History of Favorite American Food and Drink Coffee Part 1

About the history of the favorite American food coffee, information on the caffeine bean, varieties of the drink and more.



A popular legend has it that coffee was discovered in Ethopia sometime around 850 A.D., when a usually morose goatherd was observed leading his charges in a wild dance around a small tree laden with bright red fruits. Investigation revealed that the pits of these fruits contain a powerful mental and physical stimulant, and in less than a century a delicious beverage was concocted from these "beans."

Actually, coffee beans were used as food by Ethopian and other African tribes before the birth of Christ. Crushed ripe coffee tree fruits were mixed with fat and eaten at war parties for their stimulating effects. Beans were later fermented to make a wine, but it wasn't until about 1000 A.D. that Arabian tribes began to boil coffee beans to produce a drink similar to what we know today.

At first, the wonder drug was consumed only under the advice of a physician, for purposes of curative stimulation or to bolster religious worshipers through all-night vigils. But coffee was too exciting a discovery to be contained in pharmaceutical shackles. Intellectuals waxed ecstatic over coffee's worth as a brain tonic. Devout experimenters reported coffee-sparked religious visions, and it wasn't long before the first coffeehouses opened-right in the heart of Mecca. Hotbeds of social, political, and philosophical debate, the idea of these clubs spread to Europe through Venice, where the first one opened, according to some sources, in 1645. By 1652 the first coffeehouse had opened in London. Lloyd's of London began as a coffeehouse where marine insurers socialized.

The larger cities of colonial America also had coffeehouses, which developed into political centers with the very first stirrings of revolutionary feeling; indeed, Daniel Webster called Boston's Green Dragon the "headquarters of the Revolution." The 1773 Boston Tea Party and resulting boycott naturally sparked coffee consumption in the colonies, although as a breakfast drink it replaced, not tea, but such dubiously eye-opening beverages as warm beer and flour soup.

By the beginning of the 19th century, coffee was entrenched as a worldwide beverage both economically and socially. Restricted to Arabia until the late 1600s, coffee had by the 1800s been smuggled to such places as Java and Brazil, and the large supply of high-quality beans made coffee one of the cheapest, best-tasting drinks available. Women, restricted by custom from coffeehouses, created a domestic equivalent; German housewives are said to have started the kaffeeklatsch by the early 1800s.

Green coffee, the raw "bean," consists of water, volatile oils, protein, caffeine, various acids, starches, sugar, tannin, ash, fiber, and traces of vitamins. All these constituents are to some degree destroyed or decomposed by the roasting, processing, and preparation of the bean. Caffeine, which accounts for 1-2% of the bean's weight, is a stimulant of the central nervous system, muscles, and circulatory system; it increases alertness and reduces fatigue. Tests on drivers and typists show that as few as two cups improve their performance. Caffeine also constricts cerebral blood vessels in humans, which makes it an effective headache remedy in some cases. It also functions as a diuretic. Coffee is sometimes implicated as a possible carcinogen, yet other studies imply that the drink blocks the cancerous actions of certain nitrates in the stomach.

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