The arabica coffea plant probably originated in Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia).
Legend has it that an Abyssinian farmer noticed his goats becoming excited after nibbling on the berries of this bush. He collected some and took them to a nearby monastery. The monks brewed the coffee berries and tasted the drink. They took a liking to it because it stopped them from dozing off during their prayers.
They called the drink kawah, which means strength, enthusiasm, and vitality. And they began the cultivation of coffea plants. Evidence of this can be traced back to the 7th century.
Coffee then spread to Arabia. This was the only place it was produced until the start of the 16th century. Its stimulating effect guaranteed its success, replacing the forbidden alcohol.
The first coffea plants arrived in Ceylon and India in around 1690. Coffee spread to all the Dutch colonies in Asia, including the island of Java, before reaching Europe.
The first coffea plants were grown in glasshouses in the botanical gardens of Amsterdam and in Louis XIV's gardens at Versailles.
Coffee was later grown in the French colonies of the Antilles, then all of Latin America.
Brazil is now the world’s largest coffee producer, followed by Colombia, Indonesia, Mexico, India, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Kenya.
Coffee is sold:
. as beans: purchased "green", they are roasted by cafés and restaurants. This format is increasingly less popular with the general public.
. ground: the fineness of the grounds depends on whether it is for professional use.
. soluble or instant: the beans are ground then freeze dried or spray dried. The powder dissolves instantly in hot water.
. in pods and capsules: for home espresso machines.
. as ready-made drinks: ready to be consumed from distributors.
. as a liquid extract: for bakeries.
It is always hermetically sealed to prevent it from losing its aroma or going rancid, given that it contains a small amount of fat.
A heaping tablespoon of ground coffee weighs 10 g; a level tablespoon weighs 6–7 g.
The choice of type of ground coffee depends on the use made of it and the way the drink is prepared:
. decoction: Turkish coffee with very finely ground coffee.
. infusion in a French press with coarsely ground coffee.
. percolation in a drip filter coffee maker where the ground coffee is placed in a disposable paper or a permanent and washable filter.
. steam driven under pressure with finely ground coffee.
Coffee should always be stored in a dry place, preferably a cool one, in order to prevent it from going rancid.
There are two main varieties:
- Coffea arabica
Arabica coffee is considered the best coffee, and is fine and aromatic. It mainly comes from Central and South America, and from Kenya.
- Coffea robusta
This variety received its name because the plants are more productive and easier to grow. Robusta coffee also has a higher caffeine content.
It is mainly grown in Africa (Ivory Coast, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo), Vietnam, and Brazil.
Regardless of the variety, the processing is the same.
The coffee cherries are picked by hand or mechanically when they are ripe. The flesh is removed in order to collect the beans. These are dried and sometimes washed, then peeled and sorted before being bagged.
This “green” coffee is then roasted, either industrially or traditionally. This is done by heating it to 250ºC for 20–30 minutes while being tumbled.
Torrefaction gives the coffee its brown color, and its flavor and aroma. It also develops its caffeine content.
Different varietals exist in each variety of coffee (as with wine), which are linked to the geographical features of their origin. The best known are Blue Mountain (Jamaica), Java (Indonesia), Kenya, Kona (Hawaii), Maragogype (Mexico), Mocha (Ethiopia), Peaberry (Tanzania), etc., which are all types of arabica.
There are also blends of coffee, such as Mocha-Java.
There are different techniques for removing as much caffeine as possible from the green coffee beans. All are detrimental to the coffee flavors.
Fair trade and organic coffee
Coffee has become the flagship product for the fair trade movement. Fair trade coffee is mainly produced by small holdings. Certain producers combine it with organic farming.
The product and the drink made from it share the same name.
In cafés and restaurants, coffee the drink comes with different names, depending on how it is prepared. Coffee is made using the percolation process under high pressure in special machines created for this purpose. It originated in Italy, hence the name espresso, which comes from the Italian for "extracted under pressure".
. Espresso: containing 7 g of coffee to 30–40 ml of water.
. Café au lait or caffè latte: half espresso and half milk or foamy milk.
. Macchiato: espresso with a dash of milk foam.
. White coffee: espresso with fresh cream or a little milk.
. Espresso con panna: espresso covered with a layer of whipped cream.
. Americano: espresso diluted with 7 times its volume of hot water.
. Cappuccino: served in a large cup with one third espresso, one third milk and one third milk foam.
. Mocha coffee: espresso with cocoa and sugar dissolved in it, and added foamy milk.
. Chocolate coffee: espresso mixed with the same amount of chocolate.
Some of these preparations are found in automatic coffee machines.