Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States called coffee ‘the favourite drink of the civilized world’. He and his fellow Americans protested the inordinate taxing of tea by England’s King George III in 1773. From then on coffee became America’s favourite drink.
Coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herd. He noticed that while grazing the herds on the plateau, some goats nibbled an unfamiliar berry. The goats became very active and did not sleep at night. The goat herd Kaldi, tried some of the berries and enjoyed the effects so much that he took the beans to the abbot at the local monastery. The abbot approved and soon all the monks were hooked.
The use of coffee berries spread eastward to the Arabian Peninsula. By the 16th century cultivation and trade in coffee beans had spread from Yemen to Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. Coffee drinking became popular not only in homes but also in coffee houses called Qahveh Khaneh.
By the 17th century coffee reached Europe, where it was greeted with suspicion and called the ‘bitter invention of Satan’. Fortunately Pope Clement VIII granted the beverage papal approval, and coffee drinking became an Italian thing.
From Italy the art of coffee drinking spread to England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland. Coffee soon replaced beer and wine as a breakfast drink.
There are many different ways of drinking coffee. Coffee beans are roasted and then ground. The ground coffee powder is brewed or filtered. Filtering coffee is the most widespread method of making coffee. Coffee is filtered through a mesh or cone. There is no pressure used. The coffee filters downwards due to gravity. The coffee is drunk black with milk and sugar being optional. The normal ratio of coffee powder to water is 1 or 2 tablespoons of coffee to 6 oz. of water. The water should be very hot but not boiling.
Instant coffee is a comparatively recent development and received momentum due to the various wars, starting with the American Civil War. In 1910 mass production of instant coffee began, bringing relief to the soldiers in the trenches of World War I.
Espresso coffee is the pride and joy of the Italians. It has been called ‘a miracle of chemistry in a cup’. There is no particular bean or roast that is required to make an espresso. It is the method of brewing that makes an espresso unique.
An espresso is made by using high pressure (132 lbs. per sq. inch) to force nearly boiling water through finely ground coffee powder in about 25 seconds. As the powder is in contact with water for a very short time, the powder needs to be very finely ground.
Crema is the light coloured liquid that first comes out. It is a creamy emulsion of coffee oils that covers the liquid keeping the aromas in. Crema dissipates quickly and the espresso should be drunk quickly while the crema is still on top.
Despite what self-styled experts may say and espresso should be made quickly, 25 seconds and made expressly for you. One shot of espresso uses about 50 beans. The perfect mix is 7 gm. coffee powder for one shot and must be made in 25 seconds.
Espresso is drunk black and sugar is optional. Italian convention permits espresso to be drunk at any time of day. Milk coffees are never drunk after 11 am. Adding milk to an espresso makes it an espresso macchiato; add liquor and you have a caffe corretto.
Drinking coffee is a way of life, be it an espresso or any other coffee. The difference is that the espresso way is a quick shot, a quick bite, a few words exchanged and off you go.