It’s been said that Coffee is “the plant that domesticated humans.” Although its exact origins are lost to history, we can be sure that coffee has had a meteoric rise in popularity around the world in the past 500 years. In fact, coffee is second only to water as the world’s most consumed beverage! Have you had YOUR coffee today? Probably – in the US alone, people consume more than 450 million cups of coffee per day.
It’s thought that coffee is native to the Keffa region of Ethiopia, where legend has it that a shepherd noticed his goats were more energetic than usual after eating the cherrylike fruit of the coffee bush. A local religious teacher attempted to roast the beans and mix them with water, and when the resulting concoction proved VERY helpful at long religious ceremonies, the genie was out of the iced coffee bottle. Strong trading links across the Red Sea to Yemen saw coffee disembarking at the port of Mokha, and then across trade routes to the rest of the world. Europeans developed a love for the drink in the 1600s, gathering in cafes to discuss events of the day over cup, after cup, after cup. Some of Europe’s most influential scientific and philosophical thinkers were total coffee heads, and it’s been theorized that the caffeine boost of coffee, plus the community provided by the cafes, was a key factor in the European Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment!
Not only was coffee very likely instrumental in the development of the modern world we all share today, it’s been theorized that the process of unlocking the flavors, and, of course, the caffeine, in coffee is one of all of humankind’s biggest shared projects. However, the style of coffee you drink, when and where you drink it, and even who you drink it with can often be surprisingly different depending on where you are in the world. Our relatively unified craving for coffee reveals an impressive diversity of tastes and habits that are evidence of some amazingly complex cultural and biological factors at play and is a fascinating illustration of the anthropological principle of “Unity in Diversity.” No matter how you take it, it’s a fact that the world loves coffee!
For example, if you are in Scandinavia, you may enjoy your coffee with small cubes of cheese curd soaking in it. Before you say “gross!,” it might help to know that in Scandinavia, agriculture is difficult and people evolved a close relationship with dairy animals to survive. In the harsh Arctic climate, a hot cup of coffee with an extra protein bonus in it can keep a person sustained all day.
But if you are in Italy, it’s only the tourists who EVER drink cappuccino after 11am; this may have to do with the fact that many Italians are lactose-intolerant, and milky drinks may interfere with the digestion of food later in the day.
In Vietnam, you can enjoy a sweet coffee whipped with egg yolks rather than milk. Vietnam has a major café culture, but in the Vietnam War, milk became scarce and innovative Vietnamese turned to egg yolk to replicate the smoothness of milk.
If you are in the US, there’s a reason that the type of “normal coffee” you make in your office machine is known as “Americano” to the rest of the world. It’s made with much more water than the tiny, concentrated espresso-based beverages enjoyed by most other countries. It’s said that American GI’s did not like espresso but rather, missed the drip coffee they enjoyed at home, so grateful Italians obliged their “unsophisticated” taste by pouring espresso into water and the drink known around the world as the Americano was born! Human ingenuity (and need for caffeine) knows no bounds. What do you think the next coffee evolution will be?
To learn more, grab a cup and enjoy these delightful videos:
The history of coffee culture.
Coffee’s journey around the world.