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How is Coffee Made?

Updated on January 6, 2017
Photo by Julius Schorzman
Photo by Julius Schorzman

Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day.

Coffee is the seeds, or beans, of any of a group of tropical evergreen shrubs of the genus Coffea, in the Madder family (Rubiaceae). Coffee is the second most important product in international commerce on the basis of volume traded, and it is estimated to be the first on the basis of value. The value of coffee imports is estimated to be about $20 billion a year, or 1% of total world trade. Most coffee is consumed in the form of a beverage, although large quantities are used in flavors and extracts. Very small amounts are made into diverse products such as perfume (from blossoms rather than beans) and animal feed. Research indicates that coffee beans can be used to make many other items such as tar, pitch, fuels, plastic, antiseptics, and wall and floor materials.

Coffee contains two principal chemical compounds that provide its familiar qualities as a beverage. The first, caffeine, has a stimulating effect; the second, caffeol, supplies flavor and aroma.

Coffee (Turkish kahveh, from Arabic qahweh, wine, the coffee beverage), beverage made from the roasted seeds of the coffee-tree. Botanically there are three main types of coffee: arabica (believed to have originated in Ethiopia but now yielding the bulk of the coffee in the western hemisphere), the more hardy robusta (a native of the Congo but widely grown elsewhere), and liberica (mainly from west Africa).

Coffee was unknown to the ancients and to the medieval world outside Ethiopia. It was not introduced even into Arabia until the 15th century, and did not reach Europe for another hundred years. Rauwolf made it known to Europeans by an account of his travels, printed in 1573. The plant was taken from Mocha to Batavia by Wieser, burgomaster of Amsterdam, in the 17th century, and thence spread to Martinique (1720, from France), and has flourished in the West Indies ever since. The chief different kinds of coffee are Mocha (from Arabia, with yellowy-brown beans), Java (with large yellow beans), Jamaica and east Indian (with large blue-green beans), Surinam (which has the largest beans), and Bourbon (with pale yellowish-white beans). There are numerous ways of preparing coffee for the table. Westerners generally strain the liquid of all sediment. On the other hand the Turks drink their coffee thick.

A number of cheaper substitutes are frequently used instead of coffee, or mixed with the ground berries, notably chicory root, dandelion root, cereal, carrot, and yellow iris seeds. The seeds of Astragalus baeticus are known on the Continent as Swedish coffee. All these lack the chief constituent, caffeine, and are much inferior. However for reasons of health some people prefer to drink decaffeinated coffee. Real coffee is very refreshing, stimulating the system and diminishing the waste of tissues (see tea). It is an antidote to opium or alcohol poisoning. Its four chief constituents are caffeine, volatile oil, and caffeotannic and caffeic acids. The coffee trade is very important, Brazil being by far the biggest producer. Coffee is also exported on a large scale from Mexico, Central America, Indonesia, and East Africa.

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