International Coffee Agreements
(ICA) to stabilize supply and prices for green coffee beans. When the
agreements break down the multinationals who own big roasters get bargain
prices, but the small coffee producers and farmers suffer economic disaster.
Never store your roasted coffee in the fridge.
Roasted coffee is a sponge for smells and tastes. Once you have made coffee the
spent grounds can be left in the fridge like baking soda to absorb smells.
Spent coffee grounds are good compost for
flowers including rose bushes. Also spent coffee can be rubbed on dried food to
remove same from floors and counter tops without scratching these surfaces.
As with wine, coffee has professional highly
trained tasters known as “cuppers.” Specialty coffee (the only coffees SHaBean roasts) is cupped
at 80 or over out of 100. All specialty coffee is 80 plus. Ordinary coffee is
cupped below 80 out of 100.
There are those who think Kopi Luwak coffee, the
coffee from coffee cherries and seeds eaten by Indonesian palm civets and then
pooped out is the most expensive coffee. It is mediocre coffee and often the
palm civets are caged and cruelly treated. Do not buy it!
The most expensive coffee is geisha coffee from
Panama. Geisha is a strain of Arabica and has nothing to do with what you might
be thinking. In fall 2018 a new record was set for the sale of green coffee. A
buyer, a roaster from Taiwan paid $803 US per pound for a microlot of geisha
green coffee from Panama. Somebody sold Geisha coffee for $75 US per cup. The
record no longer stands. In fall 2019 Panama Giesha sold for $1029 US per pound
for a microlot of green Giesha coffee. In fall 2020 Panama Giesha sold for $1300 US per pound! Would anyone be willing to share a pound
of green Panama Geisha for us to try?