Coffee is both a fitting finale to a wonderful meal as well as a source of potent flavour for deserts and savoury dishes. Coffee is used in some barbeque sauces, and in Sweden, another country that loves coffee; leg of lamb is roasted with coffee to cut its fattiness.
The history of coffee is both fascinating and complex, worthy of an entire book, but here are some of the highlights. The coffee tree probably originated in the province of Kaffa in Ethiopia. The succulent outer flesh of the coffee bean was eaten by slaves taken from present day Sudan into Yemen and the Arab world, through the great port of the day, Mocha, a name that now refers to a coffee-chocolate mixture. Coffee was certainly being cultivated in Yemen by the fifteenth century and probably much earlier than that. like that of rare spices from the East, the secret of coffee’s origins was kept secret by the Arabs who traded in it. The beans themselves are sterile, but, although forbidden, eventually plants were smuggled out and were first planted in India.
The first coffee houses were opened in the busy port city of Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula. These luxuriously decorated coffee houses quickly spread throughout the Arab world as a place for men to play chess, gossip and listen to music, similar to the role they played later in Europe. Although banned at times because they became the centre fro political unrest, coffee houses endured.
The Ottoman Turks introduced coffee to Constantinople where the world’s first coffee shop, called Kiva Han, opened in 1475. The Turks soon adopted coffee as a drink, adding spices such as clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and anise to the pot, a way that I particularly like to drink my coffee. According to Turkish law of the time, a woman was permitted to divorce her husband if he failed to provide her with daily coffee.
Coffee and spices still go together. After all, in a way, coffee is another spice brewed into beverage. Bedouins have special coffee pots that hold a few whole cardamom pods in their spouts, flavouring the coffee as it trickles through. In Ethiopia, coffee is toasted immediately before use, often along with spices such as cardamom.
Venetians trading with Arabs first brought coffee to Europe in 1615. the first coffee house opened in Venice in 1683, with the most famous, Caffé Florian in the Piazza San Marco, opening in 1720 and still open for business today which I can vouch for as I have sipped elegant cups of coffee and nibbled on delicate sandwiches’ at an exorbitant cost. But I would say don’t miss visiting this window into the past if you get to Venice. The new drink was embraced wholeheartedly in the form of espresso, or pressure brewed coffee.
In 1652 the first coffee house opened in England. Early coffee houses became popular places for learning and discussion and were called “penny universities” (a cup of coffee cost a penny). A few years later, Lloyd’s coffee house, which was frequented by merchants and maritime insurance agents, evolved into the famous insurance company, Lloyd’s of London. There is much more about coffee to ramble on about, but I think this is enough other than to say in conclusion that today coffee is grown and enjoyed worldwide.