For the vast majority of mankind, coffee has become the best ally for waking up for breakfast. But it is also the drink that brings everyone together in a mid-day break or a small welcome and welcome ritual. A presence that accompanies everyday life.
However, not everyone knows this product and its surprising peculiarities or the potential it can express in relation to the qualitative types, the methods of preparation and consumption and the effects on the body .
The argument regarding the health effects , whether beneficial or otherwise, is highly controversial. There are those who claim that it causes enormous benefits in those who consume it, such as an increase in physical and intellectual abilities.
Coffee and caffeine have been the subject of much study. In fact, currently caffeine is considered a psychoactive substance , or a drug, not fully understood. Many central questions about its effects on health remain to be investigated and explored, given the large consumption that is made around the world.
In the kitchen, normally, the use is reserved for the preparation of the drink , in the many types that differentiate it.
But, thanks to its versatility, It can also reserve tasty surprises as an ingredient in imaginative and refined combinations with sweet and, incredible to say, with salty.
In fact, who doesn’t know the classic tiramisu or the many cakes, biscuits, creams and coffee ice creams?
Coffee: what it is
The plant that produces the beans from which the most famous drink in the world is obtained is called Coffea spp and belongs to the homonymous genus of the Rubiaceae family.
The plant is native to tropical Africa , in the area of the Ethiopian side characterized by a very fertile soil and covered by luxuriant forests. Here the coffee plant grows spontaneously.
Over time, its spread has allowed the plant to occupy much of the tropical and equatorial belt of the rest of the Earth. Between 35 ° north latitude and 35 ° south latitude, it is characterized by temperatures between 13 and 28 ° C., Where the growing conditions of this evergreen shrub are optimal.
Variety of coffee
Over sixty are the species that currently represent the genus Coffee, with different morphological characteristics and, above all, with quite variable quality levels of the beans.
The species included in the crops are essentially three, namely the Coffea:
robust (or coffea canephora)
liberica (or Coffea excelsa).
It is the native Ethiopian species , with a graceful bearing, with thin and light stems, with oval, glossy, dark green leaves and with wavy margins. It can reach 6 meters in height.
But it is also grown in other countries such as Yemen and India , and especially Brazil , the main coffee producing country that concentrates eighty percent of its resources in the cultivation of Coffee arabica .
Of this species the Moka variety is particularly appreciated , mainly cultivated in the fertile areas of Arabia. It produces small grains of a green color tinged with blue, with a flattened and elongated shape and with a very marked median groove on the flattened side. These have the characteristic of being very aromatic and have a fairly low caffeine content which can range from 1% to 1.7%.
The coffee produced by this variety of Coffea arabica has a softer flavor and the color it gives to the foam tends to be nutty and reddish.
Overall, the coffee market is accounted for 75% by the Coffee arabica species.
The Coffea robust or Coffea canephora is a species native to central-western Africa, probably from the Congo . It is cultivated in many countries of the intertropical belt. It differs from other species for some morphological particularities.
The habitat of this species is very similar to that of the Coffea liberica , resistant to hot and dry climates as well as to excesses of rainwater. It grows well from the plain up to an altitude not exceeding 900 meters above sea level.
The robust has a high production rate and matures early. Moreover, it is much cheaper , which is why it is often used in blends to keep the price down.
It is a species that developed in west-central Africa.
It has leaves longer than the Arabica even up to 30 cm, instead of 15 cm.
Currently it also grows in Central Java , in Borneo (Kalimantan). The ideal habitat of this species foresees a warmer climate than Arabica, below 500 m of altitude, even in conditions of direct sunlight.
The fruits are larger than those of the Coffea arabica species.
However, the beans have much lower and little appreciated aromatic characteristics.
Coffea liberica constitutes an excellent base for crossing , aimed at obtaining hybrids that produce beans with the best characteristics.
After harvesting and selection, the drupes are sent to one of the preparation processes, before being shipped to the market.
The first is called the “dry method”. The drupes collected are summarily rinsed with running water and left to dry in the sun or in the dryers. The coffees obtained with this system are quite full-bodied.
In particular the Arabica have a sweet and balanced taste (about 25% of the total production). Instead, the Robusta are strong and have woody notes (38% of production).
The second is called the “wet method” and consists in washing the berries in large tanks (for this reason it is also called washed coffee ) and depriving them of part of the pulp with special machinery.
The remainder is eliminated thanks to subsequent fermentations. This is followed by another washing under running water and drying (natural or using dryers).
Then, with appropriate machinery , the two membranes are separated from the seeds , which must finally be cleaned and calibrated. This process makes the Arabica coffee more delicate and aromatic, pleasantly acidic (36% of the production) and the flavor of the Robusta is strong and full-bodied, with hints of chocolate (unusual, it represents 1% of global production)
The third possible method is called intermediate because it has characteristics of both the first two methods. The drupes are separated according to the level of ripeness and passed in water in the washing tanks, then they are dried in the sun or in the dryers. A coffee is obtained which is called semi-washed .
After the brewing process, the coffee is packaged in bags and shipped to the buyer in the destination country to be processed. In fact, for coffee to be suitable for the extraction of the drink it must undergo a fundamental roasting process, called roasting .
There are countless levels of roasting. The main variables are temperatures and roasting times .
These can change according to the tastes of the consumers to whom the coffee is intended and the preparation methods.
For example, American coffee requires a more delicate roasting.
Variety of raw coffee and production area
The variety of raw coffee and its production area are the other equally important variable.
In fact, some species require short cooking, others require longer times at different temperatures. For example, the Coffea Arabica species require a mild treatment , in order not to disperse the characteristic volatile aromatic components. On the other hand, Coffea Robusta beans require longer times and temperatures to favor the release of strong aromas and / or the reduction of unpleasant odors.
The means and methods of roasting have evolved over the centuries becoming more and more sophisticated.
The first machines were powered by wood or coal. Then we moved on to gas machinery. Today, automated electric ovens are used, with cylindrical baskets that continuously stir the beans in order to allow homogeneous roasting.
On an industrial scale, roasting takes place in a fairly standardized way.
The most common cooking intensities are mainly three:
- mild, for 13-16 minutes at 165-175 ° C;
- medium, for 17-21 minutes at 180 ° C;
- strong, for 22-23 minutes at 180-190 ° C (in Italy it can easily reach 230 ° C).
Roasting is able to modify the physical structure of the coffee bean, altering a considerable amount of its characteristics:
- The bean physically changes already at 50 ° C: externally it becomes oily (the caffeone is released) and changes color towards brown, due to the caramelization of the sugars, the carbonization of the cellulose. Volatile compounds are generated. The water evaporates quickly and the grains become brittle and light, their volume increases by 30-50% as carbon dioxide develops inside.
- The chemical composition is altered : the caffeine content decreases in relation to the intensity of roasting (the coffee produced in Italy generates a decrease of about 20%), the humidity drops to 1% and hundreds of substances are transformed with heat chemicals present in the beans.
The work of the roaster
Some companies rely on the artisan experience of the roaster , a highly qualified and expert person who determines the right moment to stop the process.
These professionals make use of various methods, such as coffee samples, specific colorimeters, but above all a lot of experience through which to enhance the raw coffee while maintaining the best aromatic characteristics which will then be transferred into the drink.
Other companies combine the work of the roaster with computers or special machinery that recognize the moment when the beans have reached optimal cooking.
Once the roasting process is finished, the coffee beans are cooled.
It is carried out by blowing currents of cold air which serve to protect the coffee from alterations caused by the surrounding environment, especially from oxidation and the loss of volatile components.
In fact, if it were not protected, within 24 hours the coffee would disperse all its aroma and after a couple of weeks it would undergo a rancidity process that would make it unusable. Therefore it is necessary to store the product in cold storage or vacuum pack it.
The most prepared for mocha or espresso house that you can buy on the market is made up of mixtures of coffee of different origins and often of different varieties.
The blending operation serves to enhance the aromatic, gustatory and physical properties of each coffee (e.g. the foam).
Some characteristic aromatic notes are enhanced or attenuated in order to obtain a balanced and distinctive drink that meets the tastes of most consumers.
Remember that each country differs not only in taste but also in the methods of preparing coffee. For this reason, blending, as well as roasting, allows you to prepare the coffee in order to extract the essential components from the bean, obtaining the best overall result.
For example, to enjoy a satisfying foam some types of Arabica are mixed with Robusta coffee.
In fact, the first forms a light and persistent foam, the second dark and less compact.
The same operation, much more complex, concerns the formation of aromas and flavors that integrate with each other, creating a harmony that is different each time. For example, the sweetness and acidity of Arabica soften the bitterness of Robusta coffee. Therefore, each blend is the result of numerous tests, tastings, and corrections in order to identify the optimal composition, with greater merits and fewer possible defects.
On the market we can find packages of coffee still in grains or already ground.
In order to be consumed, the coffee must be ground. The degree of grinding is a further variable that is added in achieving the best final result.
The grinding varies according to the type of coffee you want to prepare and consequently the tools you use, namely:
- espresso requires fine grinding. For a cup of espresso (25 ml) the machine takes 25 seconds, delivery must be continuous and regular. So if it goes down too fast it means that the grind is too coarse, while if it goes down drop by drop the grind is too compact and fine.
- mocha coffee requires medium or medium-fine grinding. The grinding must allow the water to pass through it, under the pressure of the steam, in about a minute
- filter coffee use coffee with medium-coarse grind. In this case it percolates under the effect of gravity, therefore a consistent particle size is required.
If the granulometry is not suitable for the preparation method, the drink may have significant defects or, in any case, it may not express all its good aromatic qualities.
Modern coffee preparation techniques have made it possible to create a raw material devoid of the exciting substance, caffeine.
Instead, to obtain decaffeinated coffee the raw beans must be treated with a solvent (methylene chloride) capable of extracting the caffeine.
Soluble and freeze-dried coffee
Another version invented in the early 1900s by a Belgian engineer is soluble coffee . The basic technique is that of infusion. Part of the water is evaporated to increase the concentration of the infusion, then the rest of the water is evaporated to obtain a very fine powder ready for use.
Coffee can also be prepared with the freeze-drying method : after having frozen them, the beans are broken and kept inside a vacuum chamber and the water they contain is evaporated, obtaining very dry grains, which are then destined for packaging.
Nutritional properties of coffee
The WHO (World Health Organization) has established that coffee is a ” non nutritive dietary component “, ie coffee is not considered a food that carries nutritional factors.
However, the raw grains possess an interesting composition rich in:
- lipids and sugars
- many organic acids
- vitamins of group B
Furthermore, the peculiarity of coffee beans is that they contain about 700 volatile compounds, responsible for the aroma of coffee. Evidently the coffee processing process (drying and roasting) alters this composition while maintaining mainly the aromatic ones.
Therefore, neglecting the irrelevant nutritional component, it is important to understand the levels of caffeine that can be taken and to understand how it acts on our body.
The benefits of coffee for health
Coffee and cardiovascular disease
The first investigations into the effects of caffeine on the circulatory system date back more than a century ago. To date, it is certain that the drink taken by people who have never used it before leads to an immediate, slight and transient increase in blood pressure , and a consequent reduction in heart rhythm, of short duration, generally three or four hours. These effects seem to cease when caffeine is taken regularly and a tolerance develops.
However, all the studies exclude that long-term effects on the heart can be attributed to coffee. Indeed, the category most at risk is precisely that of those who occasionally consume coffee.
In fact, they are exposed to the risk of long-term cardiovascular effects because the body is unable to develop tolerance towards the substance.
From this it follows that it is “safer” by drinking coffee every day rather than once or twice a week.
Even in the presence of pre-existing hypertension phenomena, the caffeine consumed produces the same effects as normal subjects and the same phenomena between regular and occasional consumers, with the only difference that hypertensive people develop tolerance more quickly.
However, most research has confirmed that there is no link between mortality and coffee consumption in hypertensive individuals .
Lipids (fatty acids, phospholipids, steroids, waxes, etc.) that can be transferred from the coffee powder to the drink have also been studied, because they are potentially linked to an increase in cholesterol, which is one of the main causes of the development of heart disease and stroke.
In 1970, a correlation was discovered between the consumption of unfiltered coffee and a significant increase in the level of cholesterol in the body , especially in those who already had high levels.
It should be borne in mind that among all the different methods of making coffee, some can actually cause changes in blood cholesterol.
In fact, the infused coffee (the unfiltered coffee , the Greek and Turkish one that is boiled, or the coffee with the moka or the French plunger coffee maker ) contains greater quantities of cafestol and kahweol – chemical substances present in the oil droplets that float in coffee and also in sediments.
Not all researchers are of the opinion that caffeine is responsible for this effect. Other researchers think that the substance present in all coffee oil, responsible for hypercholesterolemia, is still unknown.
Consumption and cardiovascular diseases
It is comforting to know, however, that the Framingham Heart Study , an important epidemiological study begun in 1948 in the town of Massachusetts with the aim of estimating the risk of cardiovascular diseases, found that the levels of coffee consumption have no influence on the rate of coronary heart disease .
Furthermore, it found that no evidence confirms the hypothesis that the level of caffeine consumption is correlated with the mortality rates from stroke in hypertensive patients.
Asthma, an inflammatory disease caused by generally reversible obstruction of the lower airways, causes difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing and the production of viscous mucus.
The symptoms of this very common breathing disorder, especially among children, were sedated by the administration of strong coffee. In fact, caffeine exerts a relaxing effect on the bronchial tissue , functioning just like a bronchodilator.
Probably also for this effect, unknowingly, smokers are particularly prone to a high consumption of coffee.
Does coffee make you lose weight?
In an article published in 1993, entitled ” The Machanism of Action of Caffeine, ” researcher John William Daly argued that caffeine acts in adipose tissue, stimulating lipolysis.
New investigations, conducted under conditions of controlled physical activity, actually recorded greater weight loss if exercise is preceded by high caffeine intake. The effect was more effective in subjects who did not habitually consume coffee.
The explanations for these observations can also be attributed to another reason. Weight loss caused by caffeine may be due to an increase of at least 15 percent in basal and resting metabolic activity in both lean and obese individuals, maintaining this increase for at least two hours after intake.
Therefore, it is difficult to establish with certainty whether coffee is a valid aid in weight loss, at least until other surveys that evaluate the many variables involved are completed. Such as:
- diversity of subjects under examination;
- how to take caffeine;
- time elapsed between intake and exercise;
- duration of the exercise itself;
- physical condition of the subject and his tolerance to caffeine, etc.
However, the possibility that caffeine plays an essential factor in making tired people feel less is not excluded, so as to be able to determine longer and more intense times in the execution of the efforts that lead to consuming more energy.
The caffeine contained in coffee can slightly increase blood pressure, but the effect is short-lived and does not cause an increase in cardiovascular disease.
Therefore, all categories that slowly metabolize caffeine, ie those suffering from cirrhosis and in general all those who are genetically “slow metabolizers” of caffeine, must therefore limit its use. All adverse effects are eliminated by limiting consumption, not necessarily by totally eliminating coffee.
Being a psychoactive drink, coffee should be taken in moderation .
In a healthy person 3-4 cups of coffee a day seems to be compatible with a good state of health.
Furthermore, particular attention should be paid to interactions with some drugs, as it is able to enhance the effects of aspirin, paracetamol, painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs through an increase in their bioavailability.
Be careful though, an American filtered cup has twice the caffeine of a cup.
Ways to prepare and taste coffee
Originally, coffee was drunk in the form of a decoction: the beans were boiled in water (possibly with the addition of leaves) then filtered and consumed. Even today this method is used by Arab peoples , with some slight innovations: using the ibrik or ibriq ( jabena in Ethiopia), a special rather high saucepan, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top.
Boil the water with the addition of two parts of coffee and one of sugar. As soon as it starts to boil, take it off the heat and drink this very dense and strong coffee , called ” Arab coffee ” or ” Turkish coffee “, more appreciated if it contains part of the ground.
When the drink entered Europe this technique was transformed as the residual funds were not appreciated. From the 18th century in France a small cloth bag was used in which to place a dose of coffee, to be left to infuse for a few minutes. The samovar , or the coffee pot, was made of brass (silver for the wealthiest), and rested on a pedestal to be able to stand on a heat source that kept it warm.
Today this system is still in vogue to make a light coffee, called American (because it is mainly consumed in America): the kettle has a small stove and two communicating containers, between which there is a paper filter that contains the coffee powder. . The extraction times are very short, so the body of the coffee is barely perceptible, with very delicate organoleptic characteristics.
The Neapolitan coffee maker
In 1819 the first Neapolitan coffee maker was born , the “ cuccumella” , the work of a Frenchman. Very similar to the current moka by constitution. Composed of three overlapping elements. The first is a water tank, the second a funnel-shaped tank for the ground coffee with a central filter blocked by a rubber seal and the third is the beverage container, with a spout facing downwards.
The water tank is put on the fire until it boils, then when the steam comes out of the hole on the water tank the cuccumella is turned upside down (operation facilitated by the two side handles) so that the hot water passes through the filter where the ground is present, to end up in the collection tank. In this way, the spout turns upwards, allowing you to pour into the cup.
The moka coffee maker , invented by Renato Bialetti, is similar to the Neapolitan cuccumella, but it must not be turned upside down, because the pressure due to the heating (110 ° C) is such as to make the water rise in the upper container, passing through a tank containing the ground coffee and a filter. A special safety valve prevents excessive pressure from causing the moka to explode. The operation takes about 3 minutes and allows you to extract from 6g of powder, with medium grinding, a cup of coffee of about 50 cc which contains approximately 100 mg of caffeine.
The plunger coffee maker allows you to obtain a coffee with characteristics very similar to those of American coffee. It consists of a glass cylinder, closed at the top by a lid equipped with a plunger, to which a circular filter is attached, as wide as the section of the cylinder. After putting 6 g of coffee in the container, pour the boiling water; it is mixed and left to infuse for about 6 minutes. Pressing the plunger brings all the powder to the bottom, so it can be served in a large cup: generally 190 cc, with a caffeine content of 150 mg.
Espresso coffee machine
At the beginning of the twentieth century the first espresso coffee machine was invented by Giuseppe Buzzera . The first ones had the boiler developed vertically which pumped the steam under pressure into the coffee powder which was collected directly in the cup.
The most modern system was invented in 1947 by Achille Gaggia, using directly the pressure of water instead of that of steam.
To drink a good espresso, take a dose of finely ground coffee (6.5 g) and let water flow through it slowly, after being subjected to high pressures (9 atm), but with temperatures between 88 and 92 ° C.
The fine powder and prolonged contact with water allows water- soluble substances to collect in the coffee , but also fat-soluble substances , which give the drink its characteristic body and flavor.
Currently, espresso machines, also produced for domestic use, work with pods, that is, with pre-packaged doses of ground coffee, enclosed in a casing.
In addition to the many ingenious coffee-making tools, there are many ways to enjoy this drink.
How to enjoy coffee
Depending on your taste, it can be enjoyed:
- macchiato (with the addition of a small amount of milk)
- correct (with the addition of a small amount of alcohol, such as sambuca)
- long, narrow or double
- Moroccan (coffee, frothed milk and cocoa)
- mocaccino (cappuccino and chocolate)
Other, imaginative and extravagant ways to consume coffee are:
- shaken ( with ice, sugar, rum or whiskey, milk or cream shaken vigorously),
- Irish Coffee (same ingredients as shaken but served hot)
- spicy (served in a glass cup coated with chocolate topping and sprinkled with various spices).
How to recognize a quality coffee
Coffee is a pleasure, so its ” sensory properties” play a primary role in judgment. To these are associated a series of other qualitative characteristics.
The method of evaluating a good one that has found the greatest consensus (adopted by the Italians ) was developed by the International Institute of Coffee Tasters.
The evaluation of the Italian espresso is based on the recording of a wide range of sensory data and other qualitative descriptive parameters. Or:
- Color intensity: the coffee has shades of color that can range from pale yellow to brown monk’s frock
- Texture: indicates the texture value of the cream. The tighter the lattice because it is made up of very fine bubbles, the more the judgment will be positive.
- Olfactory intensity: it is the evaluation of the quantity of sensations obtained by direct olfactory, of the smells and perfumes perceived, both in a positive and negative sense
- Toasted intensity: evaluates the level of the toasted aroma, determining the quality of the roasting of the coffee beans.
Gustatory / tactile
- Body: is the degree of spherical perception, roundness, syrupiness and structure perceptible in the oral cavity. This sensation is related to the viscosity of the preparation
- Acid: is the sensation perceived on the part of the tongue (lateral) stimulated by the organic acids of the coffee
- Bitter: it is the sensation perceived on the part of the tongue (back) stimulated by the degree of bitterness of the coffee
- Astringent: it is the dry or lapping sensation produced by the precipitation of the protein contained in the saliva
- Global (negative odors): evaluates unpleasant odor sensations perceptible from the back of the nose. In the espresso eg. there are hints of straw, herbaceous, rancid, stagnant water and wet jute.
- Global (positive odors): evaluates pleasant post-nasal sensations, such as hints of chocolate, flowery, fruity and toasted.
- Attractiveness: concerns the evaluation of the overall beauty of the cream, in terms of intensity, color tone, fineness of texture and presence of branding (light and dark areas of the foam)
- Fineness: evaluates the elegance and overall quality of the espresso perfume.
Taste / tactile sensations
- Balance: evaluates the complex of taste and tactile sensations in terms of the pleasantness they offer.
Retro olfactory sensations
- Wealth: evaluates the complexity of the aromatic tones present in an espresso.
For example, if an espresso smells only of toasted, the quality of the olfactory sensations is not negative, but its perfume is poor. On the contrary, when it gives off pleasant floral and fruit notes, vanilla and chocolate, caramelized sugar and tobacco, and so on, its olfactory profile is particularly rich.
Coffee: cosmetic uses
In external use, coffee is an excellent natural exfoliant and very effective because the coffee grounds stimulate cell renewal. In fact, it is anti-inflammatory with soothing effects for delicate skin. It also has astringent properties and is a natural antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals and helps prevent the signs of skin aging.
Also in the cosmetic industry, it is widely used to fight cellulite, in fact some creams have coffee as their main component because it helps to dispose of fat and reduce the circumference.
You use coffee grounds at home and in the garden
After drinking your coffee, don’t throw away any more coffee grounds. In fact, they are very effective both for cleaning the house and as fertilizer for plants.
Coffee: uses in the kitchen
Although unusual, there is a wide range of combinations within savory, tantalizing and savory recipes made with coffee. In fact, excellent dishes can be prepared with white meats and fish.
And not only that, the coffee in the kitchen has unleashed the imagination of many chefs in the kitchen, enriching refined, but also simple, savory recipes with flavor.
In fact, it seems that – if used with skill – enhances flavors without necessarily conditioning them in taste.
Coffee in savory recipes
The combinations of coffee in salty can be found with the following foods:
Meat : it is undoubtedly among the best, especially when the meat is cooked on the grill. Coffee is the perfect ingredient to highlight marinades and helps caramelize surfaces. In general, white meats are the most suitable, particularly with pork the gastronomic understanding is more than happy.
Fish : it is unusual yet very tasty. This combination allows to “degrease” and enhance the flavor of fish such as swordfish, tuna and salmon, better if harmonized together with other spices.
Beans / Legumes : Some legumes have a strong flavor, such as beans or broad beans. A legume soup corrected with a pinch of coffee enhances its creaminess and softens the taste.
Vegetables : carrots, squash, beets and sweet potatoes, are all remarkably sugary, sometimes cloying vegetables, which can be given a boost of flavor with a small addition of ground coffee.
In addition, soups, creams and casseroles in the pan corrected with this little trick will be enriched with an unexpected taste.
Cheese and Butter : It goes well with all dairy products, especially fresh ones.
In fact, they are ingredients characterized by the “fat” element with which marriage is sure to be successful.
In tropical places where coffee is grown, where this plant plays a fundamental role in the life of the inhabitants, there are many uses made of it, both raw and toasted, in sweet and savory dishes.
To cite a few examples, on Christmas Day, Brazilians prepare a turkey soaked in a rich dark coffee with cream and sugar. In the Philippines, in the Batangas province, coffee is used as an alternative to soup (sabaw) as part of a local rice dish. It is then usually used when a dried fish from Lake Taal, or other fried or dried fish is consumed.
The plant can reach considerable heights (even higher than 8 meters), but in cultivation, through appropriate pruning, it is kept within 3 meters in height, to facilitate harvesting operations.
It has a very indented vertical and horizontal branching made up of thin and light stems and branches that tend to fold downwards. The bark of the stem is light gray. The branches bear an abundant number of dark green leaves, shiny or waxy, thick, with a short petiole and between 8 and 20 cm long and even more in some species (up to 40 cm). The leaves have an oval shape and with wavy margins, arranged on the branches in opposite directions.
Flowers and fruits
The secondary branches that develop horizontally are the fruiting ones that increase productivity with pruning. They produce cluster inflorescences in axillary position with respect to the leaves. These are composed of flowers with five long white star-shaped petals, very fragrant – their scent is reminiscent of jasmine with hints of lemon – and delicate, which last only a couple of days. Flowering does not occur homogeneously but at different times.
From the flowers develop the fruits, that is the small green drupes, big as cherries, also gathered in clusters, which reach maturity, depending on the cultivar, after eight / twelve months becoming red and shiny. Inside the fruits contain the seeds enclosed in the pulp, or two grains of the same biloba shape, arranged face to face on their flat side and with the convex part facing outwards, which follows the arched shape of the fruit. In some rare cases there may be a single solitary seed or there may be three.
Coffee beans and beans
The seeds in turn are covered by two membranes, the endocarp and the perisperm. The texture of the beans is hard and horny, they contain an oil, caffeone, and an exciting alkaloid, caffeine.
The fruit often ripens to coincide with the new blooms. For this reason the harvest becomes a very delicate operation that must be carried out with skill to avoid damaging the future fruits.
Furthermore, as well as flowering, ripening is also not homogeneous, that is, it occurs at different times, forcing more than one harvesting phase to be carried out, reaching, if necessary, up to five.
There are two collection techniques called ” picking ” and ” stripping “.
The first method is carried out strictly by hand , carefully picking (in English picking ) each drupe and thus obtaining a production with homogeneous characteristics. It is obviously a very costly technique in terms of labor, applicable only in small plantations.
On the other hand, the stripping collection is faster and therefore less expensive. It is carried out with the aid of machinery that, by sliding on the branches, allow them to be quickly stripped of their fruits.
This method involves two factors:
- simultaneous absence of new blooms on the same branches
- subsequent sorting operation to separate the fruits in their different stages of ripeness, also involving a lot of waste.
The best way to multiply the coffee plant is by cuttings.
It is rooted at the beginning of summer in a pot with peat and sand, at a temperature of 18-20 ° C. The cutting about 15 cm long must have at least one bud . Instead, sowing takes place in spring.
The coffee plant is native to the tropical regions of Africa. In particular, it seems that the primordial birthplace is located in the Region of Ethiopia called “Kaffa” (or Caffa or Kefa), characterized by a vast plateau and by the wide fertile valleys crossed by the Gogeb and other rivers, which make this land lush of vegetation.
The name of the place apparently recalls that of the coffee, but it is established that the etymology of the name of the drink derives from the Turkish term ” kahveh” (or also kahvè, qahvè and quahvè) which means “exciting or invigorating” in reference to its best known characteristic.
The discovery of coffee
There are many legends about the discovery of coffee, as an infusion, that have been created over time.
The most suggestive, contained in ” The Thousand and One Nights” , concerns the discovery by a goat shepherd who noticed an unusual excitement of the animals when they ate the fruits of the spontaneous coffee plants.
The pastor interested an old sage on the matter, who formulated the preparation of a decoction with raw fruits, capable of determining in those who drank it the same vivacity of behavior observed by the shepherd, noting its usefulness in combating listlessness and drowsiness. .
However, it seems established that the first uses date back to between 1300 and 1400 by the Arab populations , who had the plant in the wild in the regions of Ethiopia and Yemen .
It was first tasted by a Sheikh ( Shaykh) of the Shadhiliyya brotherhood (Sufi order) in Ethiopia.
Then, when Ali ibn Umar returned to Yemen, he took the precious berries with him. Even today, this shaykh is considered the patron saint of coffee farmers , owners, places where it is served and all its drinkers and lovers.
In fact, coffee is sometimes called shadhiliyye in his honor in Algeria.
Spread in the Arab world
During the fifteenth century, the cultivation and use of coffee spread very quickly throughout the Arab world, especially within the monasteries of Sufism in present-day Yemen, as it invigorated the monks for night prayers.
Substitute for wine
For the followers of the Muslim religion, coffee represented a valid substitute for wine, which was forbidden by the Koranic rule.
Thus the first public serving places in Mecca and Medina did not fail to rise, reaching as far as Turkey.
They became meeting places where people engaged in cultural conversations, exchanges of news and political views, often aimed at criticizing the government in complete freedom and without fear.
Some entertained themselves by listening to music and playing games like checkers and chess. In addition, Molah, dervishes and poets, in turn, told stories in verse or prose, all while sipping coffee , strictly bitter.
Coffee shop closures
The invigorating and exciting effects of coffee coupled with the potential expression of political discontent were a cause for concern for many rulers of the time.
This drink could represent a risk to public order, so much so that for a period coffee was banned, prohibiting its consumption.
The power of aggregation that coffee exercised actually distracted men from religious commitments, with a consequent decrease in attendance at the practices in mosques.
It was 1539 during Ramadan when an edict was issued which involved the closure of the cafes in Cairo, even if only for a few days.
Shortly thereafter, also in Istanbul, Sultan Murat IV did the same by ruling that these places should remain “in the dark” for the rest of the century.
Stocks were destroyed and shopkeepers arrested. But the sultan’s edict did not last long. The prohibition of the time did not prevent the population from continuing to consume coffee in hiding .
The patrons of the cafes moved elsewhere, especially in Bursa where there were seventy-five cafes. Thus it was that the Sultan of Egypt canceled all prohibitions and the coffee could be drunk again, assuming the name of “wine of Islam”.
Export of coffee to Europe
Thanks to the commercial traffic and explorations carried out by navigators starting from the 16th century, coffee arrived in Europe, through the port of Venice , in 1570 through the work of a Paduan doctor and botanist, Prospero Alpino and soon became a very valuable trading commodity.
During the first half of the 17th century, cafes were started in the main European cities. According to sources, the first Venetian shop was opened in 1615, used only for the sale of coffee. Instead, a few years later the first cup of coffee would be drunk.
In Europe, the consumption of coffee remained a rarity until the early decades of the 1700s, its cost was high due to the scarce commercial availability.
Consumption and notoriety grew only when plantations were started in the French and Dutch colonies . Subsequently, large producers followed in the Capitaneria Generale of Cuba, in the kingdom of Brazil, in Venezuela, in the Dutch East Indies and in Ceylon.
Hence, it was from the 1830s that coffee became fashionable all over Europe.
The Enlightenment century facilitated its growth in notoriety and facilitated its spread since educated men met in cafes to discuss the most varied political, cultural and artistic topics.
In fact, coffee was named an “intellectual drink”.
The goodness of this drink is accompanied, unfortunately, by the indelible stain of social exploitation.
From the second half of the 18th century a long period of slavery began for the population of South America , imposed by the European colonizers, which ended after more than a century of battles in 1888 and linked to coffee plantations . The same ones that still today constitute the only source of income for most families. Export companies, even more than producers, imposed inhuman exploitation regimes by brutal methods. Yet, paradoxically, wherever it has been introduced, It has become a symbol of hospitality and a vehicle for sociality .
Today the production areas are concentrated along the tropics, mainly in the northern hemisphere, with Brazil alone producing about one third of all world coffee, followed by Vietnam and other African, Central and South American states. .
Food and Nutrient Database – USDA .