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Coffee is a brewedbeverage prepared from the ground roasted seeds of several species of an evergreen tropical shrub of the genus Coffea (Rubiaceaefamily, angiosperm group including over 600 genera and 13,500 species). The two most common sources of coffee beans are the highly regarded Coffeaarabica, and the "robusta" form of the hardier Coffeacanephora.



The origin of the coffee plant was unknown up to the 19th century. Ethiopia, Persia and Yemen were thought to be the original place where it was grown. In his well-known book Pellegrino Artusi writes the best coffeecomes from Mocha, a city in Yemen, so that could presumably be its origin.

According to legend, a 9th century Ethiopian goatherd, Kaldi, supposedly discovered coffee when his goats became more energetic after eatingberries and leaves from a certain bush. He chewed on the fruit himself and his exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to an Islamic monk in a nearby monastery, but the monk disapproved of their use and threw them into a fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed. The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world's first cup of coffee. This legend did not appear in writing until the 17th century and is probably apocryphal.

Other accounts attribute the discovery to Muhammed, the prophet who saw in a vision the archangel Gabriel offering him a cup with black liquid (as black as the Black Stone in Mecca) Allah had prepared himself to make him recover from a disease.

A fire in Abyssinia destroying some wild bushes and giving off fragrant scent far away is handed down as a possible origin of coffee.



In the 15th century coffee drinking spread to Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul where it was drunk in meeting places.  In his work Sylva Sylvarum(edited in 1627 after the author’s death) Francis Bacon decribes the places where Turkish people sat and drank coffee comparing them to European taverns.

In 1583, Leonhard Rauwolf, a German physician, and Prospero Alpini from Marostica in Italy in his book De MedicinaAegyptiorum(1591) first described coffee plant in Europe. It was Charles de L’Ecluse, a Flemish doctor, pioneering botanist and prefect of the Imperial medical garden in Vienna who first described coffee berries in 1605 in Europe.

Thanks to trade with Eastern countries Venice was the first city in Italy where coffee was brewed maybe since the 16th century. However the first coffee shops were opened in 1645 and Francesco Redi, a doctor and man of letters, wrote: “I would rather drink poison than a glass of bitter, wicked coffee […]”Bacco in Toscana(1685).

In the17th century a pound of coffee was paid even 40ècus in Paris and London. Brewing coffee was more and more increasing and nowadays it is widely drunk all over the world.

Around 1650 it started to be imported to England where the first coffeehouses were born. In 1663 there were 80 of them and in 1715 their number amounted to 3000 as an evidence of the growing fame of coffee. Coffeehouses soon became meeting places for men of letters, philosophers and politicians where Enlightenment ideas were born. The habit of meeting in coffeehouses soon spread to the rest of Europe: in Vienna Franciszek Jerzy Kulczcki, a Polish  soldier, opened one of the first coffeehouses in Europe in 1684, in 1670 one opened in Berlin and one in Paris in 1686. In 1689 the first coffeehouse in America was opened in Boston, The London Coffee House, and in 1696 The King’s Arms in New York followed.

In the 18th century all cities in Europe had at least one coffeehouse. Coffee started to be grown extensively in English and Dutch colonies (Indonesia).

The Dutch East India Company began to cultivate the seed coming from Mocha (Yemen) in Java and Ceylon in the last decade of the 17th century. In 1706 some plants were taken to the botanic garden in Amsterdam from Java and, from there, to France in 1713.The French Navy officer Gabriel de Clieu brought a coffee plant to the French territory of Martinique in the Caribbean, from which much of the world's cultivated Arabica coffee is descended. Coffee thrived in the climate and was conveyed across the Americas: the territory of Santo Domingo (now Haiti) saw coffee grown in 1725, Guadeloupe in 1726, Jamaica in 1730, Cuba in 1748 and Puerto Rico in 1755. In the same years the Dutch took coffee to their territory of Suriname from where it came to the French Guyana in 1719 and it was finally introduced to Brazil in 1727 where the first coffee plantations were born. The coffee industry totally depended on the exploitation of slavery which was formally abolished in 1888.

It was the Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus, the father of the modern biological nomenclature,  who first spoke of Coffea genus in 1737.



Several species of shrub of the genus Coffea produce the berries from which coffee is extracted. The three main species commercially grown are Coffea Arabica, CoffeaCanephora(predominantly a form known as “robusta”) and, to  a minor extent, CoffeaLiberica.  Some other species are cultivated locally.


Species differ for their taste, caffeine content and adaptability to climate and soil. All species still grow wild in their native place and new ones have been artificially created. 



Arabica – The most highly regarded species and the first to be used is native to the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia (where coffee is called “buna”), southwestern Sudan, possibly northern Kenya and later Yemen where the first historical traces of coffee drinking, as early as 1450 among the followers of Sufism, are to be found. Coffea Arabica seeds have a much lower caffeine content than the others; it  is predominantly self-pollinating,and thrives in high plantations (between 1000 and 2000 metres in height). Growing it far from its native places started very soon, for instance Coffea Arabica started to be cultivated in Indonesia as early as 1699.

Robusta – It is native to western and central Subsaharan Africa, from Guinea to Uganda  and southern Sudan.  Coffearobusta is less susceptible to disease and more adaptable than Coffeaarabica and can be cultivated in lower altitudes and warmer climates where Coffeaarabica will not thrive, consequently it is cheaper. It started to be grown in the 19th century. It is self-incompatible and requires outcrossing so useful forms and hybrids must be propagated vegetatively.

Liberica–Among the least widespread species, themost importantis CoffeaLibericathat is native to Liberia and now it is a major crop in the Philippines. This coffee was brought to Indonesia to replace the Arabica bushes killed by the coffee rust disease at the end of the 19th century. Liberica coffee tastes more like coffee Robusta than like the more popular Arabica. It is still found in parts of Central and East Java today.

Coffee Liberica bush in Vietnam.

Excelsa– A new species of coffee tree was discovered in Africa in 1903 and it was named Coffea Excelsa. Later on botanists realized it was only a different variety of Coffea Liberica, so it was called Coffea Liberica, variety Dewevrei. However growers and traders still call it Excelsa and it is considered to be very convenient.




According to Artusi, just as different kinds of meat together can make better broth, so blending different varieties of coffee, roasted separately, you can get a more precious aroma. He says the best possible blend should be: gr. 250 Puerto Rico variety, gr. 100 Santo Domingo variety and gr. 150 Mocha variety. Alternatively, gr. 300 Puerto Rico variety with gr. 200 Mocha variety would be fine. You need gr. 15 blend to get a large cup of coffee, gr. 10 can be enough for a common one.


The most valued coffee in the world is Kopi Luwak and is produced in Indonesia. Only kg. 50 are produced every year and it costs € 550 each kilogram! Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee, refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and excreted by the Asian palm civet (luwak). Seeds are then hand collected from feces and roasted.   The name is also used for marketing brewed coffee made from the beans.


The Board of the Cup of Excellence, a group of people granting a sort of Oscar Prize for Coffee, have found some fundamental criteria according to which coffee has to be classified: aroma, sweetness, taste, acidity, faultlessness, aftertaste. Generally speaking, quality is related to the place where it grows, cultivation practices,  berry processing and where they come from.



As early as the end of the 16th century botanists started to analyze the properties of coffee. After Rauwolf, in 1713 the French botanist Antoine de Jusseieu published one of the most notable scientific works on coffee anatomy.

Extensive scientific research has been conducted to examine the relationship between coffee consumption and medical conditions. The general consensus in the medical community is that moderate regular coffee drinking in healthy individuals is either benign or mildly beneficial. However, caffeine can cause anxiety especially in high doses and in people with pre-existing anxiety disorders. More simply, in very susceptible people it can provoke  tachycardia,  heart palpitation or insomnia: they should avoid drinking it or, at least, drink it moderately. The anxiety-inducing effect could be reduced blending some chicory or roasted barley to coffee powder. The constant use of coffee could neutralize its negative effects, but it could also worsen them.

If drunk before meals in the morning it seems to have a laxative effect. A cup of coffee, about cl. 10, with one spoon of sugar,  only supplies  45 kilocalories.



Production areas are roughly pointed out in this map.

The major producing countries are: Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia and Indonesia. Then, depending on the yearly output, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Ethiopia and India. 



Coffee berries and their seeds undergo several processes before they become the familiar roasted coffee. The first step is hand picking: only the berries at the peak of ripeness are selected. If berries are still green, coffee farmers are paid less. Picking is a labor intensive method and one of the most important steps in coffee production as it is fundamental for the quality of the product.  The flesh of the berry is then removed (defruiting) and the seeds arefermented to remove the slimy layer of mucilage which is still present on them. When fermentation is over, the seeds are washed with large quantities of fresh water to remove any fermentation residues. Subsequently, the seeds are dried (drying) in the sunlight for one week. Next, coffee is polished to remove silver skin and sorted: seeds are hand selected by colour and size and labelled as “green coffee”.  Damaged seeds or possible  foreign matters are discarded.

Some varieties of coffee are aged; this step  mainly takes place with coffee coming from India or Indonesia.

The next step in the process is the roasting of the green coffee. Coffee is usually sold in a roasted state, and with rare exceptions all coffee is roasted before it is consumed.The seed decreases in weight as moisture is lost and increases in volume, causing it to become less dense.The actual roasting begins when the temperature inside the seed reaches approximately 200 °C (392 °F).  During roasting, caramelization occurs as intense heat breaks down starches, changing them to simple sugars that begin to brown, which alters the color of the seed.

Depending on the colour of the roasted seeds, they will be labelled as light, medium light, medium, medium dark, dark or very dark (grading).

Coffee seeds must be ground and brewed to create a beverage. 


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