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Before Timmies

by Jonathan van Bilsen

I have been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. While recently sipping a cup of Java, I began to wonder what the origin of this international beverage was.

Coffee has a rich history, which is intertwined with many cultures. Its journey began in the ancient coffee forests of Ethiopia, where legend has it, a 9th-century goat herder named Kaldi, discovered coffee beans after noticing the energizing effect they had on his goats.

This discovery set the stage for the global phenomenon which coffee would become. The cultivation of coffee spread to the Arab world, where coffeehouses, known as qahveh khaneh, emerged as cultural hubs in the 15th century.

The popularity of coffee soared, and by the 17th century, it had reached Europe, becoming a fashionable drink. Coffeehouses became centres for socializing, intellectual exchange, and business meetings.

The 18th century witnessed the establishment of coffee plantations in the Caribbean and Central and South America, transforming coffee into a major product. Brazil, with its vast plantations, became a coffee giant, dominating the market. The demand for coffee grew steadily, and by the 19th century, coffee had become one of the world's most traded commodities.

The process of making coffee involves several key steps. It all begins with the cultivation of coffee plants, primarily Arabica and Robusta varieties. After harvesting the ripe coffee cherries, they undergo processing to extract the beans. These beans are then roasted to perfection, enhancing their flavours.

Grinding the roasted beans precedes brewing, where hot water extracts the soluble compounds, creating the final aromatic cup of coffee.

When it comes to consuming coffee, certain countries have earned a reputation for their love of the beverage. I was surprised to learn Finland consistently tops the charts for the highest per capita coffee consumption, with its residents enjoying an average of over four cups per day. Other countries, renowned for their coffee culture, include Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands.

In the world of coffee production and export, Brazil stands as the undisputed leader, responsible for a significant portion of the world's coffee supply. Ironically, coffee was brought to Brazil by accident. The story goes, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta was sent on a diplomatic mission to French Guiana, to settle a border dispute between the French and the Dutch. During this mission, he successfully obtained coffee seeds from the French governor's wife, with whom he was having a fling. When he returned to Brazil, Palheta planted the coffee seeds; the climate and soil proved to be perfect for coffee cultivation. Brazil's coffee production grew to such an extent, by the mid-1800s, it dominated the global market.

Now it is time to insert another pod into my Nespresso machine, grab a biscotti from the cookie jar, sit back and enjoy one of life’s best pleasures.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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