Sunday, March 8, 2015


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Unlike many other drinks such as tea or milk, to me, coffee has a culture to it. When you put the grounds in a cup and add the water, or put the beans in a cappuccino maker, you are adding to the rich tradition of many before you. The history of coffee goes at least as far back as the 13th century, with a number of reports and legends surrounding its first use. The native (undomesticated) origin of coffee is thought to have been in East Africa, specifically from Ethiopia. It may have been first cultivated by Arabs in the 14th century, but the earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears to have been in the middle of the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey and northern Africa. Coffee then spread to the Balkans, Italy and to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia and then to America. There are several legendary accounts of the origin of the drink itself. One account involves the Yemenite Sufi mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili. When traveling in Ethiopia, the legend goes, he observed birds of unusual vitality, and, upon trying the berries that the birds had been eating, experienced the same vitality. Other accounts attribute the discovery of coffee to Sheik Abou'l Hasan Schadheli's disciple, Omar. According to the ancient chronicle (preserved in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript), Omar, who was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer, was once exiled from Mocha to a desert cave near Ousab. Starving, Omar chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavor, but they became hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized and sustained for days. As stories of this "miracle drug" reached Mocha, Omar was asked to return and was made a saint. Since the people’s first encounter, no matter which one actually happened, it was apparent that the drink itself would stick around, rather from its energy-boosting effects, or its rich bitter taste. Although the origin of the first coffee house is a little unclear, the world's first recorded historic coffee house, Kiva Han, was reputedly opened in Constantinople (Istanbul). Shemsi of Damascus and Hekem of Aleppo, are generally acknowledged as our first recorded coffee house proprietors having opened one in Talchtacalah, Constantinople in 1555. Many believe the real first coffeehouse in Europe opened in Vienna in 1683 after the Battle of Vienna, by using supplies from the spoils obtained after defeating the Turks. The officer who received the coffee beans, Polish military officer of Ukrainian origin Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, opened the coffee house and helped popularize the custom of adding sugar and milk to the coffee. Mélange is the typical Viennese coffee, which comes mixed with hot foamed milk and a glass of water. Over time the coffee bean made its way to the Americas, but the way it got there isn’t the best of tales. What’s that? You want to hear the story of how coffee got to the Americas? Okay, but brace yourselves! Gabriel de Clieu brought coffee seedlings to Martinique in the Caribbean around 1720. Those sprouts flourished and 50 years later there were 18,680 coffee trees in Martinique enabling the spread of coffee cultivation to Haiti, Mexico and other islands of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, these plantations were kept up by the slaves, many of them being worked to death, so yeah it was pretty sad. The territory of Santo Domingo (now Hispaniola, comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic) saw coffee cultivated from 1734, and by 1788 it supplied half the world's coffee. Coffee had a major influence on the geography of Latin America. The French colonial plantations relied heavily on African slave laborers. However, the dreadful conditions that the slaves worked in on coffee plantations were a factor in the soon-to-follow Haitian Revolution. The coffee industry never fully recovered there. Between 1511 and 1886 over one million Africans were kidnapped and taken to Cuba to be sold as slaves. Production and selling of sugar was the first use of slave labor there, but the cultivation of coffee played an equally important role in the history of slavery in Cuba. Its cultivation has been connected to the slave trade, slave labor, and harsh conditions on Cuban plantations. Coffee entered the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century. When coffee first reached Cuba, farmers welcomed it due to minimal land and machinery requirements for its cultivation. Slaveholding increased with the expansion of coffee production. but the practice was enforced by prison-like conditions that created unrest and inevitable rebellions against the wealthy plantation owners. Coffee production in Cuba did not last as long as in other countries due to the competition with Brazilian coffee. I guess whenever I drink a cup of coffee, no matter if it’s in an empty café or the ecstatic atmosphere of my home, I really do take a moment to taste whether it may be the strong, full flavor of a Columbian roast or a semi-sweet taste of a cappuccino. I admire the color, the rich smell, and the beautiful tranquility that sits in front of me some early mornings, and late evenings. I drank my first, small cup when I was six. I remember we just got home from an Easter mass and my mother gave me a small amount if Taster’s Choice with some French vanilla cream, and I was taken aback by the strong, bittersweet taste, and I have been in love with the drink since. I wrote my first short play on a cup of coffee back in the eighth grade. My parents drank coffee from an early age. My father would tell me about the mornings next to his mother, watching her grind the beans, and I really love that. Coffee brings us together, but has a silent isolation in the experience. I sometimes just want a cup by myself, to reflect, and I have the ability to do that. So, to all you people who keep hating on the drink, understand where we coffee lovers are coming from. Sure, I’m against child labor, and slavery, and I stay away from the companies that do that. I love the drink, and so should you.
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