The origins of coffee
Welcome to the magazine of "Caffè Pontevecchio Firenze". In this article on the origins of coffee, let's start with this quote:
"The discovery of coffee was, in its own way, as important as the invention of the telescope or the microscope ... In fact, coffee has unexpectedly intensified and modified the capabilities and liveliness of the human brain."
A bit of history
The product of “Caffè Pontevecchio Firenze”, strongly linked to history, derives from the coffee plant native to Yemen.
Various documents attest to its presence in that territory as early as the seventh century, but the consumption of coffee as a drink is documented only from the end of the fifteenth century.
In addition to the official sources, there are many ancient legends about the origins of the drink and the discovery of its properties.
One of the most famous is the one handed down to us by the Maronite friar Antonio Fausto Naironi, who in 1671 published a book entitled De saluberrima potione cahve seu cafe nuncupata discursus: officially the first work entirely dedicated to coffee.
In the text, the friar tells that in the 9th century Yemen, at a monastery, a shepherd who grazed the monks' goats saw them fidget after having nibbled some red berries from a shrub and decided to pick them and bring them to the religious.
They hunted it, believing that the berries were evil and threw them into the fire. During roasting, the fruit released a pleasant aroma and, immersed in water, produced a brown-colored drink.
One of the monks tasted the infusion and was struck by its extraordinary aroma, but above all by the exciting and beneficial effects of coffee on body and mind.
Legends aside, with the development of trade between East and West, the consumption of coffee spreads from the Arab world to Europe starting from the seventeenth century, even if at the beginning the drink was used mainly for medical purposes, that is for the effects of the caffeine contained in the bean.
Then, in 1723, the colonizers landed the coffee plant in Central and South America. Shortly thereafter, thanks to the ideal environment for the growth of the plant, coffee began to be grown in many areas of Central and South America, particularly in Brazil. Even today it remains the world's largest producer of coffee.
The varieties of coffee
There are 60 species of plants of the genus Coffea in the world, but only 4 are the varieties that are used to prepare coffee, well known at “Caffè Pontevecchio Firenze”.
1. Coffea Arabica
Known simply as "Arabica", it is native to Yemen and Ethiopia but is now found in all tropical regions, with a rainy climate. It is grown at altitudes between 600 and 1200 m and performs particularly well in volcanic soils. The unroasted bean is smaller than the other varieties, with a flat and elongated shape and a copper green color. Arabica coffee has a more delicate taste than Robusta coffee, more intensely aromatic and less bitter, thanks to the greater presence of sugars. Today Arabica makes up 70% of the coffee grown in the world.
2. Coffea Canephora
Called "Robusta", it is a variety native to the Congo and grows at altitudes ranging from sea level up to 1000 m. It has the characteristic of being more resistant to pests and diseases and can be grown even in less than optimal climatic conditions. The taste of Robusta coffee is more intense and bitter, thanks to the greater presence of caffeine than Arabica. The coffee is more dense and full-bodied, with a taste reminiscent of the notes of chocolate.
3. Coffea Liberica
A third variety, certainly less known than Arabica and Robusta, which comes from the area of Liberia and the Ivory Coast. The plant produces fruits with seeds that are almost twice as large as those of Arabica, which are also more resistant to parasites. The beans of the “Liberica” variety are certainly less valuable, but they give a coffee with a pleasant and fragrant taste.
4. Coffea Excelsa
This species was discovered in 1904 and resists disease and drought well. Its yield is very high and today it is grown mainly in Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Vietnam. The coffee obtained has a pleasant and very fragrant taste, in some ways similar to that of Arabica.
In Italy, the most popular and appreciated varieties are Arabica and Robusta, which also differ in the chemical composition of the bean. In fact, we find more lipids in Arabica and more caffeine in Robusta.