History of Coffee

Early signs of the discovery of coffee lead to Ethiopia, the Abyssinian highlands and to Kenya.

9th Century

There are a few versions of how the coffee bean was discovered and we found the legend about Khaldi the goatherd the most memorable.

Khaldi was taking care of goats in the Yemeni highlands. Each day he led them to new pastures. One day, the goats had been eating a certain shrub that had red berries, after which they were jumping about more than they had ever done before.

When an abbot from a monastery close by heard about this, he collected some of the red berries and made them in to a drink. The monks were able to keep praying through the night without becoming tired. The monks collected the red berries and during the rainy season hung them over the fire to dry. Some of the berries fell into the fire and gave off an aromatic fragrance. The monks ground them up and made their usual drink. They noticed the taste of this drink was by far more delicious. The secret of coffee beans had been discovered.

14th Century

It is not until the 14th century that coffee was mentioned in contemporary accounts. It is reported that in Yemen Coffee was planted for the first time. Possible transportation of the Red Berries is Ethiopian warriors who carried them as provisions. Coffee spread from the port of Aden in southern Yemen to Mecca, the holy city of Islam.

Kahwe is an Arabic – Turkish description of a stimulating drink stemming from this the word coffee originated from this region. The region is also known to have housed the first coffee houses.

Coffee, the Basics

It all begins with a red cherry , which develops from the flowers of the evergreen coffee shrub. Each cherry usually contains two seeds. It takes approximately 5 years after planting a coffee tree to reach it’s full productivity.

There are 2 major species of coffee, Robusta and Arabica. Robusta are known for their harsh, earthy flavour. This is a more disease resistant plant and is generally grown at lower elevations from sea level up to around 900metres. The Arabica species produce a fuller flavour and, depending on the distance from the Equator, prefer altitudes above 900 metres. Given suitable soil, the plant will thrive at up to 2100 metres.

To reach the coffee bean a total of four layers have to be removed and there are two methods used to isolate the beans. For the washed method the fruit is placed in to fermentation tanks where a controlled enzymatic reaction allows the fruit to swell and loosen from the bean. Surprisingly this smells like new made wine. The washed method used depends on the availability of fresh water.

The Dry method is quite simple. The cherries are spread out to dry in sunlight. This method can take several weeks for the outer layers to shrivel and separate from the beans.

Green bean to roasted blend

Shipped by sea in sacks or loose in special containers. At the destination, it is either temporarily stored in silos or taken straight to the roasting plant.

The beans are thoroughly inspected before being roasted.

Flavour of the various provenances depends, in addition in the final roasting process, on the climatic and geographical conditions in their country of origin. So before roasting, coffee-tasters take samples of every batch of green beans. The crucial phase in flavour development: a combination of duration, temperature and speed of the subsequent roasting of the green beans is what makes up the characteristic aroma of a particular coffee. Coffees roasted at the same temperature taste noticeably different depending on how slow or fast they are roasted.

Beans are roasted for between 2 and 20 minutes at 200 to 250°C. Important constituents are transformed by the heat of roasting. The colour of the coffee beans gradually changes from bluish green through various yellow tones to the desired final colour, which varies from light brown to dark brown. To avoid scorching or “tipping,” the beans must be cooled down rapidly after roasting, after which the coffee is cleaned once more.

The coffee is then packed whilst still warm into an airtight bag with a one way valve. This lets air out but not in, keeping oxygen away from the bean and the coffee fresh.