The smell of fresh brewed coffee is truly one of life’s little pleasures. If you are a coffee drinker like me, you know the joy of tasting that first sip of morning java. There’s just something about the flavor and the warmth that starts me off on the right foot. A coffee snob I am not though. I’m not of the Starbucks bandwagon and I don’t own a French press. I’m not picky about the actual coffee, but I am picky about the creamer. Give me medium-to-strong coffee and a flavored creamer and I’m happy. Lots of creamer. I prefer a flavored sugar-free version but will do plain creamer if need be. I jokingly tell my friends that like my Sooner crimson, I like my coffee with cream!
Not surprising then is that my favorite, as my husband calls them, “fruh-fruh” coffee drinks (he drinks his black and his personality totally matches the above chart!) are café con leche, a tall skinny latte, café au lait, or cappuccino, and yes, my personality matches my coffee choices too. The last one, cappuccino, is made with espresso and a milk foam mixture and is popular the world over. Its origins are not surprisingly Italian, as is its name, but the name didn’t come by way of a barista or coffee grower, but by someone who may just surprise you.
Way back in 1648 a young Mark of Aviano became a Capuchin monk and eventually made his way preaching all over Italy following several years of cloister. He became counselor on religious and political matters to Leopold I, emperor of Austria; secured the release of Vienna from the Ottoman Turks; and worked as a peacemaker throughout Europe. Legend has it that the Ottomans fled from Christian soldiers but left behind their strong, bitter coffee. As a way of making the brew sweeter and more palatable, it was mixed with honey and milk and the new drink was named after Blessed Mark’s order, the Capuchins, which later mutated into “cappuccino.” The monks are known for their brown hooded robes, which happen to be the color of a cup of cappuccino, and “cappuccino” is Italian for “hood.”
Cappuccinos aren’t the only coffee with a history. In fact, the history of coffee itself is quite interesting and also has a connection to monks, albeit a smaller one than cappuccino.
According to many and the National Coffee Association, coffee was originally discovered in Ethiopia where it’s said a goat herder named Kaldi learned the amazing potential of coffee beans after he noticed an increased level of energy in his goats after eating coffee berries. Kaldi quickly told the abbot of the local monastery about his findings who subsequently made a drink using the berries and discovered he was much more alert after doing so. The abbot spread the word with other monks and soon word moved the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East, where as early as the 16th century coffee was used to help with concentration.
Coffee made its way to Europe by the 17th century after European travelers to the Near East discovered what they considered an unusual dark black beverage. Religious life came into play yet again however, when in 1615 local clergy condemned the drink when it arrived in Venice. So great was the controversy that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene but after tasting it himself, he found it delightful and gave it official Papal approval.
Coffee and coffee houses flourished in Europe, so much so that many businesses grew out of them. Lloyds of London, the famous insurance marketplace, began as a coffee house. It wasn’t long before coffee made its way to America, thanks to the British in the mid-1600s. It was a hard sell however, as tea was the preferred drink in the New World until 1773, when the colonies revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III. Yep, what you had was the Boston Tea Party, something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately and something that forever changed the American hot drink preference to coffee. I’ll drink to that!
It wasn’t long before missionaries, travelers, and traders started sharing and selling coffee beans and seeds and trees were planted worldwide. Plantations cropped up in huge numbers and nations were established based on their coffee economies. By the end of the 18th century coffee had become one of the world’s most profitable export crops and today it is the second-most traded commodity in the world behind only petroleum. As for rankings by metric tons of exported coffee, Brazil tops the list followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.
Caffeine is burnt off as coffee is roasted so “light” coffee actually has more caffeine then medium or darker blends.
Whether you’re a liker of a robust coffee or a lighter “breakfast blend” drinker, know that caffeine is burnt off as coffee is roasted so “light” coffee actually has more caffeine then medium or darker blends. There are so many brands and types of coffee it’s almost hard to keep up with all of them. I get nervous just walking into a coffee house and having to decide what coffee drink I want and what size. So many choices! But whether you prefer Tim Hortons or Gevalia, regular or flavored, there are two names that have interesting histories: chicory and Folgers. Yes, Folgers.
Let’s start with chicory.
Think New Orleans and you think chicory coffee. No visit to the Crescent City is complete without coffee and beignets at the legendary Café Du Monde. But is chicory coffee, which is all Café Du Monde and many other NOLA coffee houses serve, different or special? As the French would say, oui oui!
Chicory is actually a pretty flowering plant and it’s the root of the plant that gets roasted and ground into chicory coffee. Since the 19th century the French have mixed it with coffee and the word “chicory” is a English-ized version of the French word “chicoree.”
According to “Smithsonian Magazine,” following that famous tea party up in Boston, the French established coffee plantations in the Caribbean and solidified the trade with the founding of New Orleans. Coffee crops soon became part of the city’s culture and by 1840, the port of New Orleans was the second largest importer of coffee in the U.S. But during the Civil War, Union blockades cut off access to the port so ingenious Louisianans began looking for ways to stretch coffee supplies. They tried acorns and beets but discovered that chicory was the way to go as it is cheap and goes a long way. The rest, is coffee history although today very little chicory is grown commercially in the U.S. and even Café Du Monde gets it supply from France.
Who does get their coffee from New Orleans? Folgers!
“The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup.” You’ve heard it a million times and probably just sang the tune in your head as you read the words, right? The jingle is one of America’s most recognizable and is easily considered a part of American culture. But it didn’t start the Folger’s story. That’s a whole other story.
It all began when a young James Folger and his brothers moved from Nantucket to San Francisco in search of gold. They didn’t find gold per se, but he ultimately found something golden.
James’ brothers headed out to work in the mines but he got a job at The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills and later became a full partner. After the Civil War and resulting economic collapse, the company went bankrupt but Folgers convinced creditors to pay off the debts and then he bought out all remaining partners. J.A. Folger & Co. was born.
Coffee demand increased during WWII, but wartime shipping routes from Central America to New Orleans made NOLA one of the largest green-coffee markets in the U.S. so construction began on a New Orleans plant for Folgers in 1960. The company, now a part of the J.M. Smucker Company, still manufactures its coffee at its New Orleans plant today.
Interesting little stories, right? But what about those famous and beloved cups of coffee from none other than McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts? Yep, say what you will, but Mickey D’s and DD’s have some pretty amazing coffee.
The reported secret behind McDonald’s coffee is the blend of Arabica beans used by its supplier Gavina and grown in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. It is considered true gourmet coffee and is a medium roast. It’s also said that McDonald’s brews fresh coffee every 30 minutes so you never get a cup of old tasting brew.
Dunkin Donuts also boasts that its coffee comes from 100 percent Central and South American Arabica beans. The chain also works with the Rainforest Alliance to make sure its coffee is ethically sourced. In fact, the grocery store version of Dunkin Donuts coffee is USDA organic and Fairtrade.
It’s estimated that 64 percent of Americans over age 18 drink coffee every day, with Baby Boomers leading the pack. When it comes to worldwide coffee consumption, the Finns have us all beat. Only Finland and Sweden drink more than 22 pounds of coffee per person per year, with the Finnish drinking nearly three pounds annually. That’s a “latte” coffee and who knew, right? I would have thought it would be Americans, French, or Italians.
One more fun tidbit. How and why is coffee called “joe?” Credit a man named Josephus Daniels who became Secretary of the Navy during WWI. Among his many goals was to improve morality among the sailors and one way he tried was by prohibiting alcohol and purchasing more coffee. Disparagingly, a cup of coffee became known as a “cup of Joe Daniels,” which ended up being today’s more common “cup of Joe.”
There are many names for coffee. Some refer to how it is made or brewed, such as drip or espresso, while other names describe a specific beverage made using coffee such as latte or cappuccino. It’s also common to hear coffee called “java” but not all coffee is truly java in nature.
“Java” actually comes from the island of Java where the Dutch introduced coffee during the 1600s. They soon began planting coffee on several Southeast Asian islands, including Java, where Arabica coffee is still grown today. How and why all coffee came to be called java is somewhat of a mystery although many assume the Dutch started it.
So we’ve established that people the world over think coffee is good, but did you know it can also be good for you? We often associate coffee with the caffeine in it and the jitteriness it can cause, but that’s a very small part of the plant and bean’s make-up. Yes, elevating blood pressure is a concern we should individually consider, but some studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a slightly lower risk of having a stroke and showed no signs of increased heart disease risk.
The bottom line is that coffee has an impressive number of health benefits and is high in antioxidants. Many of the nutrients in coffee beans find their way into brewed coffee and studies show that countless people get more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits and vegetables combined. A single cup of coffee is said to contain Vitamins B2 and B5, Manganese and potassium, and magnesium and niacin. Granted, the RDI percentages of each might be low, but when you consider that most of us drink more than just one cup per day, the numbers can quickly add up. And this is regular coffee, not any of the new vitamin and nutrient-infused brands like Vitacup. Other studied benefits of coffee include:
- Improves energy levels, mood, and brain function.
- Can increase fat burning and boost metabolic rates through its caffeine, which is one of few natural substances proven to help with fat burning.
- Stimulates the nervous system, which signal fat cells to break down while increasing epinephrine/adrenaline blood levels.
- May lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s, and colorectal cancer; may protect from Alzheimer’s and Dementia; and may protect the liver from both cancer and cirrhosis.
- May fight depression and reduce suicide risk.
It should be noted that research indicates the presence of cafestol in coffee does affect the body’s ability to metabolize and regulate cholesterol so anyone with high cholesterol issues should take note.
So there you have it; everything you want to know about coffee and then some! I’ve enjoyed learning all about my morning (and sometimes afternoon or evening) friend and I hope you my friends did too.