School Visit to the Coffee Museum
After our tour around the musical instruments we learned the history of coffee and how it spread around the world. A goat herder named Kaldi, in the highlands of Abyssinia, noticed his goats got agitated after eating the berries of a certain tree. After trying them himself he gave the berries to a monk who found them useful for keeping his congregation awake during his long sermons.
The slave trade brought wild coffee plants to Harrar in Ethiopia, high altitude and the right conditions created a variety of coffee which saw the origin of all Arabica plants. So the story of coffee begins. Crushed beans were either eaten mixed with fat, or dry or roasted leaves were made into “Ethiopian”.
A hermit known as Al-Shahili started roasting, grinding and boiling coffee beans. Coffee drinking spread quickly through the Arab world because coffee is non-alcoholic and stimulates the mind.
1200. The first beans arrived from Ethiopia to Al-Makkha in Yemen, corrupted to mocha, the universal nickname for coffee.
1400. After the conquest of Yemen by the Turks, coffee beans were carried by boats from the ports of Mocha and Jedda and by camel caravans through the Islamic world.
Around 1550 in Istanbul, the first coffee houses open for drinking of ‘quahwa’ which stimulates discussion and political criticism. Eventually sultan Murad banned coffee and merchants started introducing coffee on the European market.
1616. A Dutch captain took the seeds from Yemen to Dutch East Indies to start the great coffee plantations of Java and Ceylon. The rapid spread of coffee cultivation, brought with it large scale deforestation and slavery. The mono-culture caused the spread of “coffee rust”, a fungal disease, which devastated the entire region.
In Medieval Europe the main food was bread and beer. Breakfast was soup made of beer, A family consumed three litres of beer every day. The arrival of coffee sobered Europe up,
In 1650 the first coffee houses opened in England. They were called “Penny Universities” because the entrance cost a penny. Many famous commercial houses, like Lloyds of London have their origin in these establishments.
1658. The first coffee plant arrived from Yemen to the botanical gardens in Amsterdam. A coffee tree from the gardens was presented to Louis XIV of France who had them planted in ‘Jardin de Plantes’ in Paris.
In 1689 the first coffee house opens in New York.
In 1683 after their defeat in front of Vienna, the fleeing Turks left bags of coffee behind. The Viennese thought it was camel fodder but Kolchitsky, a Viennese spy who spent much time in Istanbul, recognised the coffee beans and opened Vienna’s first coffee house.
In 1696 coffee arrived in Paris, introduced by the Turkish Ambassador. It quickly becomes fashionable and Café Procope is still open today.
In 1720 Café Florian opened in Venice and is still open today.
Coffee houses became meeting places for merchants, intellectuals and artists where new political ideas were discussed. This led to opposition from the government and from the church who feared the effect of free exchange of ideas, and from tavern owners who felt the loss of business. Even women complained about the long hours their men spent in the coffee houses.
1721. Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, after an adventurous sea voyage which included pirates and near ship-wreck, brought the plant from Paris to Martinique, from here it spread to the Caribbean and Central America.
1727. The Dutch took the coffee plants from Amsterdam to Dutch Guyana, now Surinam. A Brazilian official received a young plant concealed in a bouquet of flowers given to him as a token of affection, by the wife of the colony’s governor. Coffee cultivation started in San Paulo and by the middle of the 19th century, Brazil became the world’s largest coffee exporter.
1730. The British introduced coffee to Jamaica and the “Blue Mountain” brand is still highly regarded. The French took the plant from the Yemen to the island of Bourbon, now Reunion, in the West Indian Ocean, from here it spread to East Africa.
1865 saw the first roasted, ground and packaged coffee in the USA, it was introduced by John Arbuckle.
In 1938, Nestle launched Nescafe on to the market and it quickly became a household favourite because of its speed and ease of preparation.
In 1963, the USA reached its highest point when coffee was served with every meal. Since the coffee business became very profitable, the roasters lowered the quality of the product by substituting the Arabica variety for the cheaper Robustas and by using a lighter roast to increase the volume allowing them to change the weight of the package from sixteen to thirteen ounces. The reduced quality and alienation of the biggest consumer – women, consumers began switching to soft drinks, causing a decline in business.
In 1971 the first Starbucks opened offering the atmosphere of the coffee shops of yesteryear.
The 1990’s saw a rapid growth in high end coffee houses. Starbucks is the global leader offering high quality Arabica coffees in congenial places, where people could meet friends, spend relaxing time, choose coffees from different countries, different roasts and different ways of preparation. This created a richer coffee drinking experience and a higher consumption of quality coffees. By reintroducing the consumer to the pleasures of good coffee, the speciality coffee shops are increasing world market share.
Coffee is grown in a belt from twenty five degrees north to twenty five degrees south. In tropical areas coffee trees get frequent rain which causes multiple blooms and several harvests per year. Robusta type is mostly planted. In sub-tropical regions, a well defined dry/rainy season produces a single harvest. Arabica coffee is planted. On the league of world coffee production Brazil is by far the biggest producer, Guatemala comes in at ninth.
Carefully selected beans, still in unwashed parchment, are planted in disinfected soil, in bands two inches apart, in shaded planters. After six weeks, plants called “Little Soldiers” sprout. Two weeks later two leaves appear, called “butterfly” or “lettuce”. At this point, the plants are transplanted into plastic bags filled with soil, two plants per bag and are kept in shadowed nurseries. Nine to twelve months later, the grown plants are moved to their final place on the farm.
Sun Grown Coffee: Used on farms in Brazil, Africa and Indonesia. The absence of trees aids mechanical harvest and increases the yield but results in lower quality coffee. The increased production depends on the application of chemical fertilisers and often results in ecological disaster.
Shade grown coffee: Coffee farms in Antigua use shade trees to protect the plants from frost and strong sun, help control pests, give refuge to diverse animal species and provides an environment for diversified products such as wood, legumes and fruits. The quality of the coffee grown in this way is superior to the sun grown variety.
Each coffee bush produces six and a half pounds of cherry beans (ripe coffee beans). After initial drying the weight reduces to one and a half pounds. The coffee is then sorted and is called green coffee – one and a quarter pounds and finally after roasting that same plant has produced one pound of actual coffee – or approximately forty cups.
We had a quick look at modern mass production and tasting.
We were introduced to all the family members who have owned this coffee farm – the two year old on the right is the current owner, now aged forty six.
We walked across the old drying area and tested beans, hot chocolate and saw the brightly coloured bags that the coffee is sold in.
Next, we bimbled through the plantation and got up close and personal to the coffee beans.
Some of the grounds were laid out to represent local villages.
ALL IN ALL INTERESTING
I WOULD HAVE LIKED LONGER TO READ ALL THE LABELS
THAT’S MY LITTLE ANORAK