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Author: Corinne Trang
Editor: Solomon H. Katz
Date: 2003
Encyclopedia of Food and Culture
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 6
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1360L

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Page 429


COFFEE. Coffee refers to both a plant and to the hot and cold beverages made from the pit or "bean" of its fruit. Coffee contains significant amounts (between 0.8 percent and 2.5 percent) of the stimulant alkaloid caffeine (trimethylxanthine) as well as protein and carbohydrates. The coffee shrub or bush grows as two species, Coffea arabica and C. canephora, and is indigenous to Africa, specifically to the Kaffa region of Ethiopia. The word "coffee" is derived from the Turkish word kahveh, which is rooted in the Arabic word kahwah, meaning wine, this indicating the use of the beverage as a replacement for alcoholic beverages that are forbidden under strict Muslim religious law.

The coffee plant is an evergreen with elliptical, dark shiny green leaves that yields a red husked berry containing a seed pit or "bean." Coffee belongs to the Rubiaceae family and, depending on which of two species from which it is harvested, propagates differently. Coffea arabica is grown principally in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Coffea canephora (also known as Coffea robusta) is grown in Africa (mostly in the Congo), India, and Vietnam, which is its leading producer. The arabica is self-pollinating, while the canephora or robusta needs cross-pollination to fruit. After planting, the shrub requires four to five years of growth before it will fruit. When harvested, the ripe red husk is removed from the berry, and the fresh seed can be planted to generate seedlings or dried for planting at a later time. (It is this seed that is the coffee bean as it is commonly understood.)

Processing the beans requires two steps. In the first step, usually in the country of origin, the husk of the berry is left to ferment and soften, which facilitates the extraction of the seed or bean. The beans are then dried and shipped "green" or unroasted to a destination where they are roasted either for local consumption or for packaging and transshipping to other markets. The roasting process has a substantial effect on the color and flavor of the bean and the beverage it will produce. The darker the roast, the stronger the flavor. It is also the roasting process that eliminates water, making the bean more brittle and easier to grind.

Coffea arabica produces the "Arabica," also known as "Brazilian," varieties, which are often preferred for their balanced aroma and rich flavor. The best, rarest, and most sought after arabica types are harvested in Indonesia, Jamaica, Hawaii, and Colombia, where they are grown on small production farms at a relatively slow and steady growth rate, developing flavorful berries. (In this way they may be said to parallel wine production.) Coffea canephora, or robusta, tends to be strong and bitter. Because Coffea canephora can resist frost and disease and can sustain warmer climates and lower elevations, it experiences faster growth patterns and higher fruit yields. This generally results in beans that contain more caffeine than arabica types but that lack subtlety and flavor. The canephora bean is said by experts to be neutral by comparison to arabica.

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By the top 15 producing countries The top 15 producing countries
Crop years 1999/00 to 2001/02 Calendar years 1999 to 2001
(in thousands of bags) (in thousands of bags)
Crop year commencing   1999 2000 2001 Calendar year 1999 2000 2001
Brazil (A/R) 32,345 32,204 33,549 Brazil 23,139 18,016 23,172
Vietnam (R) 11,648 14,775 12,600 Vietnam 7,742 11,619 13,946
Colombia (A) 9,398 10,532 11,500 Colombia 9,996 9,175 9,944
Indonesia (R/A) 5,432 6,733 6,446 Indonesia 5,065 5,194 4,992
Mexico (A) 6,442 5,125 5,500 Cote d'Ivoire 2,406 6,110 4,174
India (A/R) 5,457 4,611 5,293 Guatemala 4,681 4,852 4,110
Côte d'Ivoire (R) 6,321 4,587 4,100 India 3,613 4,441 3,769
Ethiopia (A) 3,505 2,768 3,917 Mexico 4,358 5,304 3,408
Guatemala (A/R) 5,201 4,700 3,900 Uganda 3,841 2,513 3,060
Uganda (R/A) 3,097 3,205 3,250 Peru 2,407 2,362 2,663
Peru (A) 2,663 2,596 2,747 Honduras 1,987 2,879 2,392
Costa Rica (A) 2,404 2,246 2,364 Costa Rica 2,195 1,964 2,018
Honduras (A) 2,985 2,667 2,300 El Salvador 1,890 2,536 1,533
El Salvador (A) 2,835 1,717 1,630 Ethiopia 1,818 1,982 1,376
Cameroon (R/A) 1370 1,113 1,500 Nicaragua 984 1,345 1,365
All other producers 13,935 13,043 12,742   All other producers 9,302 8,708 8,313
(A) Arabica producer  
(R) Robusta producer  
(A/R) Produces both types. Predominantly Arabica  
(R/A) Produces both types. Predominantly Robusta SOURCE: International Coffee Organization

It is believed that the earliest producers of coffee, the Ethiopians, did not brew coffee as it is recognized in the twenty-first century from the roasted beans but made drinks from the bitter berries, combined the roasted beans with butter or animal fat (most likely that of mutton), or chewed roasted beans as a mild stimulant. Numerous tales on the subject of coffee and its discovery exist. One of the most persistent is of a ninth-century Ethiopian goat herder intrigued by his intoxicated, hyperactive flock. Having grown curious, he sampled berries his goats had been eating and felt similarly stimulated.

No extensive or significant use of the coffee crop has developed among Ethiopia's indigenous peoples, and it became an exotic crop for them, exported first to Yemen, then to other Arab nations. It is noteworthy that coffee production did not develop in Africa until the twentieth century and that consumption there is minor. (The berries are sometimes used to enhance teas, which are generally preferred as beverages there.)

A primitive approach to making the coffee beverage may have originated at the beginning of the eleventh century in Ethiopia, however, this was likely learned through Arab traders who ground roasted beans into a fine powder and stirred it into hot water. Most scholars believe the antecedents of modern brewed coffee drinks were developed in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries in Yemen and accredit the processing of the beans—roasting, grinding, and ultimately brewing the pungent hot drink—to a sheik of the Sufi order. Irrespective of the drink's origins, wild coffee plants may have been cultivated as early as the sixth century, but it was not until the fifteenth century that the coffee bush, Coffea arabica, is believed to have been domesticated, developed as an agricultural product, and spread throughout Muslim nations from Southwest Asia to Southeast Asia, including the Indonesian archipelago.

When first brought into widespread use, coffee was usually taken as a dark, bitter drink. Sugar was rarely used in the Arabian beverage, perhaps for fear that it would overstimulate the mind. The spice cardamom was often added to the brew for a naturally sweet flavor, and perhaps to counterbalance or mediate its bitter essence. Cardamom-flavored coffee is most commonly associated with the beverage known as Turkish coffee, as is the eleventh-century approach to boiling the grounds as a brewing technique. (Sugar is often added in this version as well.)

Historically coffee was the subject of frequent controversy and confusion, and its rise—much like tea—parallels the development of international trade and economic interdependencies. Coffee was perceived, for example, early in its development to have medicinal benefits, including as a curative for mange, sore eyes, dropsy, and gout. However, it was also feared that, when mixed with milk, coffee caused leprosy. Coffee was often Page 431  |  Top of Article at the center of political turmoil, especially through the development of coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire and throughout Europe, where people could congregate and discuss ideas in an atmosphere conducive to (literally) stimulated conversation. Coffeehouses were associated with the plotting of insurrection in the Ottoman Empire and of both the American and French Revolutions, for example.

Coffee is one of the most common delivery systems for drugs in the world. Its caffeine stimulates the brain, improving one's focus. It is also a diuretic, washing out the kidneys. When taken in large quantities, the stimulant causes irregular heartbeat, uncontrollable shaking, and dehydration. Despite—or because of—these characteristics, by the beginning of the sixteenth century coffee drinking was widespread in the Middle East. Its powerful physical effects, however, were such that some Muslim scholars interpreted it as being contradictory to the spirit of the Koran and tried to forbid it. Others opposed its banishment and ironically included the beverage in religious worship. (Records of the period indicate that coffee was drunk inside the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia.) Early accounts exist of coffee drinking, ostensibly for the purpose of staying awake to pray and chant, during the evenings of the one-month fasting of Ramadan.

Coffee is also associated with superstitions and rituals. For example, not unlike tea leaf reading by Chinese fortune tellers, Turkish fortune tellers use the finished cup of coffee—which contains both liquid and grounds—turning it onto the saucer until cool. The cup is then turned back up, and any coffee grounds remaining in the cup are "read" as a basis for predicting the future.

From roughly the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century, coffee trade was monopolized by the Yemenis. The English and the Dutch traded with the Arabs at the major trading port of Mocha in Yemen for nearly half a century before they found a way to break the Arab monopoly. Ultimately Dutch smugglers stole beans from Mocha, carrying them to colonial Java in Indonesia for propagation. Through the Dutch act of pilferage, Indonesian coffee plantations came to produce an arabica bean popularly known as "Java." (Eventually this bean was described by connoisseurs as among the finest arabica available.) The Dutch also sent beans back to Amsterdam for propagation in greenhouses. In short order coffee propagation and drinking spread rapidly throughout the Western Hemisphere and the European colonies. In an act of repilferage, for example, the French king Louis XIV engineered the theft of plants from Amsterdam, and these plants eventually were responsible for the development of coffee plantations in French colonial Martinique. In 1723 the coffee business was born of a coffee bush originating in Martinique and eventually engendered a New World coffee industry that by the twentieth century was responsible for 90 percent of coffee production internationally.

The coffeehouse became a symbol of the Beat generation during the 1950s and early 1960s. The Gaslight Coffeehouse in New York's Greenwich Village was once a well-known setting for various bohemian movements. This 1959 photo shows poet Dick Woods sitting over coffee with Eddy Slaton. © BETTMANN/CORBIS. The coffeehouse became a symbol of the Beat generation during the 1950s and early 1960s. The Gaslight Coffeehouse in New York's Greenwich Village was once a well-known setting for various bohemian movements. This 1959 photo shows poet Dick Woods sitting over coffee with Eddy Slaton. © BETTMANN/CORBIS.

The early to mid-seventeenth century saw the rapid spread of coffee consumption throughout Europe, especially northern Europe, resulting in a significant demand. The possibility of financial fortunes along with the possibilities of lucrative taxes and perceived medical benefits made for both free market and government-encouraged spread of cultivation in tropical and subtropical climes across the globe.

Cultivation spread throughout Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and Brazil. The first Brazilian coffee bush was planted in 1727, for example, and it was cultivated by slave labor. While the crop experienced a somewhat slow beginning there, by the end of the nineteenth century Brazil's coffee-growing industry was profitable. By the early twenty-first century Brazil was the world's largest coffee exporting nation with Vietnam running second.

Coffee and its patterns of consumption were historically linked to politics as well as perceived curative and stimulant benefits. Originally coffee was enjoyed almost exclusively in coffeehouses, which were founded as specialty shops for the purpose of selling coffee by enticing traders to try the new beverage. The first coffeehouse (or café) opened in Constantinople in 1555, and within a few years the city counted hundreds of such establishments. In rapid turn the coffeehouse became a place for socializing. Paralleling the social patterns of teahouses in China, coffeehouses became meeting places for casual conversation and business and political discussions, including revolutionary Page 432  |  Top of Article
In the Arab world, the coffee break is much more than a pause in the day's schedule; it is a period of intense conversation and male socialization. These men are talking business over their cup of coffee in the Gulf Hotel at Manama, Bahrain. © ADAM WOOLFITT/CORBIS. In the Arab world, the coffee break is much more than a pause in the day's schedule; it is a period of intense conversation and male socialization. These men are talking business over their cup of coffee in the Gulf Hotel at Manama, Bahrain. © ADAM WOOLFITT/CORBIS. strategies. The empire's rulers quickly became concerned with the popularity of such places, where discontented commoners and intellectuals alike could gather and political uprising could be discussed. (Restaurants either did not exist or were forbidden.) Ottoman coffeehouse proprietors were subject to harsh punishments, including being sewn in a bag and thrown in the Bosporus.

Political mechanisms proved inadequate to stem rising enthusiasm for coffee and coffeehouses, however. Great profit centers, coffeehouses were often built in extravagant styles, imparting a social caché to the beverage. Spread by war and commerce, coffeehouses opened in European capitals throughout the early to late seventeenth century, increasing the beverage's popularity and supporting demand.

While coffee was a sort of luxury beverage at first, by the eighteenth century even less-fortunate Europeans could enjoy it (or some adulterated version of it) through sales by street hawkers. Innkeepers also made it part of their family-style menus, and some food historians link the introduction of coffee to creating the sequencing of a meal. In the mid–to late eighteenth century North American colonials drank coffee increasingly as a sort of protest against high British taxes on tea. Free to trade after independence (1776), Americans imported coffee initially from Haiti and Martinique, then Portugal and Brazil. By the mid-nineteenth century Americans consumed an average of over six pounds per capita annually. To a large extent the commercialization, mechanization, marketing, and democratization of coffee in North America evolved the beverage in modern times. The nineteenth century also saw the introduction of the drink in various styles, including Italian espresso (a concentrated one-ounce liquid), cappuccino (a "long" espresso with frothed milk), French café au lait or Spanish café con leche (strong coffee with plenty of hot milk), or iced coffee with or without milk. Other popular combinations are Irish coffee, which includes whiskey and Baileys Irish Cream, and Vietnamese or Thai coffees, in which sweet condensed milk is added.

Coffee can be "pure," using either the arabica or robusta bean, or it can be a blend of the two. One of the oldest blends simply combines various proportions of robusta and arabica beans, making the resulting item either more smooth or more bitter. Some of the more innovative blends include hazelnut and vanilla flavorings, these tied to the late twentieth-century, principally American interest in "gourmet" coffees. While for hundreds of years coffee consumers in Europe purchased a brewed cup of the beverage for quick consumption, in the United States green beans generally were sold in bulk for home roasting. This shift from public coffeehouse to domestic brewing had a profound effect on the industry and psychology of coffee consumption. The American development Page 433  |  Top of Article essentially stripped coffee of its political import, making it a modern commodity.

In other North American developments, at the end of the American Civil War, San Francisco's Folger's Coffee company gave customers a choice, offering both traditional green coffee beans and the more efficient and time-saving roasted beans. A new industry was born, and the tendency toward efficiency and rapid brewing was exacerbated. The Maxwell House company soon followed in Folger's footsteps, and in 1901 the first Maxwell House "instant" coffee came to market. This instant coffee was made by extracting water from brewed coffee and freeze-drying the remains. Other innovations followed. Decaffeinated coffee, which has significantly reduced amounts of caffeine, was made by steaming unroasted beans or by using a solvent, usually chlorine, to remove the caffeine. Because this process also removes some of the flavor from the beans, the stronger robusta variety is usually employed for decaffeinated coffees.

While coffee was added to a pot of water and boiled to produce the earliest versions of the beverage, Arab producers eventually filtered the brew through herbs to hold back the sediment. In eighteenth-century France, coffee was filtered through muslin bags, an innovative but ultimately inadequate process. The expatriate American inventor Benjamin Thompson—also known as Count Rumford—developed the broadly successful metal "drip pot," and a number of other inventors developed variations on coffee-brewing devices, many of which have remained in use in the twenty-first century. In 1819, for example, the percolator was invented in which hot water rises through a tube and into an upper container and infuses coffee. The early twentieth century saw the advent of true coffee filtering devices, particularly through the development of paper filters by the German Melitta Bentz Company in 1908.

The espresso machine (from Italian caffè espresso, literally, "pressed-out coffee") is usually associated with Italy, but it was pioneered in the early nineteenth century in German and French machines that used steam to push steam through coffee grounds. The modern espresso machine, patented in Italy in early-twentieth-century Italy, was developed by Desidero Pavoni (who bought the rights to the espresso machine patent in 1905), and was dramatically improved in Italy after World War II. The hiss of the espresso machine was a common sound in the Italian caffés of San Francisco's North Beach and in New York City's Greenwich Village decades before espresso and cappuccino became fashionable around the 1980s.

The difference in machines and grounds is important in the outcome of any coffee brew. For example, the espresso machine uses twice the amount of coffee as a percolator, a much finer ground of coffee, and much less water (actually steam), resulting in a dark, strong, bitter extraction. Different grinds exist for different styles of brewing. Coarse grounds are used to make filtered coffee,
Like tea, coffee evolved its own distinctive implements in the form of differently shaped cups, serving pots, and table accoutrements. This "Dragon Coffee Service" manufactured by the Komilov Brothers factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, between 1840 and 1860, transforms the traditional Russian tea service into a porcelain fantasy. © THE STATE RUSSIAN MUSEUM/CORBIS. Like tea, coffee evolved its own distinctive implements in the form of differently shaped cups, serving pots, and table accoutrements. This "Dragon Coffee Service" manufactured by the Komilov Brothers factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, between 1840 and 1860, transforms the traditional Russian tea service into a porcelain fantasy. © THE STATE RUSSIAN MUSEUM/CORBIS. fine grounds are used to make Italian espresso, and even finer grounds resembling the consistency of flour are used to make boiled Turkish coffee.

Harvested, roasted, traded worldwide, and consumed by people from different walks of life, coffee has created significant social crossroads for centuries. Once a luxurious beverage, coffee is enjoyed internationally by a diverse populace. Most often a morning beverage, its popularity has soared as both an afternoon and an afterdinner beverage. Variations abound. Aside from flavored and decaffeinated coffees, bottled coffees, coffee sodas, and other drinks are available.

Embracing this trend, and operating over 5,500 stores internationally (over four thousand in the United States alone), Starbucks is the leading coffeehouse chain of the twenty-first century. It sells coffees with multiple options (would you like a slice of banana nut loaf with your iced, decaf mocha java?) at the elevated average price of $3.50 per cup in a lounge setting, and has pastries (and sometimes, sandwiches) available for purchase. This creates a comfortable atmosphere for conversation and reading, without any pressure to make a purchase and leave. Thus, since the early 1990s Starbucks has created a coffeehouse culture for the masses. With its appeal extending from corporate executives to students and housewives, it has brought the former aristocratic atmosphere into the mainstream. In this way it typifies the late-twentieth-, early-twenty-first-century "mass-class" and "leisure-time entertainment" marketing strategies. The success of Starbucks is also bolstered by its ability to extend the brand by selling T-shirts, travel mugs, and other coffee-related accessories in its stores. Starbucks also sells coffee beans and ice cream.

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Coffee is not only a modern beverage but also an ingredient in desserts, including coffee ice creams, coffee gelati, and coffee-flavored cakes. Variations include the American "chimney sweep" recipe, in which vanilla ice cream is topped with powdered coffee and drizzled with a shot of whiskey. Italian tiramisu has lady fingers soaked in espresso coffee and set in a whipped mascarpone cream. In addition, an American classic dish called "Black-eyed steak" employs coffee to deglaze a cast-iron pan in which a slice of salt-cured Virginia Smithfield ham has been pan-fried; the bitter and salty jus is poured over the meat prior to serving.


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Corinne Trang

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3403400149