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Coffee, from Humble Origins to Worldwide Use

History of the Coffee Bean


Coffee is one of the most widely-consumed beverages in the world and the bean from which it is developed is a huge cash crop as a result. It has a long and rich history, partly due to the internationalisation of the coffee-growing industry and partly because of the drink`s popularity the world over.
The Drink of Kings and Commoners

The Drink of Kings and Commoners

Interestingly, the coffee bean is a misnomer with the `bean` actually constituting the seed or stone of the small fruit of the coffee plant. They are most recognisable in their roasted form which is then ground in preparation for the drink.

The two most common and most widely available coffee varieties are Arabica (around three-quarters of coffee available) and Robusta (just under a quarter). Although different accounts offer different starting points of the coffee plant story, one of the strongest cases is that of its first cultivation in Ethiopia around 850AD. From there it began to spread throughout East Africa and into Arabia where it became increasingly popular and significant. The Yemenites became key growers of the coffee plant and guarded this prized crop very tightly, but the secret of it did not remain concealed indefinitely. Some specimens were smuggled out of Yemen and into the Netherlands but they were not grown on a commercial level, instead remaining in gardens and little further.

Its presence in Dutch gardens was the step necessary to begin an extensive and comparatively rapid process of globalisation throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which changed the coffee plant from an exclusively African and Arabian crop into a truly international one. Around 1616, the coffee crop began to be cultivated in Europe but the climate and other conditions were not ideal for it so, through the impressive channels of empire, the coffee plant was exported to more suitable colonies across the world. By 1700, it was being grown in both India and Java and within another twenty to thirty years it had been transported to the Caribbean and the East Indies. In 1730, it was first cultivated in South America, a hugely important development as that continent now produces almost half of the world`s coffee beans. By this stage, the great success of coffee was an unstoppable process and in 1865 the roasted beans, in a form that would be familiar to modern-day baristas, first went on sale in Pittsburgh, USA.

The story of coffee beans since then has been one of unrelenting expansion with cafes and coffee shops available on every street across the majority of the globe and with huge businesses built up around the popularity of this drink. New technologies have also emerged, such as the spray-drying techniques of the 1950s which have allowed supply to meet the rapidly increasing demand.
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