I love coffee and I love wine. The similarities between the two were brought to my attention as I listen to a pod broadcast by Wine for Normal people as I served my 45 minute workout sentence on a treadmill. I really enjoyed the podcast, so I thought I share some of the things I learned.
Did you know coffee was a fruit? I didn’t either, I thought it was a bean. It’s like a cherry, what we roast, grind and drink is the pit. So, both wine and coffee are processed fruits. That makes them both agricultural products. Did you know coffee is a commodity? In fact it is the second most traded commodity in the world, oil is number one.
Like wine, coffee has terroir. Where it is grown, how well it is cared for while growing and how the fruit is picked and handle affects the taste of the coffee. Coffee is fermented, but the fermentation does not result in alcohol based drink, but it will give you a buzz.
Like grapes how the fruit is harvested will impact the taste of the final product. For low cost high volume coffee the fruit is striped pick all at once. For a better tasting coffee and a higher cost the fruit is hand picked at ripeness. After picking, “green coffee” can be processed three ways, “dry” where a machine removes the fruit, “wet” where water is used to remove the fruit and “natural” where the coffee is put on raise straw beds, think Amarone or straw wine, and the fruit goes naturally away.
The next step is roasting. This step will give the coffee its flavor, changing the beam chemically and physically. The hotter the roasting the lower the density of the bean the stronger the coffee. Roasting temperatures start are 200 degree C. Depending on the color of the roasted beans as perceived by the human eye, they will be labeled as light, medium light, medium, medium dark, dark, or very dark. The degree of roast has an effect upon coffee flavor and body. Darker roasts are generally bolder because they have less fiber content and a more sugary flavor. Lighter roasts have a more complex and therefore perceived stronger flavor from aromatic oils and acids otherwise destroyed by longer roasting times. Roasting does not alter the amount of caffeine in the bean, but does give less caffeine when the beans are measured by volume because the beans expand during roasting
Okay, let’s explore some history. Scholars say the word coffee comes from the Arabic word qahwah. Qahwah referred to a type of wine deriving from the verb qaha “to lack hunger” because the drink had a reputation as an appetite suppressant. There is also a connection to the word quwwa “power or energy”.
The plant is from Ethiopia and the drink was consumed in the arab world for religious practices. Again, similar to the original and contemporary use of wine. As the story goes a mystic saw birds in Ethiopia that had unusual vitality, the mystic when he ate the fruit experiences the same vitality. Another story was an exiled Sheik was able to cure the sick when he boiled the beans of the fruit the drink, a brown broth revitalized the sick. Wine was and still is considered a medicine too.
The earliest evidence of coffee drinking and knowledge of the coffee tree is from mid 15th Century in Yemen’s Sufi monasteries. The Monks made the qahwa mixture and used it as an aid in concentration when they chanted the name of God. By 1414 the drink was in Mecca, by the early 1500’s it was in Egypt and North Africa. In 1511 it was forbidden for its “stimulating” effect by Imams. An Islamic Prohibition so to speak. It was overturned in 1532.
By the 16th century it had been embraced by the Ottoman Empire. From North Africa coffee travels to Malta, then Italy and the rest of Europe. Venetian merchants made drinking coffee fashionable to the wealthy.
Coffeehouses began opening in Vienna in 1683 after the battle of Vienna using spoils from the defeated Turks. Croissants were invented at the same time to celebrate the Christian victory. Coffee was still viewed to have medicinal properties. In England the suffragettes called coffee a Liquor.
In 1720 coffee arrived in Martinique in the Caribbean. It spread to Haiti, Mexico and other islands of the Caribbean. At one time Haiti supplied half of the world’s coffee. By 1727 it arrived in Brazil. From Brazil it was introduced in Kenya and Tanzania. So, in about 600 years coffee was being grown around the world.
It was politics that brought coffee to the United States. After the Boston Tea Party of 1773 large numbers of Americans switched to drinking coffee during the American Revolution because drinking tea was unpatriotic. Coffee still has a strong link to politics. Here locally in Connecticut we have Blue State Coffee. The company was started in 2004 after George Bush was elected to a second time and 16 year old Andrew Ruben Greenspan a student at Choate in Wallingford was distraught over the Bush win. To save his world view he decided to start a business and funnel the profits to candidates who shared his Liberal values. They still give 2% of sales to Progressive groups. Conservatives have to make due with Dunkin Donuts.
Coffee’s evolution in America is described as Waves. The first wave was in the 60’s. Chock full o’Nuts, Maxwell house and Folgers. Think of these as cheap high volume often reinforced wines of the 60’s, Thunderbird, Gallo, Swiss Colony. Second wave 1990’s to today. Starbucks and Peet’s coffee, definitely more upscale, better quality. These would be the Robert Mondavi’s of the coffee world. Third wave today. These would be the boutique coffee makers. You can spend $15 to $30 for a cup of these coffee’s and the baristas will cry if you add milk or sugar.
So, many elements of the wine world cross over into the coffee culture. Snobbery, politics, business models, yes, coffee has negociants, co-op growers, brokers, importers and exporters. Roasters blend coffees like winemakers. Coffee and wine benefit from and suffer from globalization and global warming.
I love coffee for some of the same reasons I love wine. The aromas, nothing makes me happier than a aromatic cup of coffee or a stunning bouquet from a glass of wine. Then there is the taste, good coffee like a good wine just makes you happy to be alive and take a minute or two and enjoy that fact. And it all starts with the fruit and a human desire for a good tasting high.