A journey through the historical varieties of coffee.
Even people most loyal to coffee are unaware of the origins of coffee and how its fruit has resulted in one of the most consumed infusions; therefore, in this post we will travel in time with the aim of knowing some more information about the history of coffee and its main varieties. Buckle up; the first stops are Ethiopia and Yemen!
Most writings locate the origins of coffee in Ethiopia, specifically in the former province of Kaffa. The first to be consumed were coffee berries; In fact, the first to try it were the goats in the area. It is said that Ethiopian shepherds noticed their animals much more lively and restless after consuming the fruit of coffee .
More or less during the same period, also the people who worked as slaves in the lands of Ethiopia and around ate the coffee cherry. They were often moved from Sudan to Yemen or Arabia through the Yemeni port of Moca and it was precisely in Yemen, in the fifteenth century, that the first evidence of coffee cultivation emerged.
Although the Arabs did not want to share coffee beans with anyone, they traveled little by little to other countries such as Italy, Holland, India or Suriname.
The first Europeans to smell coffee were the Italians. Venetian merchants introduced the fruit of coffee in Europe approximately in 1615. In fact, it was precisely in Venice, in Piazza San Marco, where the first European coffee shop was opened: the Caffè Florian, opened in 1720.
In the 17th century, the Dutch also introduced coffee into the country and began to grow it. Shortly after, this European country exported coffee to some of its Asian colonies, beginning to cultivate it hard in Dutch India and in Indonesia. Precisely, Indonesia remains today one of the leading coffee producing countries.
The history of coffee and its arrival in America
Although coffee was consumed in North America in the seventeenth century, it was not until 1718 when coffee was also grown in America. At first the Dutch introduced coffee in Suriname and, subsequently, it arrived in Brazil, which is another of the main coffee producing countries today.
Coffee also reached the island of Martinique, in the Caribbean Sea, just a little later; in the year 1723. The arrival of coffee in Martinique is one of the most commented events when talking about the history of coffee. The introduction of the bush on the island came thanks to Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a French naval officer who was then surprised by his decision and his great effort.
De Clieu, knowing that King Louis XIV kept a coffee plant in the royal greenhouse of Paris, established all kinds of contacts until he made an outbreak of the bush. Once he had it with him, he kept it inside a glass container and embarked with it with the intention of planting it in Martinique. De Clieu and his plant survived the corsair attack and a hurricane. The glass box that stored the outbreak was repeatedly damaged, but the most alarming thing happened when, due to the hurricane, fresh water began to run out on the ship due to a supply error and De Clieu was forced to share his daily milliliters with the plant stolen from Louis XIV.
When he arrived in Martinique, De Clieu planted his coffee plant in the town of Le Prêcheur. In 1777, Martinique already had between 17 and 18 million coffee trees.
After the action of the Dutch and De Clieu himself, coffee became increasingly famous in Central and South America. Today, not only Brazil is one of the main coffee producing lands but also Colombia.
Coffee varieties: Typica and Bourbon
Talking about historical coffee varieties requires mentioning the Typica and Bourbon coffee varieties.
The Typica variety is, as many coffee experts call it, the mother of the rest of Arabica coffee varieties. Typica began to grow wild in Ethiopia and from it emerged mutations or varieties also very relevant.
Let us briefly study what unites the most important varieties in the history of coffee and what differentiates them:
Typica: As we indicated, the Arabica coffee variety known as Typica is for many the original Arabica coffee variety, as its plant grew wild in Ethiopia.
Its expansion began in the 17th century, when the first seeds of the Typica variety were taken from Yemen to India (specifically to Malabar, now Mysore). Afterwards, the Dutch decided to take the Typica variety to Indonesia and, later, the plant also arrived in Central and South America. Now, the Typica variety is grown in Central America, Asia and Jamaica.
This variety is popular for its acidity and high quality.
Bourbon: The first seeds of the Bourbon variety were collected in forests of Ethiopia (in the southwest) and Yemen. In the eighteenth century, the French were responsible for expanding the cultivation of this variety in different parts of Africa (Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya and Nairobi).
At present, the Bourbon Arabica coffee variety is one of the most cultivated in Latin America: around 98% of the coffee planted in Brazil belongs to this variety. It is also present in African areas such as Burundi or Rwanda.
What stands out most of the Bourbon variety is its sweet taste (with hints of chocolate and nuts) and its high quality.