A history of Coffee
4 Things You Didn't Know About Coffee
by Samuel French
Students, business people, parents: so many of us rely on a rich cup of coffee to get through the day (or night). The drink is a staple of cultures worldwide, but there's more to your morning hazelnut latte than meets the eye.
Here are a few things you might never have known about the effects, history, and culture of coffee around the world.
1. Coffee Contains Less Caffeine Than Tea
Ever had one cup too many and got the shakes? Perhaps you've ordered an unfamiliar blend and discovered it's twice as strong as usual. There's no “final” answer to how much caffeine in a cup of coffee– it depends on the bean and the extraction method. Still, the more you know, the more prepared you'll be for the caffeine dose you'll experience.
What many people don't realize is that pound-for-pound coffee beans contain only about ⅓ of the caffeine found in tea leaves. As any good barista will tell you, the difference is in the preparation.
Hotter water is used for extraction in coffee, which draws out more caffeine. You'll also use a higher volume of beans than tea leaves - don't underestimate the humble tea plant. Tea might seem like the quiet cousin, but coffee is pretty mild by comparison.
The beans or berries from this plant contain a chemical called caffeine, which provides the energizing effect that became the plant's primary use. Legend has it that this was discovered by a 9th-Century Ethiopian goatherd called Kaldi, whose goats wouldn't settle down when they ate the berries. Kaldi gave them a try and the rest is (possibly) history.
While the tree originates from Ethiopia, it wasn't until Arabic peoples started importing it around the 15th Century that it's known to have been consumed and cultivated as a stimulant. They were noted as the first to discover the benefits it held. During this time, the importers prevented the planting of these beans globally by boiling them before trading them. This kept them a high commodity and created high value for the plant.
Today, coffee is ubiquitous in casual and business cultures across the West. However, Arabic cultures discovered that it was an aid to lengthy discussions centuries before it became popular in the UK's early coffee houses.
Whether it was used in religious discussions, political debates, or informal catch-ups, the drink became central to all kinds of conversations across the Middle East. Coffee culture is still deeply entwined in many Arabic cultures today, and migrants from the region have brought this contemplative tradition to the West along with fixtures like shisha cafés.
You might sometimes feel like one more cup of coffee will probably make you see the devil. While this is unlikely, it's not as far from historical uses as you might think.
The drink has been used for religious purposes for many years. Sometimes this was simply aiding concentration during prayer, but its stimulant effects also meant that it was considered an entheogen (something that induces a spiritual state) in some Arabic cultures. Intriguingly, these same stimulant effects saw it banned in other areas.
Looking back, there are many areas that coffee influenced still flourishing within our society. Perhaps you're an all-night student dancing like one of Kaldi's goats after one cup too many. Perhaps you simply enjoy the drink as part of a soothing afternoon social ritual. In any case, you're participating in a rich history every time you take a sip.