The origins of coffee: When history meets myth…
The origins of coffee, as in all the stories worthy of the name, rooted in ancient times.
The story inevitably mixed with legend, taking the taste – it is appropriate to say – of those tales that are told around the fire on a cold winter evening…
Where does the coffee comes from: the beginning
This story begins in Africa: here it all began, since it’s here that the Coffea Arabica spontaneous shrubs sprouted from the ground, beginning a journey of five centuries! At first, only leaves or the bark of the grains were used to prepare this valuable revitalizing drink.
But who was the first one? Who discovered the taste and benefits? Who dared to try these strange red berries, which do not resemble at all the lovely ground powder we use today?
There is no certain answer, but a fairy tale attributes the discovery to the small Kaldi, a young Ethiopian shepherd boy who one day noticed that his goats became more lively after eating a few small round red fruits. He decided to imitate them … and just savor the magic berries, he suddenly felt happy, euphoric and full of energy! A monaco who was passing by would try to turn the effect of this fruit … and from that day the coffee came not only in all the monasteries of the region, as a precious aid of the long nights of prayer, but also in homes the entire African continent. Oh, one more thing… did you know that the first “specialist coffee makers” were Ethiopian? They were a type of priest whose sole task was to prepare this precious beverage for their King. At special ceremonies they would pour it directly into the king’s “royal throat”!
The origins of coffee: the arrival in Europe
A few decades later, when coffee as we know it had become popular across the Arab world, western merchants started to take an interest. This means that coffee reached Europe before Central and South America. The first coffee cargo arrived in the West in 1528, and there is still dispute over whether it was Marseille or Venice that welcomed it. From that point, it reached every European capital and quickly became one of the most popular drinks after wine… and beer… According to anecdote, the French Revolution and, later, the Enlightenment, began in Paris coffee houses, frequented by the rising bourgeoisie.
Even Lloyd’s of London began in “Lloyd’s Coffeehouse”, where forecasts were made on whether the many ships on their way to or from the colonies would return or sink. Large fortunes were gambled over cups of coffee, and that this “betting” system would soon become an industry.
But let’s get back to our beloved coffee. In 1720, a number of seedlings were taken from France to the French Antilles. After an adventurous journey, they reached Martinique, where they thrived and became a coffee plantation. Thanks to the perfect climate and soil, coffee plants spread across Central and South America, which soon became the world’s largest coffee producers.
How to make coffee:mMany different styles, only one coffee!
It’s impossible to talk about coffee without mentioning the different “ways” to make it… Actually, for many centuries, it was mainly prepared by simple infusion… coffee was boiled with water and as soon as the granules settled, it was poured into the cups – along with a fair amount of coffee grounds. It was only during the 19th century that other solutions were developed… but we’ll get to that later…
How to make coffee: Arab and Turkish way
For example, to prepare an “Arab” coffee or a “Turkish” coffee, we need a special pot called an “ibriq”. This is a small, copper pot with a long neck and a handle. Coffee, water, and sugar are mixed in the ibriq and brought to the boil, stirring the brew. Then it is left to cool. This operation is repeated three times and then it is left to settle and blend before drinking it. Spices, such as cardamom, are often added to this strong brew.
How to make coffee: Americano and French coffee
Have you ever had an Americano? It is made with a manual or electric “percolator”. You boil the water and then pour it through a filter (usually made of paper), which contains the powdered coffee. The brew is served in a mug or in a jar.
Then there is the “French Press” or cafetière, which was invented around 1933. It’s a glass container that comes with a lid. The lid has a plunger that ends with a filter. Put your ground coffee into the glass container and add boiling water. Raise the plunger on the lid and then put the lid on the cafetière. Wait for the coffee to brew then push the plunger down, filtering the coffee and pushing the granules to the bottom. The coffee is then poured into cups.
The classic “moka pot” was invented by Renato Bialetti in 1933 and you can still find it in almost every Italian home… I won’t describe it because you already know what I’m talking about…
How to make coffee: Neapolitan moka pot
Despite its name, the “Neapolitan moka pot”, also known as a “cuccumella”, was invented by a Frenchman in the 19th century. It is a small device for making coffee at home. According to most Neapolitans, this is the only thing that gives a truly excellent coffee. The difference with the moka pot is in the collecting chamber, whose spout faces downwards. When the water boils and steam comes out, it’s time to take the pot by the handles and flip it over. This makes the water pass through the filter and deposits in the chamber. From here, the coffee can be poured from the spout, which, having been flipped over, is now facing upwards.
How to make Espresso coffee!
When we talk about “Espresso Coffee”, we mean the coffee made by the coffee machines they have in bars.
With the “Espresso Method”, coffee is made by forcing boiling water through ground coffee. The important points are the water pressure, which is higher than the atmospheric pressure, and the temperature, which is just below 100°C. This allows all the organoleptic properties of the coffee, like the aroma, the intense and voluptuous flavour and the invigorating caffeine, to be extracted in just a few seconds (hence the name “espresso”). More importantly, it creates that unique crema, which is the distinctive feature of every great espresso.
The result is a highly concentrated coffee, denser than the coffee made by a moka pot or any other brewing system.
The world’s first espresso coffee machine was made in Italy and was patented by Luigi Bezzera in 1901… Subsequently, it has been improved and reached legendary status by other pioneers, such as Pier Teresio Arduino, who created the “Victoria Arduino” machine. As these machines spread across Italy and the world, they changed the way coffee was made and drunk…
In the earliest machines, pressure was generated by the steam produced in a boiler. The first piston machines, where pressure was generated by a lever activated by the operator, were launched in 1940. But it was only during the ’50s that the sublime results we know today were first achieved, thanks to the introduction of the electric pump.
Italian Espresso Coffee: pPerfection in a cup…
No doubt about it, art can’t be taught and talent can’t be learned. It’s fate that decides who to give that instinct and passion to… but it’s not by chance that you can drink the Espresso Coffee par excellence only here in Italy!
As you can see, then, a long journey of evolution has been made to reach the pleasure of the “simple” cup of coffee we enjoy every day.
So the next time you enjoy a nice cup of coffee, think for a moment about the old sailing vessels that crossed the Mediterranean Sea, loaded with coffee way back in the 16th century… and be grateful to Prospero Alpino, who brought the first sacks of coffee from the East to Italy… imagine living in Venice a few centuries ago, when the earliest coffee shops were opened… first one, then two, then ten, and then a hundred: by 1763, there were already 218 specialist shops! The pleasure of this extraordinary drink became so popular that enthusiasts started sending gifts of trays full of chocolate and coffee to each other, while cafés started to dot the country… Milan, Rome, Genoa, Naples, Turin, Padua, and Palermo. Social gatherings drew the greatest intellectuals of the time, many of whom were devoted coffee enthusiasts. In his book, “Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well”, Pellegrino Artusi, known as the father of Italian gastronomy, describes coffee as: “This precious beverage, the friend of literati, scientists and poets because, as it strikes the nerves, it helps clarify ideas, renders the imagination more active and accelerates the thinking processes. But the benefits of the coffee come only from trying it! …”