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What are the Benefits of Coffee

Updated on May 6, 2011

Where did Coffee Originate

There is little doubt that Ethiopian descendants of the Oromo people were likely those to discover coffee. Unfortunately there is no written evidence prior to the seventeenth century that even mentions coffee much less where it came from.

This means that on the timescale of plant discoveries coffee is very recent.

Still, the story is that Kaldi, a 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd noticed that his goats were acting friskier (jumping for joy) than normal and much more energetic after eating the fruit of a certain bush. Kaldi tried the berries himself and realized their energizing effects. When Kaldi took the beans to a nearby monastery the holy men there disapproved of their use and threw them into a fire. Kaldi quickly retrieved the (now roasted) beans, ground them up, and added them to hot water, thus making the first cup of coffee.

Though the story is not that likely it has a long loved place in Ethiopian history.

No matter where in particular coffee originated it spread to Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt. By the sixteen century coffee could be found in Persia, Turkey and Northern Africa. From Northern Africa it spread to Italy (the first European country to adopt it), the rest of Europe, Indonesia, and then the Americas.

Revolutionary War and Coffee
Initially coffee was not a popular drink in the colonies during the pre-republican times. British (Indian) tea was much more popular. But the Boston Tea Party permanently changed that and Americans embraced coffee with open arms.

Coffee was in such high demand during the Revolutionary War, in fact, that dealers horded their supplies and charged exorbitant prices for the meager stocks they had.

The war of 1812 further established coffee in the United States when Britain once again cut supplies of tea. During that war American demand for coffee once again rose and has remained high ever since.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Coffee Bush in FlowerRoasted Coffee BeansCup of CoffeeCoffea Arabic in FlowerCoffea Arabic berries
Coffee Bush in Flower
Coffee Bush in Flower
Roasted Coffee Beans
Roasted Coffee Beans
Cup of Coffee
Cup of Coffee
Coffea Arabic in Flower
Coffea Arabic in Flower
Coffea Arabic berries
Coffea Arabic berries

What sort of plant is Coffee

The coffee plant is an evergreen shrub native to the highlands of Ethiopia. There are two main species of coffee; one are Coffea canephora (known by most in the west as Robusta) and Coffea arabica (known in the west as Arabica).

By species, caffeine content is quite different. Robusta has higher concentrations of caffeine and Arabica lower. Some cultivars of arabica have no caffeine.

Once the shrub has flowered it produces oval shaped berries which are initially green, turning to yellow, then red on ripening. The entire process of ripening takes seven to nine months.

Picking and Curing
When picked and dried (called fermenting) the berries turn black. Usually the berry pod contains two seeds, but ten to fifteen percent will contain one seed instead. If the pod produces a single seed that seed is called a "peaberry."

Where is Coffee Grown
Despite it's humble beginning coffee is grown (in order of production from highest to lowest) in Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Honduras.

Health Benefits of Coffee

Generally coffee consumption (in moderation) cannot be linked to cancer or any negative health risks. A twenty-two year long study by the Harvard School of Medicine found that coffee consumption leans slightly toward being beneficial.

Though no solid link has been established it may be that coffee consumption reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in late-life. This study was based on the consumption of three to five cups a day. Additionally coffee contains anti-oxidants which are known to reduce the presence of free-radicals.

Coffee is no longer thought to be a factor in heart disease and has had mixed results as a memory enhancer. Where a train of thought requires a memory of something related to that train coffee does indeed seem to help. But if the memory to be recalled is not along the lines of what the subject is asked to consider coffee seems to inhibit memory.

Coffee consumption does seem to help with depression.

Coffee Break

The "coffee break" was a marketing ploy introduced by the Pan-American Coffee Bureau in 1952.  Before then were was no such break in the workplace. The marketing scheme was so successful that it is now an American Institution.

Coffee In Antiquity

When coffee made it's way to Yemen from Ethiopia Muslim monks grew the bush in their gardens. The coffee fruit was then turned into wine for use during religious ceremonies.

Coffee (from the roasted beans) was banned in Yemen until the mid-sixteenth century because religious authorities felt it was an intoxicant.

Though it is now considered the national drink of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, banned it's consumption because it was considered a Muslim drink.

Oromo legend states that god cried over the corpse of a conjurer and the tears became a coffee plant. In the distant past the Oromo would plant a coffee tree on the graves of powerful community leaders in observance of this legend.

Coffee Preparation and Consumption

All coffee consumed as drink is the result of curing the berries, separating the seeds from the berries, removing the sticky pulp, roasting the seeds (beans), crushing or grinding the seeds, and passing hot water through the crushed or ground seeds.

Despite this very basic forumla there are many ways to prepare coffee.

Coffee grounds should never have water hotter than 185° F passed through them as the hot water will leach out oils that have a bitter taste. Coffee does not have to be filtered.

Turkish coffee, for instance, is a very finely ground coffee that is placed directly in the cup with hot water poured over the grind. As the grounds steep (and are stirred) the grounds will settle to the bottom leaving a clear sediment free cup of coffee...until the last sip that is.

Coffee can also be filtered through paper or a metal mesh screen.

Coffee Chemistry and the Heart

Two types of diterpenes (chemicals found in evergreens) are present in coffee: kahweol and cafestol, both these turpenes have been linked to a higher than normal risk of coronary heart disease; this by way of elevated LDL levels in the blood. Paper filters are known to remove the compounds while metal filters, on the other hand, do not.

A coffee grind of "espresso" which is only slightly courser than a Turkish grind, but much finer than medium or course grinds, is used in a "porta-filter" which is a very fine mesh metal filter cup made of either steel or another non-reactive metal. Of course the two compounds above pass right through such a filter and end up in your cup.

Caffeine

Almost all the caffeine manufactured and added to pharmaceutical products (cold medicine, stay-awake aids, and the like) come from coffee that has been decaffeinated.

Other Uses for Coffee (Grounds)

Spent coffee grounds have a wide variety of uses. They are:

  • Dried coffee grounds are almost as good as baking soda for removing odors from the fridge
  • Rub dried grounds on your hands after preparing smelly foods such as garlic and fish to deodorize your hands
  • Plants that like acidic soils will benefit from coffee grounds applied around them; rosebushes, azaleas, rhododendrons, evergreen and camellias are in this list
  • Coffee grounds repel ants, slugs, and snails
  • You can force a colony of red ants to move on by surrounding their mound with coffee grounds
  • Coffee (brewed) makes an excellent dye for paper, fabric, and even eggs
  • Brewed coffee will help hide scratches on furniture; apply a small amount with a Q-tip
  • Coffee grounds can be used as a safe scouring agent on pots and pans
  • Fleas don't like coffee so rubbing dry grounds on your freshly shampooed pooch will get rid of them; just rub down to the skin
  • In non-septic tank systems, flush grounds down your toilet to keep the plumbing clear; they will simply build-up in a septic system
  • Coffee grounds are an excellent addition to your compost
  • Use coffee grounds can be used as a facial exfoliant
  • Coffee grounds make a good mulch helping keep moisture in the soil while inhibiting the growth of weeds
  • Fisher-person? Add coffee grounds to your bait soil; the worms will love all the nutrients and live longer too
  • If brunette rub coffee grounds through your hair after a regular shampoo; coffee will add brown highlights and soften your hair
  • If growing carrots and/or radishes add coffee grounds to the soil these grow in for a richer harvest
  • Mushrooms grow well in old coffee grounds
  • Add fresh grounds to chocolate cake or brownies for a flavor boost

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