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 This January 20th

   
 

Think Coffee! 

   

 

  

 

There 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.

Like 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.'

The 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."  

It 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!   

 

Read: The Devil's Cup, Stewart Lee Allen

Read: Uncommon Grounds, Mark Pendergrast 

 

 

 

 

 

       
 

 
       
     

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