September 20, 2012 By Basith

Beverage Which Fought Its Way Out!

coffeeCoffee unlike most other beverages is meant to keep you awake; it acts rather like a tonic or energy drink enhancing the performance of an intellectual as well as a workaholic. Unlike wine and other beverages, it doesn’t have those heavenly features to take you to a state of hallucination; instead, they say,it only stimulates your brain and thoughts to make you active and work longer.

What coffee does is to give  an aromatic sip as well as make you face facts.  It doesn’t make you forget the bitter realities of life by making you lose your presence of mind; instead it brings in a positive attitude, makes you active and asks you to share your feelings along with a ‘brewed cup of gourmet coffee’ to your comrades sitting around, to work out a few probable solutions.

‘Coffee’ – The Autocrat’s nightmare:
The social interactions, hot topics of discussion including  political and radical ones,  put forward by sharing a cup of coffee for ages had provoked autocrats, religious leaders, landlords, office boss and even the heads of the academe. There was a time when drinking coffee was considered a sin:brewing coffee and selling it through a café was considered similar to the present-day illicit distillation.

The irony was that  kings, Arab dignitaries and other nobles considered it a tonic and for the common man who had it from nearby breweries, it was a forbidden drink –  it induced thoughts of rebellion and change and made him share such radicalism with  his friends.

But no such restrictions could stop from the brown brew, when gripped by such parleys. People could walk  into the coffee houses through the backyards. The repressive measures from the part of autocrats – razing coffee shop walls to ground, condemning proprietors, charging the slaves who prepared coffee et al – could hardly dent the people’s instinct for the great beverage.

Alexandre Dumas, in his Dictionnaire de cuisine, says “the taste for coffee went so far in Constantinople that the imams complained their mosques were empty while the coffee houses were always full.”

According to legend, the country credited with coffee’s origin is Ethiopia. Coffee was found to be enjoyed widely in all the Islamic capitals like Cairo, Baghdad, Medina, Mecca and Damsacus – since it was first believed to have been drunk in Persia by around the ninth century. It was, Soleiman Aga, who in , 1669 really launched coffee in the Western world.

He lobbied successfully for the beverage and made people drink it; in spite of the high demand, it was tough to import those berries to the West through the port of Marseilles and the common man found the prices too high. Thus most who wanted the drink were not even able to get a pinch of the coffee powder; besides there were obvious attempts to prevent the spread of coffee by branding it a luxury item. The roasted coffee beans and stone ground coffee were packed in leather bags greased to preserve the aroma and wereup for sale in ‘German boxes, lined with lead and closed with screws’. The coffee beans already cost a few thousand pounds and  packaging and handling raised the prices to a level inconceivable for the common man.

Coffee was then finding it difficult to reach  its real devotees – ‘the mass who brewed it to bring in revolutions’ – and the autocrats adopted  repressive measures to deny them a sip. Montesquieu wrote in his Lettres Persanes: ” Were I the King, I would close the cafes, for the people who frequent those places to heat their brains in a very tiresome manner. I would rather see them get drunk in taverns.  Then, at least, they would harm only themselves, while the intoxication which coffee arouses in them causes them to endanger the country’s future.”

Two varieties but different flavours:
With  coffee flavours of present times ranging from chicory or chocolate filled, vanilla or hazelnut infused,  to almost all fruit flavours like strawberries and oranges,  it will be surprising to know that of the actual coffee beans are just two types– the Arabica and Robusta varieties. The different flavours are injected  into the coffee by additives put into the beans during or immediately after the roasting process.

Besides the improvisations in the form additives, innovations on the way it is being prepared – use of steamed or frothed milk, served chilled or hot, foamed, creamy or dark,  and based on whether it is brewed or espresso, have given way to a wide range of varieties of cool and hot Coffee drinks and a few are: Americano, Cafe au Lait, Cafe Breva, Caffe Latte, Cafe Macchiato, Double shot, Dry and Regular Cappuccinos.

The Arabica bean is considered a descendant of the original trees from Ethiopia (the East African country often credited with coffee’s origin). The Arabica coffee beans account for about 70% of the world’s coffee production and is often considered as having premium quality compared to the Robusta beans. The world famous Café brands like Costa, Costa Rica, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kona – all use Arabica beans to maintain their supremacy in the competitive arena.

The Arabica coffee beans are expected to make a coffee that is mild and aromatic and the beans are  a bit slender and longer compared to the Robusta beans.

The coffee brewed out of Robusta beans is more bitter than the Arabica variety and has higher caffeine content. The Robusta plants are seemed to be tolerant to a wide range of climatic and geographical conditions but still the low range of preference with regard to flavour limit its consumption to just 30 percent of global coffee production.

Now countries like Costa Rica are seen to ban the cultivation of Robusta plants because they believe the excess production of the variety could harm their reputation of being the producers and brewers of the fine gourmet Arabica coffee.

Just like tea differing in flavours according to altitudes and climates of the producing region,  the flavours of beans grown in different parts of the world can vary as well, even when they are out of the same kind of tree.

Paul P. Duxbury’s article published on ‘The History and Main Types of Coffee’ explains the taste variation of the same breed of berries “It is believed that trees in Africa produce beans that give off a berry or spice type flavour while those from Latin America are clean-tasting and perhaps a bit tangy.  Another major factor in the taste can be greatly influenced by the roasting process. The temperatures used in roasting and the time allotted to the process can greatly change the end taste of a ground bean.”

Brown brew reaches its deserving commons:
The initial high prices of the coffee beans were brought down since then by promotional measures like mixing up  coffee powder with roasted acorns or barley – it was an idea put forward by a few suppliers in Paris and this challenged the kings and their Police. The cunning tactics adopted by the ruling class to associate coffee with tobacco too went in vain as Café’s cropped up through out the Continent and people started talking politics rather boldly, as if they were quite aware of the fact of the state getting jittery and the King’s Police always were overworked.

The earlier prize reduction method employed by a few suppliers in Paris by mixing the coffee powder with some other roasted ingredients like barley, didn’t do any good to the taste of the delectable brew, which people loved to drink on its own and so there were attempts otherwise to take the drink to its potential customers, especially by a little hunchback known by the name ‘the Candiot’ [he was from the Greek Island – Candia].

“He would wave the irresistible aroma of a cup of Café under their noses, as he had no enough money to open a shop and pay for the license. Tea was already being sold in this way in London” notes Maguelonne Toussaint Samat in the Chapter “Coffee and Politics” of his book ‘A History of Food’.

The mixing attempts of those times still poses an obvious warning to those present day coffee lovers who would easily fall victim to ads like – ‘rare blend of coffee’ – because ‘blend’ is a term that often points towards those ingredients that go with the fine quality Arabica gourmet coffee, which for ages have been best enjoyed on its own; rather than being blended with the inferior Robusta variety of beans, roast barley or acorn.

People knew that there was nothing sinful in drinking coffee and they were all ready to face arrest.  The ruling class had no clue on what to do because nobody kept themselves away from criticizing the King and his machinery.  The politics at the café’s went to the level of transforming those four walls meant to serve coffee and a few eateries in ‘clubs’ – quite capable of hoisting meetings parallel to those of the National Assembly during the dawn of the French Revolution.

The state promoted beer and wine and both these beverages being legal posed strong challenge to coffee. Both these beverages unlike coffee left people inactive, out of mind and in a state of hangover,  which served the purpose of autocrats, who wanted their people to sleep all throughout their life.

The English just as they were initially reluctant to accept Indian curries in their neighbourhood telling that the Indian curries and Biriyanis had a bad odour,  later turned out to be the relishers of its spicy flavours at its best.  It was not that they  hated the flavours of the curry; they were more driven by an inherent superiority feeling over their subjects of that time in their despise for the palatable innovation.

The case was not different with coffee as well, this was well evident from the fact that they came up against the Laventine Café Proprietors of Paris, who challenged  traditional British breweries with the aroma of roasted premium quality coffee beans. As in the case of Indian curries,  the British started complaining that the neighbourhood stank because of the coffee houses. Taking into account the present state of the neighbourhoods of England, even the very genuine British can’t do without coffee shops, kebabs, biriyanis and Indian curries.  The British when they got used to those, later even turned ambassadors of these brews and food stuffs.

Once the British took up the beverage on their own,  it was more like tea turning secondary to coffee,  and English literature, neo classicism, and British humour would not  have turned so effective  without those Coffee houses, where writers got a taste of the thoughts of the times.

With the writers recognising the potential of coffee to enhance their creativity,  any attempt to discourage drinking it by the kings or bishops was fought with, considering it an attack on Individual freedom with the most effective weapons of all times – ‘literature and art’.  Writers and artists found it like enhancing their creativity and bringing in new ideas during those sleepless nights, shared with a cup of coffee and the time spent along with their ‘Comrades at the Coffee shops’ – sharing a similar wave length. They started distinguishing the nurturing abilities of coffee from other beverages, and preferred to stay active drinking a cup of coffee for the sake of bringing in revolutionary literary works.

Since then there have been unsuccessful attempts to discourage coffee through advice and prescriptions of doctors and physicians of that time.  The doctors took care not to utter a single word against the intoxicating, liver/lung-damaging features of alcohol or tobacco;  instead they campaigned as if – ‘coffee is a dangerous poison and often warned of preventing conception’.

The sailors who didn’t quench their thirst to keep coffee plant alive:
Obviously,  along with the attempt of popularising coffee through importing the best of coffee beans, there were attempts to grow the good hybrid varieties all across the world.  The attempt to take this hybrid to places far away through ships often had to overcome legal hindrances as well as long and difficult journeys, along with the mammoth task of keeping these coffee plants alive when there was acute shortage of fresh water – with the ship crew forced to quench their thirst with a few drops of the precious liquid a day, so that they were able to water the soil holding the coffee plant.

Captain Gabriel Des Clieux who deprived himself entirely of drinking water tells us in his memoirs, “ I stifled and repressed my desires, so that every day I could sprinkle a spoon full of water on the soil containing my treasure, even though it would evaporate in a few moments because of the temperature of those latitudes. The vessel was also attacked and damaged by Spanish pirates, which prolonged the voyage yet further. By the time it touched land both the coffee plant and its guardian were very unwell. Planted in suitable soil and caressed by the trade winds, however the plant revived.”

Those days coffee was grown best in Yemen – especially Aden and Moka areas.  It was from there that the plants were taken to the Dutch colony of Batavia in Indonesia and the specimens were generously given to several other European capitals.

Maguelonne Toussaint Samat in his book ‘A History of Food’ says, “Des Clieux’s cutting was the ancestor of all the coffee trees of Martinique, the West Indies, Brazil and Columbia and some of them went back across the Atlantic to become a source of income to the African colonies that have now gained their independence, in particular the Ivory Coast and Cameroon.”

Coffee as a beverage fought the battle of survival winning hearts.  What the world got instead was a miraculous drink which could keep brains young, keep people awake when it matters most, make spirits rise, keep apart grief and anger – thus filling in optimism and positive energy.  No wonder the caffeine content in it healed the painful memories and calmed the minds of Telemachus and his companions after the failure of Odysseus. There is a popular belief among the Turks that Prophet Muhammad was able to overcome the fear, shiver and fever of the pious watching at the Hira caves, only after the angel Gabriel offered him the first cup of coffee in history.


1, A History of Food, by Maguelonne Toussaint Samat, Chapter 19 – Coffee and Politics
2, The History and Main Types of Coffee, by Paul P. Duxbury, published on


1, Article published in, The Gourmet Coffee Bean
2, Article published in, Types of Coffee Drinks – Coffee Varieties

Posted in: Articles