is nothing quite as reassuring in the morning as the sound of
coffee beans splintering in the grinder with its promise of the
fresh, dark brew that will dispel all sleepiness and slowness -
that assurance of alertness, of heightened consciousness.
Etymology reveals so much. Layers of flavor peeled away, the
aroma of history wafting through the story of a word's
journey. The word coffee comes from Italian caffè,
which comes by way of the Turkish kahveh which originated
from the Arabic qahwa. Interestingly, qahwa
comes from the semitic root qhw - the same word means both
coffee and wine (originally, perhaps 'the dark stuff').
Coffee as a wine of the bean. Other theories have it that
the word coffee originates from Kaffa, the Ethiopian region from
where the story of coffee emerges.
mankind, the story of coffee originates in Africa and legend has
it that an Ethiopian goatherd is said to have discovered coffee
when his goats got rather lively after eating the berries.
Coffee journeys to Yemen and the drink is basically an Islamic one
in its early years. In the Muslim world it becomes a part of
daily life after the 15th century - instead of the forbidden
alcohol which dulls the senses, it makes one sharper, more alert
and awake, a beverage for the mind. This seems then to be
the tale of coffee - that it is the antithesis of liquor.
Where wine and alcohol are soporifics, dulling the senses, coffee
is a soberer - waking one up and setting the mind thinking,
sparkling, cogitating. The Arabs treated coffee as a social
drink, and began to drink it in coffee-houses; they called coffee
'the milk of thinkers and chess players.'
story of coffee then becomes one of smuggling beans to other
countries and of occasionally being banned because of its
associations with intellectual foment. Of the establishment
of plantations to satisfy the growing demand for it. But the
association with a life of the mind and coffee was the same in
Europe as it was in the Arab world - it became associated with
social and intellectual interaction. By 1650, coffee-houses
had become established in Europe. In Europe, these places
reflected the difference from the houses that served alcohol - the
tavern was a dark and gloomy establishment, furnished simply, a
cavern of the night. The coffee-house in comparison was a
creature of daylight, bright, furnished with bookshelves and
comfortable furniture. In England they became specialized,
coffee-houses being associated with certain academic inclinations
where like-minded people came to discuss and expound and share
ideas - science, poetry, even financial theories. Coffee was
a stimulus, a fillip to invention and discussion. The French
took to it with a gusto - Voltaire and Balzac were acolytes.
Talleyrand said coffee should be: "black as the devil, hot as
hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love."
can be argued that it took coffee and coffee-houses to engender
the Enlightenment in Europe . . . and as the inauguration draws
near . . . all we can say is that we are pleased that
latte-drinking thinkers will be in charge!
Devil's Cup, Stewart Lee Allen
Grounds, Mark Pendergrast