What is Coffee: History, Species and Types of Coffee Roasts

ethiopian coffee history

 

Learn more about the rich ethiopian coffee history in the detailed article below.

The Coffee Species

The two main types of coffee species are Arabica and Robusta. There are different variations within them but you can safely classify any coffee bean in one or the other.

Arabica is considered the more premium of the two and commands higher prices. It is more flavorful which is the result of the precise growing conditions that are required. Arabica plants need lots of moisture, sunlight and rich soil, which are found at higher elevations. In fact, the higher the altitude, the more expensive the coffee.

Robusta beans have less flavor and body than Arabica beans but have more caffeine and are hardier. They can grow in many conditions as they are more tolerant of cold and can be grown in a wider range of altitudes than the Arabica. They also produce beans quicker than Arabica plants and can be harvested in 2-3 years after being planted versus 4-5 years. For this reason, Robusta beans are more economical for coffee farmers to produce.

What does this mean to you? First, the coffee you find in your local supermarket is more likely to be Robusta as it can be ground and canned or vacuum-sealed without losing much taste. It is also what you find in instant coffee as well.

If you go to Starbucks, Peets or another coffeehouse for your coffee then it means that you will pay a premium for anything that is 100% Arabica beans. You will pay a little less for those blends that are mostly Arabica with a little Robusta added in. That is not necessarily a bad thing to have some Robusta added to your premium coffee. In fact, it is said that Robusta beans help to form a better crema in espresso.

The biggest things to remember are that if you want more caffeine than look for Robusta and if you want a flavorful coffee than you want Arabica. If neither matters to you then just make sure you are not being charged a premium for Robusta coffee and be suspicious if someone is offering you what they say is Arabica but are charging you a Robusta price.

History of Ethiopian Coffee

The history of coffee is as varied as the different beans and blends that have appeared since the first discovery of the wonderful drink. While there is not entire agreement and consensus as to the discovery of the beverage, the popular theory about Ethiopian coffee history is that the coffee plant was born in an Ethiopian region (Kaffa). The story goes that coffee was discovered by a sheep herder named Kaldi. He noticed that his sheep were eating red “cherries” and would become hyperactive after eating them. Intrigued, he tried them and discovered the boost he was getting. The legend states that local monks scolded Kaldi for what they said was a drug but soon switched course when they found they could drink it and stay up later for prayers.

Below is a timeline that gives a sense of how coffee consumption spread around the world and became the popular drink that it is today. Timeline is from UTNE READER, Nov/Dec 94, by Mark Schapiro, “Muddy Waters”

  • Prior to 1000 A.D.: Members of the Galla tribe in Ethiopia notice that they get an energy boost when they eat a certain berry, ground up and mixed with animal fat.
  • 1000 A.D.: Arab traders bring coffee back to their homeland and cultivate the plant for the first time on plantations. They also began to boil the beans, creating a drink they call “qahwa” (literally, that which prevents sleep).
  • 1453: Coffee is introduced to Constantinople by Ottoman Turks. The world’s first coffee shop, Kiva Han, open there in 1475. Turkish law makes it legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he fail to provide her with her daily quota of coffee.
  • 1511: Khair Beg, the corrupt governor of Mecca, tries to ban coffee for feat that its influence might foster opposition to his rule. The sultan sends word that coffee is sacred and has the governor executed.
  • 1600: Coffee, introduced to the West by Italian traders, grabs attention in high places. In Italy, Pope Clement VIII is urged by his advisers to consider that favorite drink of the Ottoman Empire part of the infidel threat. However, he decides to “baptize” it instead, making it an acceptable Christian beverage.
  • 1607: Captain John Smith helps to found the colony of Virginia at Jamestown. It’s believed that he introduced coffee to North America.
  • 1645: First coffeehouse opens in Italy.
  • 1652: First coffeehouse opens in England. Coffee houses multiply and become such popular forums for learned and not so learned – discussion that they are dubbed “penny universities” (a penny being the price of a cup of coffee).
  • 1668: Coffee replaces beer as New York’s City’s favorite breakfast drink.
  • 1668: Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse opens in England and is frequented by merchants and maritime insurance agents. Eventually it becomes Lloyd’s of London, the best-known insurance company in the world.
  • 1672: First coffeehouse opens in Paris.
  • 1675: The Turkish Army surrounds Vienna. Franz Georg Kolschitzky, a Viennese who had lived in Turkey, slips through the enemy lines to lead relief forces to the city. The fleeing Turks leave behind sacks of “dry black fodder” that Kolschitzky recognizes as coffee. He claims it as his reward and opens central Europe’s first coffee house. He also establishes the habit of refining the brew by filtering out the grounds, sweetening it, and adding a dash of milk.
  • 1690: With a coffee plant smuggled out of the Arab port of Mocha, the Dutch become the first to transport and cultivate coffee commercially, in Ceylon and in their East Indian colony – Java, source of the brew’s nickname.
  • 1713: The Dutch unwittingly provide Louis XIV of France with a coffee bush whose descendants will produce entire Western coffee industry when in 1723 French naval officer Gabriel Mathieu do Clieu steals a seedling and transports it to Martinique. Within 50 years and official survey records 19 million coffee trees on Martinique. Eventually, 90 percent of the world’s coffee spreads from this plant.
  • 1721: First coffee house opens in Berlin.
  • 1727: The Brazilian coffee industry gets its start when Lieutenant colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta is sent by government to arbitrate a border dispute between the French and the Dutch colonies in Guiana. Not only does he settle the dispute, but also strikes up a secret liaison with the wife of French Guiana’s governor. Although France guarded its New World coffee plantations to prevent cultivation from spreading, the lady said good-bye to Palheta with a bouquet in which she hid cuttings and fertile seeds of coffee.
  • 1732: Johann Sevastian Bach composes his Kaffee-Kantate. Partly an ode to coffee and partly a stab at the movement in Germany to prevent women from drinking coffee (it was thought to make them sterile), the cantata includes the aria, “Ah! How sweet coffee taste! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine! I must have my coffee.”
  • 1773: The Boston Tea Party makes drinking coffee a patriotic duty in America.
  • 1775: Prussia’s Frederick the Great tries to block inports of green coffee, as Prussia’s wealth is drained. Public outcry changes his mind.
  • 1886: Former wholesale grocer Joel Cheek names his popular coffee blend “Maxwell House,” after the hotel in Nashville, TN where it’s served.
  • Early 1900′s: In Germany, afternoon coffee becomes a standard occasion. The derogatory term “KaffeeKlatsch” is coined to describe women’s gossip at these affairs. Since broadened to mean relaxed conversation in general.
  • 1900: Hills Bros. begins packing roast coffee in vacuum tins, spelling the end of the ubiquitous local roasting shops and coffee mills.
  • 1901: The first soluble “instant” coffee is invented by Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato of Chicago.
  • 1903: German coffee importer Ludwig Roselius turn a batch of ruined coffee beans over to researchers, who perfect the process of removing caffeine from the beans without destroying the flavor. He markets it under the brand name “Sanka.” Sanka is introduced to the United States in 1923.
  • 1906: George Constant Washington, an English chemist living in Guatemala, notices a powdery condensation forming on the spout of his silver coffee carafe. After experimentation, he creates the first mass-produced instant coffee (his brand is called Red E Coffee).
  • 1920: Prohibition goes into effect in United States. Coffee sales boom.
  • 1938: Having been asked by Brazil to help find a solution to their coffee surpluses, Nestle company invents freeze-dried coffee. Nestle develops Nescafe and introduces it in Switzerland.
  • 1940: The US imports 70 percent of the world coffee crop.
  • 1942: During W.W.II, American soldiers are issued instant Maxwell House coffee in their ration kits. Back home, widespread hoarding leads to coffee rationing.
  • 1946: In Italy, Achilles Gaggia perfects his espresso machine. Cappuccino is named for the resemblance of its color to the robes of the monks of the Capuchin order.
  • 1969: One week before Woodstock the Manson Family murders coffee heiress Abigail Folger as she visits with friend Sharon Tate in the home of filmmaker Roman Polanski.
  • 1971: Starbucks opens its first store in Seattle’s Pike Place public market, creating a frenzy over fresh-roasted whole bean coffee.

 

Types of Coffee Roasts

If you are one of the many people who grind their own beans, you may notice that some beans are light and brown while others are black and shiny. This is a result of how the coffee is roasted. The roasting process results in the sugars, fats and starches that are within the bean being emulsified, caramelized and released. This creates the coffee oil which is what gives coffee its aroma and taste.

Whether you are a casual coffee drinker or a regular at your local coffeehouse, it is important that you have at least a basic level of understanding of the different roasts and how that wil affect the taste of your coffee. It is important to note that coffees from different regions will taste different even if they are roasted the same but knowing your roasts will equip you as you buy your next coffee.

Light Roast:

The beans are very light brown in color.

Medium Roast:

The beans are brown color and some liken their color to a Hershey milk chocolate bar.

Medium Dark Roast:

The beans are dark brown and only slightly oily. A lot of people like these the best as they have the robust taste of a dark roast without the burnt taste you sometimes get from a dark roast coffee.

French Roast:

The beans are dark brown and oily and look like the Dark Roast but are less shiny. They will have less acidity as well as burned undertones which take the place of the inherent flavors of the beans.

French Roast are sometimes thought to be the darkest roast available which is a result of the fact that in many areas it is the darkest available.

Dark Roast:

These are the darkest roast coffees and the beans are black and shiny and oily. They may be known as Italian Roast, Full City Roast, Spanish Roast, or even Dark French Roast.

These beans are very similar to a French Roast and the difference becomes noticable when the beans are placed next to each other and the these beans will be blacker than a French Roast bean. They will also have a flat flavor with a distinct charcoal undertone.

When you are trying to decide what kind of coffee to buy, remember that lighter roasts are typically sharper and more acidic than the darker roasts. Darker roasts have a fuller flavor but can taste burnt or have a smoky flavor if they are over roasted.

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If flavor is not your concern and you are only looking for the caffeine kick, then a lighter roast coffee is what you need as they have less flavor but more caffeine than the dark roasts.

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