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Wednesday August 30, 2006 2:30 am

Origins of Coffee

Colored Coffee Cups=Coffee was first discovered around 850 A.D. by the members of the Galla tribe in Ethiopia who had observed goats having extra pep after eating the berries of a certain shrub. They mixed the ground up berries (or coffee beans) with animal fat and ate them. (Yes, they are berries, though we call them beans.)

Arab traders first cultivated the coffee plant around 1000 A.D. They roasted the beans and boiled them, serving them as a drink they called “qahwa” which means “preventing sleep.” Soon, coffee was traded and by 1453 found its way to Constantinople where the first coffeehouse was opened twenty-some years later.

Coffee then spread to Venice in the 1600’s and farther into Europe and the New World. In England, Edward Lloyd opened a coffee house in 1688 which eventually became Lloyd’s of London, the famous insurance company. It was here that tipping got its official start and coinage.  A sign was placed by a tin cup: “To Insure Prompt Service” (TIPS). Patrons would toss in a coin to make sure they had good service. 

After Louis XIV of France is given a coffee plant, a young naval officer stole a seedling and smuggled it to Martinique in the Carribean in 1723. Ninety percent of the world’s coffee comes from its descendants. Brazilian coffee plantations sprung up in a few years later.

Soon inventors and chemists started tinkering with coffee. In 1900, Hills Brothers offered ground roasted coffee in vacuum tins.  The next year, first “instant” coffee was created by a chemist in Chicago but it wasn’t mass produced until George Constant Washington, a chemist in Guatemala, developed it into Red E Coffee. Decaffeinated coffee, the brainstorm of German coffee importer Ludwig Roselius, was developed in 1903, and offered to the US market in 1923 as Sanka. Finally, freeze-dried coffee was created in 1938 by the Nestle in response to Brazil’s need to do something with their coffee surplus. It was introduced in Switzerland but never made a big splash in the US until the mid 1970s. 

Creative ways to brew all of this coffee stimulated mechanical inventors. The first commercial espresso machine was built in Italy in 1905. The first drip coffee maker came in 1908, and in 1946, Achilles Gaggia perfects the espresso machine, offering cappuccino, named after the white robes of Capuchin monks.

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