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Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

coffee

I love coffee. On an average day I will drink about 8 cups of the stuff. My favourite comic book hero is the excellent Too Much Coffee Man. It doesn't matter how much coffee I've had to drink if I can smell it I want a cup. Coffee is great.

However, coffee is far from being an ideal drug of choice as it can make you hyperactive and dehydrated give you a frenetic lifestyle flitting between cups, getting headaches, being knackered by 3pm and introspection (please God no, not introspection, anything but that!!). What can I say, I'm an addict. The boom-bust cycle of caffeine dependancy is all part of the fun, until you OD and get the shakes.

Today I have clearly been suffering from withdrawal symptoms. The caffetiere at work has been broken for a couple of days and I decided that this might be a suitable point to try and cut down my intake. Instead of cutting down I seem to have gone cold turkey. My flatmate who is used to being woken by the sound of the coffee grinder and being constantly surrounded by the smell of coffee must be wondering what has been going on. I have been sluggish and grumpy for 2 days and I decided that I had had enough of it (this has nothing to do with the last post I made on here, *sarcastic cough*, nothing at all). I resolve to pinch the coffee pot from upstairs:
Ninja-like I creep into the lift unseen by the ever-watchful Raj in security. Stealthily I slide up the third floor corridor, insinuate my way into the sparsely furnished corridor that serves as tea room. Making full use of the available cover and carefully keeping to the shadows I make my approach. Then with the speed of lightning and the subtlety of a stealthy moth, I strike! A double forward somersault lands me tantalisingly close to my target. A few combat rolls and a swift grab and it is mine! Concealing it in my clothing I drop neatly to the floor and go to make an unobserved escape when disaster, the door opens and I am seen! I fell the first of my oponents with a hail of shuriken, the second falls to a dart from my blowpipe and the third to a hail of kicks and punches as I somersault over his head. Disuading persuers with a scattering of caltrops I make good my getaway, slipping away more smoothly than an oiled otter.
My childish fantasies aside coffee is bloody interesting as one of the world's first internationally traded leisuretime commodities.

Most people think that tea is the British traditional drink but it was far less popular than coffee until about 1750 onward and tea's popularity exploded when the East India Company made tea fashionable and capitalised on it. Tea wasn't as popular early on because of it's outrageously high price and the fact that it was often adulterated with non-food things, like rat droppings, a flavour retained for the sake of tradition in many of today's most popular brands.

The first recorded coffee house was "Angel" in Oxford in 1650, but it was London's coffee houses that were really famous. The first of these was opened in 1652 by a Greek named Pasqua Rosee. By about 1670 London coffee houses became meeting places where political and literary ideas were discussed, something of a rarity in Britain which was run by puritain thought police at the time. Coffee houses were seen as a breeding ground of subversive dissent, both French and American revolutions were plotted in coffee houses. Something which makes me wonder whether the social order, not to mention the democratic process in Britain, would be vastly different had tea not been so popular. Ultimately British coffee houses slowly died out as tea, which they initially served, became more popular but had bizarre taxes and licensing restrictions put on it making it's open purchase in private houses problematic.

London women didn't agree with coffee at all; launching The women's petition against coffee, a fantastic historical oddity which basically calls for the serving of coffee to stop. The reason? Since their men stopped going to the pub to drink ale and took up coffee the women weren't getting enough sex. With the beer goggles removed and quivering from too much caffeine their men had become "as Impotent, as Age, and as unfruitful as those Desarts whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought".

Coffee became more popular in America as a result of a little-known event called The Boston Tea Party where uppity yanks revolted against perfectly legitimate British tea taxes and ruined vast quanitities of tea, the mutinous caffeine-addled colonials (points awarded for the best revolting yanks joke).

Instant coffee was invented when Brazil developed a coffee surplus equivalent to a world supply for 6 years. The Brazilian government approached Nestlé in 1930 to see if coffee's popularity could be boosted with the introduction of a new product. Amazingly it took 7 years of development to produce this thin bitter and virtually flavourless travesty of a drink that they had the nerve to call coffee. Imagine what they could have done with another 7. On 1 April 1938, NESCAFÉ was launched in Switzerland; worst April fools gag ever.

Without the Second World War I doubt that instant coffee would have got very far. I mean, just how instant does a drink have to be? Take ground coffee, apply hot water, lo and behold coffee. Instant is clearly lighter, easier to carry and makes more sense during war time. Nestlé had timed it perfectly (check out Nestlé's history of instant coffee as a point of information you should also check out baby milk action to find out why people refuse to drink NESCAFÉ).

Coffee factoid attack:

  • The ingestion of coffee provides the equivalent amount of antioxidants as three glasses of orange juice

  • Coffee originated in central Ethiopia and then was transplanted to Yemen, where it was cultivated as far back as the sixth century

  • October 1st is the official Coffee Day in Japan

  • Currently there are approximately 2,200 ships involved in transporting coffee beans each year

  • Over 53 countries grow coffee worldwide, but all of them lie along the equator between the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn

  • Coffee stimulates the apocrine glands and makes you sweat more. Which is why I sweat when I eat - bugger.

  • It takes 42 coffee beans to make an espresso

  • 80% of the world's coffee farmers are smallholders working on less than 3 hectares. The rest comes from plantations which are run more as agri-businesses.

  • To make a roasted pound of coffee it takes around 2,000 Arabica coffee cherries. With 2 beans per cherry - this means around 4,000 beans are in a single pound of coffee.

  • In December 2001 Brazil produced a scented postage stamp to promote its coffee - the smell should last between 3 and 5 years.

  • The USA is the world's largest consumer of coffee, importing 16 to 20 million bags annually (2.5 million pounds), representing 1/3 of all coffee exported. More than half of the United States population consumes coffee typically drinking 3.4 cups of coffee a day

  • Coffee is the most popular drink worldwide with almost 2 billion cups consumed every day

  • The world's most expensive coffee is made from beans cycled through an Indonesian marsupial's digestive system. It is called Kopi Luwak and no I haven't tried it.

  • The French philosopher, Voltaire, reportedly drank fifty cups of coffee a day.

  • Regular coffee drinkers have about 1/3 less asthma symptoms than those of non-coffee drinkers according to a Harvard researcher who studied 20,000 people.

  • Turkish law makes it legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he fails to provide her with her daily quota of coffee.


I could hardly sign off this post without mentioning that as a traded commodity which grows best in some of the world's poorest areas coffee has become a worldwide economic conundrum as farmers in the developing world are ruthlessly exploited by large corporations. This happens with a lot more than just coffee but is probably most pronounced with coffee given that, as stated above, 80% of the farmers involved in coffee production are smallholders with no leverage at all. Buying fair trade coffee can help but I have heard rumors that not all coffee labelled as fair trade are really that fair. Have a look at Make Trade Fair for information on this. I have found that the fairtade coffees are far more likely to be organic and generally taste a lot better, even the instant.

If you are a real tree hugger you can actually buy fairly traded bird-friendly coffee, I am happy to report that it is delicious.