Coffee and love are served best when they are hot – so goes a German adage.
The world loves coffee and there are a hundred thousand ways of enjoying this invigorating elixir whether infused, boiled, vacuumed, or ‘combined’ prep through coffeemakers, espresso machines, french press, pod machines and what not.
Entertainingly, the first cup of coffee was not as complicatedly prepared as we presently know.
An Ethiopian goat-herder who noticed the unusual effects when his flock nibbled on red berries, chewed some of the fruits himself. Feeling energetic, he brought the berries to a monk in a nearby monastery.
The monk scorned at the bitter taste, threw them into the fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed, causing other monks to interrogate. The roasted beans raked from the embers, ground up and dissolved in hot water, resulted as the world’s first cup of coffee. Or so the legend says.
In Ethiopia (believed to be the origin of coffee plant) the ethnic group Oromo were the first to use the remarkable effects of coffee. Hunters of the tribe would consume it before engaging in long treks. The drink helped them overcome thirst and hunger.
The earliest evidence of coffee drinking is from the early 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. A century later, coffee reached the rest of the Middle East, and to the known world. It then spread to the Balkans, Italy, and to the rest of Europe.
In the 17th century, coffee had become a celebrated commodity in the Habsburg empire, most particularly in the Viennese culture.
The Viennese citizen Georg Franz Kolschitzky was the first to obtain a license to serve coffee in the thin-walled city. Lore has it that bags of the precious beans were left behind by the Turks after the Siege of 1683 and Herr Kolschitzky made the exotic beans the basis of his entrepreneurship.
One of the oldest coffeehouses in the world is found here. Cafè Central (1876) has been a popular historical landmark of Viennese cultural history as this café served as an incubator for prominent intellectuals including Freud, Lenin, and the like.
Café Le Procope (1686), which is found in Paris is the oldest operating café in France, and arguably one of the oldest in the world, known for hosting revolutionaries and intellectuals such as Voltaire, Rousseau, etc.
Like many European coffeehouses, the Viennese ones were centers of intellectual discussions and intercourses.
Artisans, psychologists, and politicians, in short, the “illustrados” would hang out in coffeehouses to stimulate their thirst for information and feed the mind. After all, broadsheet newspapers were freely available to any customer. This was the period way before the internet and televisions. Nowadays, visiting a Viennese coffeehouse is both a cultural and gastronomic adventure for those wishing to time-travel and indulge in a little whip of extravagance.
In Pinas, drinking coffee was not a communal theme nor a social event. The coffee plant was foreign, introduced to the archipelago by the “puti” and the effect after drinking it was very different to what the indigenous peoples (IPs) were used to. There were no rituals or ceremonies attached to it.
In the Visayas area, “dawat”, “bahal”, or “tuba” from coconut saps were ever popular. In the Ilocos region “basi” from fermented sugarcane or “lambanog” from rice or from the Mountain Provinces, the “tapuy” were drank to offer to deities. All brew connotate the festive intoxicating mood.
In southern Palawan, certain feasts of indigenous communities were highlighted with dance and a tipsy mixture. Rice (with added banana leaves for aroma) was fermented over time in a large earthenware. The ‘juice’ or ‘tapuy’, was later shared by the whole community using a single communal bamboo straw. All members of the neighborhood were to sip from it. (Filipinos love to share!)
For modern Pinoys, the same equalitarian culture can be observed in “kalye” or street drinking as drinkers share one glass of vile liquor. A designated pourer tops up the glass and passes it around – “tagay” – round-robin style. When the glass gets to you, you are expected to drink it all, bottoms-up. (This drinking-sharing ritual, ironically, can never be observed of Pinoys drinking over coffee.)
Still, down the line, the growing number of coffee shops in almost every corner of key cities in Pinas has become the most evident indication that the coffee industry is a thriving business. Whether it’s a form of social activity or simply a favorite pastime, drinking coffee has become an inevitable trend.
For the Pinoy coffee aficionados, the ‘Kapeng Barako’ or Cofealiberica sp. (originally in Spanish Café Varraco meaning wild boar) is quite popular amongst the other cultivars – Benguet and Sagada Coffee (Arabica sp.) or the Sulu Coffee (Robusta sp.).This species which has been transported via the galleon trade found its way to the lowlands of Batangas around the 1740s during the Spanish period.
In the early 1880s, the Philippines became one of the top four producers of coffee after coffee rust disease devastated many plantations worldwide.
However, from 1889 onwards the Kapeng Barako plantations also suffered the same fate after rust hit the islands.
Many farmers shifted to new rust-resistant varieties and Kapeng Barako seemed to have demised.
Presently, there had been a recent interest in reviving and conserving barako, including the increasing preference for it in local coffee shops in Pinas. It is, however, rarely exported, as most production comes from small farms.
In other parts of the islands most notably in far-flung barrios, coffee beans were rare and roasted rice or corn were made into “kape” blend. I remember my Lola who roasted rice or corn using her “kawali” until they were black, crumbly and hot.
She’d pulverize it using her “almirez” until powdery almost dusty in texture. Whenever she wanted the ‘kick’, she’d boil water and filter the ground rice or corn coffee and voila! her own instant decaf coffee. (Fact is, rice or corn coffee has no caffeine. Every 100 gram of corn coffee contains carbohydrates, fiber, ash, protein, and antioxidants).
Many of us, like my Lola, rely on a morning cup of coffee or a jolt of caffeine in the afternoon to help us get through the day. But caffeine does so much more than just keeping one awake. It stimulates the central nervous system that affects one’s body in numerous ways. When caffeine reaches the brain, the most noticeable effect is alertness.
Studies have also found that people who drink coffee regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia, and cut suicide risk by 45 percent. These benefits are limited to people who drink high-octane coffee, not decaf. Some people consider coffee to be a health drink, but like most foods, overindulging can cause side effects.
Notwithstanding, one famous man understood the whole significance of this beverage. He said, “Among the numerous luxuries of the table…coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions…is never followed by sadness, languor or debility”.
I agree with Benjamin Franklin. That’s why I awfully love coffee.