The history of Coffee Preparation

Publication Year: 
2005

Image retrieved from ethiopianfood.files.wordpress.com on October 18t, 2014.
Image retrieved from ethiopianfood.files.wordpress.com on October 18t, 2014.

Coffee is vital today in every kind of intercourse in Muslim countries, but neither plant nor product were known to the great Prophet Mohammed, who died in AD 632, nor were coffee plants known in pre-Columbian cultivation, nor in the wild in any country in the Western Hemisphere. Yet people in the two Americas today consume more than half of all the coffee beans grown worldwide.
Nearly two-thirds of the world's coffee beans are grown today in tropical and sub-tropical Latin America, but coffee's origins and names are wholly Old World. The name coffee is either from the south-western Ethiopian town Kaffa in the Shona province, or comes from the Arabic quahwah. It is a useful tourist trick to know that the words coffee and tea are fairly close in every European language, while the word chocolate needs mutation to be understood with any polish. Nor were any of the three chief modern hot drinks of commerce originally consumed in what is now the popular manner. In China and Japan, tea was drunk very weak, of course without milk, lemon, or sugar. Chocolate was originally an unsweetened, savoury sauce for various Central American dishes, including, it has been asserted, lightly braised human flesh.
We know little about the methods used before AD 1100 in Africa, and later in the Yemen, to produce coffee and infuse a drink. Coffee beans were not roasted until near the beginning of the European Renaissance, and never by the inhabitants of those lands where coffee was indigenous. Nor was coffee originally a drink. Before coffee left its native Africa it was probably drunk some what as cocoa is today: as a thick, fatty beverage with the consistency of soup. In other parts of Africa, green coffee beans were ground and whipped with hot water, the whole suspension drunk as a stimulating food and drink combined. Other Africans made a kind of porridge out of the bean-containing berries, or made them into wine, or chewed the beans. A modern infusion of ground, roasted beans is free of much food value, and coffee has not been an entirely liquid stimulant until recent historic times.
The earliest known (African) means of consuming coffee was to chew the green beans or the leaves, which are bitter, but also contain caffeine. The proportion of caffeine in the leaves differs much more than in the beans; the caffeine content differs greatly between individual leaves and beans, even on the same plant. The user would chew the leaves for ten or twenty minutes, then spit out the residue. This method left the consumer with a green tongue, but allegedly refreshed. Another way of ingesting caffeine from coffee beans before infusion became general was to mix ground green beans with animal fat, the mixture to be eaten at the end of a meal. This habit sounds even less attractive than chewing leaves.
Another option was to ferment the semi-rotten pulp of coffee fruits and leaves and produce a mildly alcoholic drink; this process is said to be followed today by devout Muslims for whom alcohol is, of course, nominally illegal, either to brew or to consume.

moderncoffeeceremony
Despite numerous prohibitions against its use, largely from self appointed and extreme religious officials, coffee beans, when they became a commercial product, also became an Arab concern, having been traded (green) from Ethiopia to the Yemen, presumably alongside the slave trade. The slave trade relieved Ethiopia of a surplus population and provided Arabs with labourers and servants, often of a very personal kind. The more attractive Ethiopian girls became concubines in the harems of rich men; in some Muslim households a particularly choice slave girl might be freed and become one of four legal wives. There was often little practical distinction between a concubine and a wife since a Muslim husband could (and can) divorce a wife without giving her any freedom to remarry. Divorced wives, however, were not normally sold to another man, as concubines could be.
The earliest date quoted by some authorities recording coffee as a drink is close to the earliest mention of roasting beans – about AD 1450. Roasting the beans and drinking an infusion is said to have been done first in Arabia, not Ethiopia, whence came the wild coffee plants. It is always possible that roasting was adopted as an economy measure, to make expensive beans go further, but this would be true only if they were used for a drink.
Roasting reduces the water content of raw, dried beans from 12 per cent to as little as 6 per cent, depending on the nature of the roast. Some fat (as much as 10-12 per cent) is lost, and the sugars (9-10 per cent) are at least half-caramelized, while the cellulose (35 per cent) is partially carbonized. The most important effect of roasting is to make the beans more mellow and to release the flavour. Roasting also makes more of the aroma available on infusion. It is obvious that an infusion of crushed, unroasted (green) beans would produce a much less effective, as well as much less palatable, drink than one made from the same weight of roasted beans, but the idea of roasting the beans never apparently arose before trade brought coffee beans out of Africa. It may have been the high cost of beans and the huge demand for coffee outside Africa – difficult to satisfy – that led to the practice of roasting. Benefits of taste and so on were perhaps an unintended consequence, and different roasts became a modern art.

pp. 257-260 of Seeds of Wealth by Henry Hobhouse (2005)

ancient coffee ceremony
modern coffee ceremony
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