Coffee is not just a drink, it is a feeling: Rumor has it that coffee was drunk in southern Ethiopia as early as the 9th century AD. In the southern Ethiopian province of Kaffa, numerous varieties of the coffee plant grow wild. All plants of the genus coffea arabica descend from plants grown in Kaffa. In the 15th century, the coffee bush arrived in Yemen: The port city of Mocha assumed a central role in the worldwide marketing of coffee. To this day, there is a distinct coffee variety called Mocha.
Coffee in Europe
From Yemen, coffee spread throughout the Islamic world: in 1512, there were riots in Mecca when the governor banned coffee consumption.
It was not long before the first Europeans became aware of the invigorating beverage: in 1582, coffee was mentioned for the first time in a travel report by an Augsburg native.
It was thanks to the Venetian Pietro della Valle that coffee became fashionable in Rome and Venice in 1626. From there, coffee spread throughout Europe: the first coffee houses appeared in European cities with access to maritime trade.
The Viennese coffee house culture
One European city is particularly associated with coffee: Vienna.
There is a legend about the origin of the Viennese coffee house culture: in 1683 Vienna was besieged by the Ottoman Empire. When Vienna was reconquered, the Ottomans retreated in a hurry, leaving behind a few sacks of coffee in the course. The interpreter and officer Georg Franz Kolschitzky seized the opportunity and founded the first Viennese coffee house with the sacks.
This legend is regarded as fictitious: The first “real” Viennese coffeehouse was founded two years after the Turkish siege, in 1685. The drinking culture of the Ottomans left its mark on the memory of the Viennese.
From then on, the Viennese coffeehouse had a steep career: in 1819, there were 150 coffeehouses; in 1900, this number grew to 600.
Coffee and literature
The Viennese coffeehouse became a stylistic influence for an entire literary epoch: the coffeehouse literati Friedrich Torberg, Alfred Polgar, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and many other writers of Viennese modernism wrote a large part of their works in Viennese coffeehouses.
After the Second World War, the “Kaffeehaussterben“ (dying of coffee houses) began, and many Viennese coffeehouses were forced to close: it was the swan song of an era that had celebrated its peak around 1900.
But it was not only in Vienna where coffee was the inspiration to write: Danish writer Karen Blixen ran a coffee farm in Kenya at the foot of the Ngong Hills between 1914 and 1931. In her memoir Out of Africa, she describes her experiences in Kenya. She focuses on the culture of the indigenous African people. The memoirs are a classic of world literature and were adapted for the movie screen in 1985.
Coffee cultivation around the world
The Dutch came up with the idea of growing coffee seedlings in greenhouses in Amsterdam in the 17th century. The venture succeeded: between 1659 and 1718, the Dutch brought coffee to their colonies around the world, including the island of Java.
In 1727, a Portuguese diplomat managed to smuggle coffee seedlings to Brazil: It was the beginning of coffee cultivation in Brazil, which is practiced until today. In 2014, Brazil produced 2.7 million tons of unroasted coffee, making it the largest coffee producer in the world. This is followed by Vietnam (around 1.7 million tons) and then, at a large distance, Colombia (around 800 thousand tons).
Extraction of the coffee
Coffee is the product of the evergreen tree species Coffea, which originally comes from Ethiopia. Tropical climate and regular rainfall are required to grow coffee plants.
Three to four years after planting, the plant bears berries for the first time: Usually, one berry contains two seeds, commonly referred to as a coffee bean.
After picking – the ripe berries can almost be scraped off the tree – the pulp is separated from the bean in a process known as pulping. Now comes the process of drying. During the following grading process, the beans are sorted according to their size.
A parchment-like skin still surrounds the coffee beans, which is removed during hulling: After hulling, a green coffee bean is uncovered. This bean has not yet been roasted and is therefore green. The coffee is roasted either directly on site or in coffee roasting plants: After roasting, the coffee is ready to be ground.
In general, coffee is divided into Arabica and Robusta beans: Both are derived from the Coffea tree species and are divided into numerous varieties. Robusta coffee, as its name suggests, is considered a relatively robust type of coffee: compared to Arabica coffee, Robusta coffee is far less sensitive to climatic fluctuations or diseases. In addition, the Robusta plant produces a higher yield.
Preparation of the coffee
There are several methods of preparing coffee: For a long time, filter coffee was the most popular method. For this, the coffee is first ground, then put into a filter and finally poured over with hot water.
Espresso is particularly widespread in southern Europe. This is a concentrated coffee with a dense crema (foam layer) and little water. This method of preparation comes from Milan.
In the meantime, many coffee lovers appreciate the advantages of a Cafetière: This fully automatic prepares a fresh coffee within seconds by pressing a button.
A coffee is often served with milk and sugar. Sometimes, in keeping with oriental tradition, a little cardamom is sprinkled into the coffee.
Simon von Ludwig
Main sources: Brockhaus Encyclopedia, article on coffee bush & Buk-Swienty, Tom: “Die Löwin. Tania Blixen in Afrika” [The Lioness. Tania Blixen in Africa], 2021 Random House Publishers
Cover picture: Arabica coffee from Colombia, © Simon von Ludwig, all rights reserved