Out of all the beverages in the world, coffee is the third-most-popular behind water and tea, with experts predicting that a staggering 2.25 billion cups are consumed each day globally. It’s estimated that approximately 50% of everyone in the US over the age of 18 (which equates to around 107 million people) drink coffee every day, totaling roughly 450 million cups. However, it is – perhaps surprisingly – Scandinavia that boats the highest-per-capita coffee consumption in the world, with people in Finland drinking, on average, more than four cups a day.
As a result of its immense popularity in multiple different cultures, coffee is the world’s second-most-valuable commodity exported by developing countries (the first being oil), with the global coffee industry earning a whopping estimated $60 billion annually. You may think you know everything there is to know about coffee, but think again – it has a long, interesting history, as well as a plethora of health benefits. We’ve conducted in-depth research to unearth everything there is to know about this staggeringly popular brewed drink.
The history of coffee begins way back in the 15th century in the Ethiopian highlands, with a goat herder named Kaldi. Legend has it that, while Kaldi was tending to his goats, he noticed that their energy levels increased, and they became livelier after eating the berries from a particular tree. Intrigued, Kaldi picked some of the berries and took them to the local Sufi monastery.
The abbot examined the fruit and decided to conduct his own experiments. After making them into a hot drink, he realized it had revitalizing effects, making him capable of staying awake for longer than normal and able to partake in multiple extra hours of prayer. Kaldi had, albeit unwittingly, discovered the earliest form of coffee.
Slowly, knowledge of this new, energizing drink – used mainly to aid concentration and alertness during worship – spread to neighboring countries. Initially, Somali merchants exported coffee beans out of Ethiopia to Yemen, where it was soon taken to Egypt. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, northern Africa, the Horn of Africa, Persia, Turkey, and south India.
In as little as 100 years, coffee had become established as a sought-after commodity throughout a large part of the world. Plantations were soon established, with many communities and economies becoming reliant on it as an export crop. Coffee reached Italy next, then the rest of Europe, before it was transported to the East Indies and the Americas by the Dutch.
It’s worth noting that coffee was not always accepted in societies around the world; in fact, it was actually banned on a few occasions. The first of these bans were enforced in 1511 when conservative, orthodox imams in Mecca forbade the consumption of coffee due to its stimulating effects. However, in 1524, this ban was overturned by the Ottoman Turkish Sultan.
In Cairo in 1532, a similar ban was enforced, resulting in coffee houses and warehouses containing coffee beans being closed; however, this was overturned by officials in the city within a year. Then, during the 17th century, it was banned in Ethiopia by the Orthodox Church; this prohibition lasted until the second half of the 19th century when its consumption began to increase rapidly.
Later, in 17th century Europe, coffee consumption began to rise in popularity, but again, it was met with strong opposition from the church due to its stimulating effects. Many people referred to it as “the bitter invention of Satan,” and eventually, the local clergy in Venice began to condemn the drink strongly and advise against its consumption.
This stirred up a huge amount of controversy that eventually led to the clergy asking Pope Clement VIII to intervene and offer guidance on the best way forward. He agreed but insisted that he try coffee for himself before making a final decision. He liked it so much that, instead of banning it, he gave it papal approval.
Quickly, coffee houses became centers of social activity in major cities throughout Europe. In England, specifically, so-called ‘penny universities’ were created, named as such, because one could purchase a cup of coffee for a penny and engage in stimulating conversation. By the end of the 17th century, there were more than 300 coffee houses in London that attracted mainly merchants, shippers, artists, and brokers.
Many businesses were created in these coffee houses; for example, Lloyds of London came into existence in Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House. Moreover, people began to replace the common breakfast beverages of the time – wine and beer – with coffee, preferring to begin the day feeling alert and energized. Unsurprisingly, the quality of their work improved greatly, which encouraged more people to adopt this practice.
Now, in the 21st century, coffee is grown and cultivated in more than 50 countries worldwide; specifically, in Central America, South America, Central, and East Africa, Asia, India, and the Caribbean. Nearly 25 million farmers all over the globe depend on coffee crops for their livelihood, making it a huge contributor to a region’s overall economic environment.
As far as beverages go, coffee is complex, with more than 800 aroma- and flavor-influencing components; to put this into context, wine has only approximately 150. It contains relatively high levels of caffeine, which acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. Although it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world, caffeine is, in fact, the most widely consumed psychoactive drug, with around 90% of people in the US consuming it daily.
Back in 1971, a group of entrepreneurs based in Seattle in the US opened a small coffee shop. They decided to call it “Starbucks.” Despite these humble beginnings, the brand quickly grew in fame and notoriety. Today, there are more than 25,000 Starbucks locations in 40 countries, and it is the largest coffee retailer in the world, raking in millions of dollars annually.
Currently, “coffee culture” is a phenomenon that is prevalent in many different countries around the world. Producers and roasters in each country have cultivated different blends to suit the preferences and tastes of local people, and the result is hundreds of delicious and distinctive flavors, as well as different “coffee rituals,” such as Turkish coffee ceremonies and Italian espresso shots.
The word “coffee” has a relatively long evolutionary history that started in the Middle East, where it was first discovered. It was initially referred to as “qahwah” in Arabic, then “kahve” in Ottoman Turkish, before it was adapted by the Dutch to “koffie.” Eventually, it entered the English language in 1582 as the word we’re all familiar with today: “coffee.”
However, this is not conclusive – with many people claiming that the word has alternative origins. One such theory is that it originated from the Kingdom of Kaffa in Ethiopia, which is where it was first discovered. This seems entirely plausible due to the obvious similarities in pronunciation. Interestingly, in the Kingdom of Kaffa, coffee is called “bunn” or “bunna.”
Although in total, there are more than 100 types of coffee beans found throughout the world, there are two main types in the global commercial coffee trade: Arabica and canephora, the latter being more commonly referred to as “robusta.” The rest are not mass-produced for international export. Approximately 75% of global coffee production is Arabica beans, while the other 25% is robusta beans.
Contrary to popular belief, Brazil is the biggest producer of Arabica beans, and Vietnam is the biggest producer of robusta beans. Both are popular and can produce an enjoyable drink, but there are some stark differences between the two – as a result, in general, most people tend to have a preference. The differences are as follows.
The most obvious difference between the two types of coffee beans is that Arabica beans are flatter and slightly longer than robusta beans, which are more circular. The second difference lies in the taste: Arabica beans produce a relatively mild coffee that tends to have a soft, sweet taste, with tones of fruit and sugar, while robusta beans are often described as having a bitter or burnt taste.
Furthermore, there’s a big difference in the content and make-up of the two different types of bean: Arabica beans contain 60% more lipids and almost twice as much sugar as robusta beans, which accounts for the sweeter, more pleasant taste. Plus, robusta beans have more caffeine, at 2.7% compared with 1.5% for Arabica beans.
Having now discovered the differences between the two main types of coffee beans, it may seem obvious why most high-end coffee brands use Arabica beans. However, robusta beans still make up a quarter of the global coffee trade – and there are a few good reasons for this. Firstly, robusta beans are, on average, half the price of Arabica beans.
They’re also easier to grow, less sensitive to insects, and produce a higher yield compared with Arabica beans – providing a much more attractive price point for farmers. Consequently, robusta beans are often used for instant coffee, as well as in cheaper coffee blends as a cost reducer or filler. However, it’s worth noting that specialty robusta coffee, although not widely available, will usually taste as good as – or even better than – low-end Arabica coffee.
Neither Arabica nor robusta seeds simply grow quickly on trees and then get shipped around the world, ending up in local supermarkets and grocery stores. It may sound surprising, but it actually takes three to four years for the whole process to take place, from seed to cup. This complex process starts when the coffee tree flowers with fragrant white blossoms.
Roughly a year afterward, coffee cherries will have matured, which are then picked, usually by hand, during harvest. This is a long, arduous process – it takes approximately 2,000 cherries (which equates to 4,000 beans) to produce just 450 grams of roasted coffee. Once the raw beans are collected, it’s time to start the roasting process.
Roasting is a temperature-controlled process used to turn green, raw coffee beans into the dark brown, fragrant beans that we’re all familiar with. Roasting times vary depending on the method and batch size, but, on average, the entire process lasts for approximately 10 minutes for small batches and around 16 minutes for large batches.
Most companies roast the raw coffee beans before they are packaged and sold; however, there are some companies, such as unroastedcoffee.com, that have a ‘roast to order’ offering. This is where the raw coffee beans are stored until an order comes through, then the required amount is roasted in small batches according to the specifications requested by the purchaser.
As a result, the roasted coffee that’s purchased is guaranteed to be fresh – in other words; you won’t be drinking coffee that has likely been stored on a shelf in a warehouse for months before it reaches you. It ensures a smooth transition from the roaster, to the grinder, to the package, and, finally, to the customer – as well as the freshest coffee possible.
There are four distinct categories of roasted coffee beans, which we’ve outlined here. The first category is light roasts, which are, as the name suggests, light brown in color. The overall taste is fairly mild because the bean is not roasted for long enough for the oil to gather on the surface. Typically, lightly roasted coffee beans have crisp acidity, bright flavors, and a mellow body.
Medium roasted coffee beans are brown in color and very rarely have oily surfaces – again, due to the short roasting time. They have medium acidity and body, with a well-rounded flavor profile containing the unique coffee flavor as well as the caramel-like sweetness of a longer roast. The taste is very popular in the US, often referred to as the “American Roast.”
Medium-dark roasts, with their rich brown color, are similar to medium roasts, just with a slightly stronger taste due to an increased amount of oil on the surface of each bean as a result of the longer roasting time. The aftertaste is considered by many people to be slightly bittersweet – a typical characteristic of the flavor of the coffee.
Dark roasted beans, meanwhile, have a rich, dark color and a lot of oil on the surface. Due to the long roasting time, the flavor is much deeper and stronger than that of lighter-roasted beans. They also lose more moisture, making them more single-note in flavor, less caffeinated, and less dense; consequently, they’re often used for espresso blends.
A blend is at least two different roasts from different regions that have been mixed together in order to create a unique coffee flavor profile. The whole idea behind making a coffee blend is to take the best qualities from different roasts from various regions to create a flavorsome, smooth, well-balanced coffee. They can be intended to be drunk both with or without milk.
There are hundreds of different coffee blends that are produced, sold, and drunk throughout the world. Unfortunately, the majority of coffee makers and roasters keep the exact details of their blend a closely guarded secret. The story of the first known coffee blend begins back in the 15th century when coffee was first exported from the renowned Yemini port Mocha to destinations all over the globe.
As a result, the word “mocha” became associated with Arabian coffee (it’s worth noting that these days, “mocha” is the name given to coffee flavored with chocolate, which is somewhat inaccurate and inappropriate). Later, when the Dutch combined Arabian coffee with Indonesian coffee grown on the island of Java, the blend “Mocha Java” was invented.
Coffee trees grow in multiple countries around the world. The optimum environment for strong growth and a successful yield is at high altitude in a tropical climate – conditions that are, in general, found around the Equatorial zone, between latitudes 30 degrees south and 25 degrees north. More than anything else, coffee trees need rich soil and enough moisture to thrive.
In Hawaii, the natural environment on the slopes of the active Mauna Loa volcano is perfectly balanced for coffee trees to grow. Young coffee trees are planted in volcanic soil, where it thrives. The end product – Kona coffee – is carefully processed to produce a delicious, aromatic, rich, medium-bodied coffee that’s enjoyed both nationally and internationally.
Brazil is officially the biggest coffee-producing country in the world. Plantations often cover areas of land that are astronomical in size and require hundreds of workers and produce huge quantities of both Arabica and robusta beans for national consumption as well as international exportation. Typically, Brazilian coffee is sweet and medium-bodied.
Ranked as the second-biggest coffee producer worldwide, southern Colombia’s rocky terrain makes it incredibly difficult to harvest and transport the coffee beans. Therefore, every element of the coffee production process requires maximum attention and care, the overall result of which being the production of a consistently good coffee bean. The flavor is, typically, mild and well-balanced.
Keeping to its traditions dating all the way back to the legend of Kaldi, Ethiopia is currently Africa’s largest coffee producer and the fifth-largest exporter of Arabica coffee in the world. In fact, total production for 2016 was 6.4 million 60-kilogram bags, of which approximately 3.7 million were consumed within the country. The rest were exported around the world.
As previously mentioned, the Dutch were initially responsible for transporting coffee beans from Ethiopia to Indonesia. Today, many of the larger Indonesian islands, such as Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, are renowned throughout the world for their high-quality, smooth-tasting coffees. Indonesian coffee is distinctive due to its rich, full-bodied flavor and one of the most popular blends.
Although there are many types of coffee that’s extremely cheap – for example, instant coffee mixes that contain a high ratio of low-quality robusta beans – there are also certain varieties that are astoundingly pricey. Kopi luwak, from Vietnam, is considered to be the most expensive in the world because of its unusual production process that’s unseen anywhere else in the world.
First, ripe coffee beans are fed to a palm civet – a type of wild cat. The civet digests the coffee beans and excretes them; the coffee beans found in the feces are then processed into coffee. It might sound disgusting, but it’s said to have a unique flavor that makes it one of the best coffees in the world. It sells for roughly $500 per pound.
Following kopi luwak is Hacienda La Esmeralda, the second-most-expensive coffee in the world. In 2017, it scored a whopping 94.1 points out of 100 in a quality test during the Best of Panama competition. This high-caliber, fruity coffee sold for $601 per pound during an auction – although this was an unusually high price, it broke the record for the highest price ever paid.
Meanwhile, Colombian coffee Ospina is another revered – but expensive – variety of coffee, fetching approximately $150 per pound. Although the coffee beans are grown in fertile volcanic ash, which creates a unique taste with notes of nuts and caramel, it could be argued that the high price is a result of the prestigious and extensive history of the family that grows it.
Most people associate coffee with one thing in particular: caffeine. It may, therefore, come as a surprise to learn that coffee is thought to have multiple health benefits when consumed in moderation. Although decaffeinated coffee still has potential beneficial properties, caffeinated coffee is preferable, as a lot of the natural goodness is lost during the decaffeination process.
The first health benefit that coffee provides is an increased intake in fiber; to be specific, a regular-size cup of brewed coffee contains up to 1.8 grams of fiber, of which the recommended daily intake is 20 to 38 grams, according to The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Therefore, a cup of coffee or two represents a relatively sizable portion of your daily fiber intake.
According to research available to view in the Archives of Internal Medicine, coffee can offer protection against cirrhosis of the liver – a late stage of scarring of the liver caused by multiple types of liver disease, including chronic alcoholism and hepatitis. This is because, according to The Hepatology Journal, coffee lowers the level of enzymes in the liver.
Meanwhile, a study by researchers at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center found that people who consume moderate amounts of coffee daily (one to three cups) have a 29% reduced risk of developing liver cancer (specifically hepatocellular carcinoma, which is the most common type). This shows that being a regular coffee can greatly benefit the liver in more than one way.
According to research found in the Archives of Internal Medicine, coffee can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Specifically, people who consume six or more cups of coffee per day had a 22% lower risk of developing the condition compared with non-coffee drinkers – again, good news for those of you who like to consume a lot every day!
A review of research initially conducted by Dr. Frank Hu from Harvard University showed that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by 9% for each daily cup of coffee that is consumed; although not quite as effective, decaffeinated coffee also offers similar benefits, decreasing the likelihood by 6% for each daily cup consumed.
The European Journal of Neurology has presented considerable evidence that caffeine – and, therefore, caffeinated coffee – can significantly protect against the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease. If more research can be conducted in the future to corroborate these initial findings, this could be a huge step forward in the prevention of the disease. It is suggested that the potential benefits increase along with the amount of caffeine consumed.
During another study conducted at the University Health Network in 2018, researchers isolated the compounds in roasted coffee that are thought to be responsible for preventing the build-up of a substance in the brain that is believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease, which could lead to major scientific and medicinal advancements. Obviously, the lowered risk of developing the disease is not applicable to decaffeinated coffee.
Approximately 450 million people around the world suffer from one or more mental health conditions, with one of the most common being depression, which causes people to experience continuous low mood, low self-esteem, and loss of interest or pleasure. In extreme cases, it can lead to suicide. Remarkably, coffee has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression when consumed regularly.
The Archives of Internal Medicine detail a 10-year study of 86,000 female nurses that showed a significantly reduced risk of suicide in those who drunk coffee on a regular basis compared with non-coffee drinkers. Another study, this time by the Harvard School of Public Health, found that women who consume at least four cups of coffee daily were 20% less likely to suffer from depression.
For decades, the consumption of coffee has been closely associated with a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease – a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years. In fact, the earliest study that suggested this was conducted way back in 1968. Since then, additional research has verified this claim.
One particular study revealed that caffeine combined with EHT – a compound found in coffee beans – lowered the risk of rats that were genetically predisposed to Parkinson’s actually developing the disease. Another study, this time in Sweden, supported this theory, showing that moderate coffee consumption reduces the risk of Parkinson’s developing even when genetic factors come into play. Finally, another study suggested that caffeine can improve the motor skills of someone suffering from Parkinson’s, thereby relieving symptoms.
Regular coffee drinkers can also claim to have less chance of developing heart disease – one of the leading causes of death worldwide – than non-coffee drinkers. Researchers in Korea found that people who consume three to five cups of coffee a day are less likely to show the initial signs of heart disease; however, it should be noted that other dietary factors could come into play here, as typical Western and Korean diets differ.
Another study in Brazil showed that people who consume three or more cups of coffee a day usually develop less calcification in their coronary arteries, which can lead to heart disease. Furthermore, it’s been proved that coffee does not harden the arteries, even if consumed in excess (25 cups or more per day). Interestingly, studies suggest that people who drink two or more cups of coffee daily after having a heart attack have the least risk of dying from the heart attack.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive, immune-mediated disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord as a result of severe damage to the protective coverings of nerve cells. Currently, there is no cure for MS. Coffee; however, it has been shown to offer protection against the development and reoccurrence of MS when at least four cups are consumed per day.
In a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, researchers outlined how they believe that this is because coffee can help to prevent neural inflammation, which is thought to lead to the development of the disease. It is also thought to have neuroprotective properties when consumed in a large amount over a period of five to ten years.
Additionally, coffee has been shown to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. This is true even with moderate consumption, which can reduce the risk by 26%, but the benefits increase with consumption – in fact, research shows that the chance of developing colorectal cancer decreases by 50% for people who drink more than 2.5 cups of coffee per day.
It may also protect those who consume it against melanoma – a type of cancer that develops, usually in the skin, from the pigment-containing cells known as melanocytes. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that the risk of developing melanoma decreases with each cup consumed daily (i.e., the more coffee consumed, the lower the risk).
Yet another health benefit that coffee offers to those who consume it is the prevention of retinal damage, according to a study by Cornell University. However, it’s not caffeine that’s responsible – instead, it’s chlorogenic acid (CLA), one of the multiple strong antioxidants found in coffee beans. A direct source of CLA to the retina is considered to be extremely beneficial.
Coffee also decreases the chance of developing gout – a form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. A large study of more than 50,000 men showed that the risk of developing the condition decreases with increasing coffee consumption – in other words, the more, the better! It is thought to do this by lowering uric acid levels in the body.
Coffee is often associated with the staining of teeth due to its rich, dark brown color – it’s not unusual for regular coffee drinkers to have slightly yellowed or browned teeth. Therefore, it may come as a surprise to learn that coffee is also extremely beneficial for your teeth in a number of ways that not many people realize.
Firstly, black coffee can actually help to prevent cavities from developing when it’s consumed on a regular basis. Brazilian researchers discovered that strong black coffee kills the bacteria on teeth that promote tooth decay; however, it’s important to note that adding milk or sugar to coffee completely negates this benefit, for the obvious reason that they contribute to cavities.
Secondly, it is thought that coffee may protect against periodontal disease, a pathological inflammatory condition of the bone, and gum support (periodontal tissues) surrounding the teeth. This is a common problem for people around the world – in fact, it is estimated that nearly 70% of all adults have some form or degree of periodontal disease currently.
In its Dental Longitudinal Study, the US Department of Veterans Affairs tracked coffee consumption and dental health among a total of 1,152 men for 30 years, from 1968 to 1998. The study showed that coffee didn’t promote periodontal disease of any kind; instead, it actually showed a protective benefit. Moreover, coffee is thought to be particularly beneficial during the “maintenance phase” of periodontal treatment.
All in all, coffee has a plethora of health benefits, many of which are linked directly to specific conditions and diseases. Therefore, it can be argued that, in general terms, coffee contributes to overall longevity. This theory dates back hundreds of years in Greece, where it is closely attributed to longevity and good health. This belief has been corroborated by a number of studies that have been conducted in recent years.
Firstly, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that women who consume coffee on a regular basis had a lower risk of death from factors such as heart disease and cancer, among others, thereby promoting a longer lifespan in general. Another study, this time published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that both male and female coffee drinkers were at less risk of dying prematurely compared with non-coffee drinkers.
Other studies have confirmed these results; for example, one conducted in Japan, which found that men who drink three cups of coffee or more per day have a 24% less risk of dying early from disease. Another Japanese study, as well as one conducted in the US and one conducted in Europe, also found similar results for both men and women.
Finally – as if we needed any more proof on this matter – a study conducted by Harvard University confirmed that people who drink one to five cups of coffee per day tend to avoid diseases linked to premature death compared with non-coffee drinkers. The results also suggest that the health benefits increase along with the amount of coffee consumed.
As a result of the overwhelming amount of positive results regarding the potential health benefits associated with consuming coffee on a regular basis, in 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture published dietary guidelines that recommend doing so for better general health. It is advised that people consume three to five cups of coffee a day to reduce the risk of disease.
However, the report does stress that adding sugar, sweeteners, cream, or flavored creamers to coffee quickly negates the potential benefits it may provide; therefore, it is best to consume black coffee, or, if necessary, add only a small amount of milk. Currently, this viewpoint is shared widely around the world, with moderate coffee consumption generally regarded to be not just safe but also actively good for you.
So, why exactly is coffee so good for you? The answer to this question is likely to lie in the high number of antioxidants that are naturally present in each coffee bean. These are substances that help to protect the cells in your body against free radicals, which are thought to play a major role in the onset and development of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
Just one cup of coffee contains more antioxidants than many types of fruit, including typical servings of grapes, raspberries, blueberries, and oranges – a fact that may come as a shock to you. Moreover, a study conducted by Monash University even suggested that roasting coffee beans further increases the natural antioxidant capacity of raw coffee beans.
When presented with the facts uncovered by in-depth scientific research, it’s undeniable that consuming coffee on a moderate but regular basis can be extremely beneficial in multiple ways. For the majority of people, it can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. However, it must be pointed out that this is not always the case for everyone.
Sometimes, coffee consumption must be closely regulated to avoid any health problems arising or being exasperated, mainly due to the high levels of caffeine present in each cup. People with certain heart conditions or a sensitivity to caffeine, as well as women who are pregnant, should avoid caffeine and, therefore, stick to decaffeinated products.
So, there you have it – pretty much everything that there is to know about coffee, including its history, current consumption around the world, and its potential health benefits. In conclusion, whether you’re a fan of coffee or you hate the taste, there’s no denying that it can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle – and it can even keep potential health conditions or ailments at bay.
We can only finish off this article by paying tribute to Kaldi, the Ethiopian goat herder, for discovering the beans all those years ago, and his local abbot for making them into the drink that we know and love today. With so many people relying on coffee to start the day, it’s difficult to imagine a world without it.