A Thirst for the Best (Coffee)

In my last post, we talked about all things tea.  Let’s move on to a favorite of many in the Northwest, coffee.

The story of coffee is a much younger one. It’s thought that coffee originated in 6th century Ethiopia when  a goatherd saw his goats acting exceptionally playful. They were eating the fruit of a struggling little tree. The goatherd tried one himself and found that while it tasted bland it had an invigorating effect on him too. This little tree was most likely the plant, Coffea Arabica. The coffee beans called “cherries” were eaten for another seven centuries until a Yemeni mystic made the cherries into a drink and found that the drink helped him stay awake during prayers.

Over time, coffee made its way eastward where it became the “wine of Islam,” as Muslims weren’t allowed to drink actual wine. From there, coffee entered Paris and Vienna. Before then, most Europeans drank beer. Their drinking water was contaminated more often than not. It’s mind-boggling to imagine what occurred after people went from being in a state of habitual grogginess to one of a caffeinated society.

According to The True History of Tea “…since tea and coffee first met in the Middle East and in Europe in the 17th century, they have accompanied each other like yin and yang… In 2004-05, world production of coffee stood at 7.2 million tons, compared with 3.2 million tons of tea. Sticklers for statistics, however, note that while 15 grams of ground coffee is required to infuse a decent cup, 5 grams of tea will suffice. And while coffee can only be drawn once, tea leaves can be drawn at least twice – in the case of Oolong tea, up to six times…the conclusion that tea, in its different forms, is the world’s most widely consumed beverage….”

Today, coffee and tea are drunk around the world, albeit in different forms and combinations. For coffee, each country has its own standards for grading the coffee it exports. Grading can be based on the elevation at which the bean is grown, the size of the bean and taste. For tea, grading is more standardized with orange pekoe being the lowest grade given to a whole leaf. (That’s right: orange pekoe is not a type of tea but its grade.)

No matter where your tea or coffee originated, mornings just wouldn’t be the same without your favorite beverage, so raise your cup or mug, be thankful that these days we have choices and imbibe.


PS: Be sure to click the book covers for links to the coffee books in the library catalog.

A Thirst for the Best (Tea)

Most of the world seems to be divided up amongst tea or coffee drinkers, although there are many who drink neither for religious or other reasons. Today, both tea and coffee are savored throughout the world, but how did they become so popular?

The story of tea is steeped in a legend. Around four and a half thousand years ago an emperor in China declared that his subjects must boil water before drinking it. One day, while the emperor’s water was boiling, some leaves accidentally fell into the pot. The emperor was impressed not only by the flavor but by the fact he felt rejuvenated after drinking it. We know now that the plant was Camellia sinensi.

In Japan, tea began with an Indian born Buddhist monk who had traveled to China at the end of the 5th century. In an effort to stay awake while meditating, this monk cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. Two tea plants then grew from where he’d thrown his eyelids. The leaves on the plants were made into a drink which revitalized the drinkers.

While tea has been drunk for centuries in the east, it took until the 17th century for tea to be imported into Europe, where it was first known as a medicinal drink. It first became a popular drink in the Netherlands for those who could afford it. The Dutch in turn introduced tea to Germany, France and England. In 1689, the East Indian Company began to import tea directly from China. The history of tea has a disturbing side because for years opium was traded for the tea. In 1839 the Chinese Emperor decided to abolish the trade, incensing Britain and prompting the Opium War.  

In North America, tea had been introduced by the Dutch to New Amsterdam and tea drinking continued after the British conquered and renamed the city New York. However, when high taxes were imposed, tea became the symbol of revolutionary action. Tea went from being a favorite beverage to a symbol of tyranny. After the Boston Tea Party coffee became a national habit and Americans became coffee drinkers. 

For the story of coffee, and its continued relationship with tea, stay tuned for my next post.


PS: Be sure to click on the book covers for links to the books in the library catalog.