The Wonder of Coffee
By Alex Starace
Long ago, an Ethiopian herder noticed that his goats became extremely animated after eating a certain red berry. The goatherder, named Kaldi, sampled a few of the berries himself and felt similarly stimulated. Soon the discovery was shared with the local monastery, which made a drink out of the berries (the pits of which are what we think of today as coffee beans). And so begins the myth-tinged story of coffee, a plant native to the highlands of Ethiopia that, by the fifteenth century, was drank regularly in nearby Yemen, particularly the town of Mocha, which had a major marketplace for the good.
Before long, coffee’s reach expanded throughout the Arab world – among other uses, it was very popular with Sufis, who used it to stay alert during their nighttime prayers. The drink soon became associated with the Ottoman Empire, as well as with the Egyptians, who imported it regularly. By 1554, the first coffee shop opened in Constantinople. These coffee houses, which spread throughout the empire, were known as kaveh kanes, and were used for playing chess, sharing gossip and enjoying music.
To Westerners, however, coffee remained an exotic drink. The Turks had placed a strict ban on the exportation of fertile coffee beans and coffee plants, so coffee arrived only via trade with the Ottomans. Regardless, the drink grew in popularity across Europe: After some initial controversy, the Pope had deemed coffee acceptable fare for Catholics, and it became widely consumed in Italy. Much like in the Arab world, coffee houses sprang up throughout the continent, and became hubs of political and social interaction.
Because of coffee’s growing popularity, individuals from both the west and east wanted a share of the market: In 1616, Dutch trader Pieter van der Broecke smuggled a few coffee seedlings out of Mocha, Yemen, and cultivated them in a greenhouse in the Netherlands. Around 1670, Baba Budan smuggled seven fertile beans from Mocha to India, and began planting on the subcontinent. Once these two cracks were made, it was only a matter of time before the Turkish monopoly crumbled: By the 1700s, coffee was cultivated in Indonesia, India, South and Central America, and the Caribbean.
Not long after, coffee became a full-fledged international phenomenon, one that continues to this day. So, when you drink your morning cup, give thanks to the Ethiopian goatherder who started it all.
Finding the Most Satisfying Cup of Coffee in South Florida
Outside of Cuba, South Florida is the best place in the world to get a cup of Café Cubano, the famed Cuban espresso brewed with demerara sugar. The two favored brands for brewing are Bustelo and Pilon – and while it’s possible to make the drink at home, many locals love to go out for it. Try the El Cristo Market Cafeteria & Restaurant in Little Havana, or Islas Canarias Restaurant in West Flagler. Both serve a full menu of Cuban fare, and also provide a great cup of joe.
For unique coffee at home, consider ordering beans sourced from the Panamanian Gesha tree – the tree has only been rediscovered by connoisseurs this past decade and provides a flavorful, chocolate-tinged cup. For best results, try the Klatch Panama Don Pachi Natural, or the CafeTasters Esmeralda Natural. Both are dry processed, meaning the beans are dried within the fruit, giving them an extra fruity kick. Expect to pay for the experience however – Geshas run approximately $100 per pound.
For a more manageable day-to-day cup, consider investing in a high-end Colombian coffee for a balanced, delicious flavor. Lone Pine Coffee Roasters sells Colombia Martha Cecilia Rojas, while Doma offers a Colombia Organic roast – both products can be found online, and cost under $20 per pound. Their smooth, delicious flavors make them a great choice for your daily cup.
Kopi Luwak: The Wildest – and Most Expensive – Coffee You Can Find
How far would you go for a truly great cup of coffee? The purveyors of Kopi Luwak are betting you’ll drink coffee excreted by a tropical mammal that leaps through trees. Yes, that’s right, Kopi Luwak is made from the dung of the Asian palm civit, a lemur-like arboreal creature indigenous to Indonesia. Depending on the sourcing and quality, the coffee can retail anywhere from $100 to $1,000 a pound. What makes it so special? It’s known for its lack of bitterness – as the civit eats and digests coffee cherries (the pits of which are coffee beans), the creature’s digestive enzymes work on the beans, causing them to have shorter proteins, which in turn results in a coffee (after it’s been collected, washed, and lightly roasted) that’s virtually free of bitterness. Tasting experts agree that Kopi Luwak is different (and smoother) than traditional coffee, but there’s no consensus on whether the brew makes for an excellent cup of joe – or merely an overpriced oddity. That’s for each individual taster to decide.