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Stimulating coffee facts with EHL’s Alain Berruex | By Beatrice Venturini

Coffee - so much more than a drink - more a way of life.

David Lynch is famously quoted as saying that "even a bad cup of coffee is better than no coffee at all".

While the amount that is either good or bad for your health is still unresolved, coffee remains the most popular beverage in the world with more than 400 billion cups consumed each year.

More important than the sun rising in the sky, once the taste and kick are floating around in your blood system, it seems that the day is ready to start.

Senior lecturer in Food & Beverage Management, EHL's Alain Berruex takes us through coffee's stimulating journey.



The first coffee trees were found in Ethiopia on a high plateau in Kaffa province, close to the Great Rift Valley. Legend says that coffee was discovered by Kaldi, a young shepherd, who saw his goats eating the berries and noticed them getting very lively. So he tried it, felt stimulated and revitalized, and brought his discovery to some Sufi monks living in Ethiopia. Originally from Yemen, the monks took the berries, trees and habit of drinking coffee back to their country.

The port of Al-Makha (Mocha) in Yemen is essential to the spread of coffee. Beans were imported from Ethiopia and then sent to the Red Sea to sacred Muslim cities, such as Mecca, Medina and Jeddah. Thanks to the pilgrims visiting those cities and returning home, coffee quickly spread to all the Arab countries and become a daily drink for Muslims. Coffee helped them stay awake and focused during night prayers. They gave the name 'Arabica' to the bean.

At that time, merchants would walk the city streets with pushcarts and sell coffee to passersby. People used to stop, have a coffee and start chatting. This created the convivial, social link between people and the ritual of drinking coffee. Then coffee became so important that the first coffee houses opened simultaneously in two very important cities, Damascus and Aleppo, in present-day Syria. Gradually, coffee spread to other great cities, such as Istanbul, Cairo, Beirut and so on.

The first Europeans to trade coffee with the Arabs were the famous Venetian traders. They imported coffee drinking and spread it throughout Italy and Europe. The first European coffee house opened in Venice between 1645 and 1683. When coffee arrived in Europe, it was considered a luxurious, expensive and rare product. The Dutch were the first Europeans to grow coffee. They started in Sri Lanka, bringing coffee trees to Indonesia on Java Island.

The French, who also got their hands on a few coffee trees, started to grow coffee in Martinique. Then the French Governor offered a plant to the British Governor of Jamaica. Jamaica started to produce the famous Blue Mountain Grand Cru and subsequently, the British participated in the spread of coffee around the world.

The main producers are now located in what we call the coffee belt, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Brazil is the main producer in terms of quantity per year with approximately 33% of worldwide production. It is followed by Vietnam with 16%, Colombia and Indonesia with 7%.

Up to 124 species of the Coffea plant are known, but not all of them are edible. Only a few of them are grown to produce coffee, specifically 'Coffea arabica' that gives us the sweeter tasting Arabica bean and 'Coffea canephora' that produces the stronger, higher caffeined Robusta bean.

Arabica is much more delicate than Robusta. Delicate first in terms of growing: the tree cannot be exposed to too much sun, it has to grow in high altitudes and needs rich soil, such as old volcanic soils. We can feel it in the taste, Arabica beans have aromatic, fruity and delicate notes, and make up for between 60-80% of the world's coffee production.

Conversely, Robusta trees are cheaper and easier to grow. They have deeper roots in order to get their nutrients and don't need high altitudes, just a lot of sun. In terms of taste, Robusta has earthy, strong and slightly bitter notes. Most of the time, the two beans are blended so to achieve the right balance between the delicacy of Arabica and the strength of Robusta, with a respective ratio of 80/20 being the most popular.

The fruit of the coffee tree is called a cherry. When ripe, it is opened and two beans are found in it. The beans are wet, sticky and soft. They need to be cleaned, washed and dried. After this process they are called green beans, or green coffee. This is how the beans are sold in the market, because it is easier to preserve them. Finally, the beans need to be roasted to arrive at the beautiful brown/black color we all know and to develop their aromas. Studies have shown that a green coffee bean contains approximately 200 aromatic molecules. The same bean can show up to 800 aromatic molecules after roasting!!

Purists argue that ground coffee is something that should never be stored, it should be consumed ASAP once the beans have been freshly roasted and ground. However, back in the real world: air, moisture, heat and light are the things to be avoided when it comes to storage.

It's best to keep coffee in an opaque, airtight container at room temperature. Surprisingly, the fridge is not the best place for coffee in any form, ground or whole bean, even when sealed. It is simply not cold enough to keep your coffee really fresh, (it's better off in the freezer), and because coffee works as a deodorizer, it will absorb all the aromas in your fridge- which will definitely have a negative impact on your morning cup!

It is recommended not to keep roasted coffee beans for more than one month. It is better to regularly buy freshly roasted coffee in small amounts and do your grinding at home just before brewing. This way, your coffee will taste better and you will be more tempted to try out new varieties.

"Just remember that a real coffee maker is no more than a crazy scientist!" - Alain Berruex.