Chances are you started your day with a cup or two.
And if you didn’t, you undoubtedly know someone who did.
With worldwide coffee consumption estimated at 2.25 billion cups each and every day, it’s pretty safe to say that a whole lot of us have A Thing for Coffee.
From Ancient Curative to Modern Commodity
Coffee has been around for centuries. How and where the energizing properties of the seeds of the coffee plant were first discovered, however, is up for debate. Ethiopians give credit to a simple goat herd named Kaldi for the revelation. And one prominent Yemeni legend claims that Sheikh Omar, while exiled from the city of Mocha, not only discovered the coffee bean but was ultimately granted sainthood because of the “miraculous curative powers” of his coffee drink.
Most likely, neither story is true.
What is true is that coffee drinking was first documented historically as part of the nighttime religious rituals of Yemen Sufis way back in the 15th century. Yemen traders had acquired coffee plants from Ethiopia, where it grew in the wild, and began to cultivate them in their mountainous terrain. The Sufi mystics used the new-found beans to keep themselves alert during long nights of prayer.
Although the Yemeni tried to corner the coffee market by forbidding the removal of live coffee plants and viable coffee seeds from their country, the growing love for the beverage meant it could not be geographically contained. Colorful stories of smuggling, seduction, and political intrigue highlight the travels of the coffee bean as it made its way from the Yemeni port of Mocha to every corner of the world during the explosive expansion of global trade routes throughout the 16th to 18th centuries.
A single fact from more recent centuries provides an informative snapshot of the advent of coffee in our lives:
- In the 19th century, Brazil became the largest coffee-producing nation in the world, exporting nearly a third of all the world’s coffee.
- In the 20th century, the United States became the world’s top importer of coffee, bringing nearly half of all the world’s coffee into its borders.
- In our current 21st century, demand for coffee is predicted to triple world-wide.
Only the future will reveal how successful we are at coaxing our beleaguered planet to produce enough coffee to quench our ever-growing thirst and need for caffeine.
Coffee and Economy
Coffee is classified as a “soft commodity,” meaning, in overly-simplified terms, that it’s a trade-able good that is grown rather than welled or mined. And it can only be grown on a very limited section of the planet, on land that circumvents the globe near the equator. This swath of the earth is, therefore, commonly referred to as the “coffee belt” or “bean belt.”
There is a persistent myth claiming that coffee is the second-most traded commodity after crude oil, but this is false. In reality, coffee is pretty far down on the list, falling behind not only crude oil but also metals like steel, iron, and gold as well as more life-preserving agricultural commodities such as soybeans, corn, and wheat.
Yet, because it is the world’s main source of caffeine, coffee has, as noted by commodity.com “spawned a staggeringly large economy of its own.”
That economy starts, of course, with the millions of farmers, most residing in third-world countries, who support themselves and their families by growing coffee. Just beyond the farmer, we find the coffee pickers — those who gather the cherry fruit from the coffee plants — and the processors — those who extract the coffee seeds/beans from the fruit and dry them in preparation for market. Many of these individuals live in the same communities as the farmers and, thus, rely on the same coffee harvests for their livelihood.
Exporters, importers, and distributors then step in to move the coffee around, either regionally or globally, to various markets. Some marketing agents and sales representatives work to secure large-scale commercial contracts with companies like Folgers, Maxwell House, or Eight O’Clock Coffee. Others set their sights on smaller-scale, independent roasters. Finally, there are those whose job it is to convince each of us individual coffee drinkers to purchase their brand, blend, or roast over all others. Regardless of the scale of their involvement, each of these individuals rely on the coffee bean for their employment and income.
Looking still further down the line, we find that the “coffee economy” supports both commercial and independent coffee roasters; it encompasses coffee shop franchises as well as independent owners; and it impacts any other purveyor of prepared coffee — think restaurants, gas stations, employers — who supply brewed coffee to their patrons, clients and/or staff.
Finally, we see that coffee supports a vast, global infrastructure of manufacturing plants where thousands of workers, both skilled and unskilled, are employed. Some manufacturing facilities provide the equipment needed by commercial coffee companies (who themselves employ thousands around the world) to roast, grind, and package their coffee for wholesale and retail markets. Other factories manufacture residential-use appliances and accessories. They supply everything from the coffee maker to the favorite mug we use to prepare and enjoy coffee at home.
Clearly, if we all suddenly gave up our coffee, the economic repercussions would be globally devastating.
The Quest for Coffee Knowledge
Despite our unbridled love for coffee — and its pervasiveness in both the global economy and our day-to-day lives — it remains a mystery to most of us. We tend to settle for an easy-to-find brand with a consistent taste we find acceptable, then we stick with it.
Day after day.
Year after year.
Yet those of us who truly enjoy our coffee — even if it’s just that same old, familiar coffee — have this little voice in the back of our brain telling us we could be having a far more interesting coffee experience if only we would branch out and try a new brand, use a different brewer, or opt for a lighter or darker roast.
We hear the voice. We know it’s right. But with so many confusing options, it’s difficult to know where to start.
Start here, at A Thing for Coffee.
The goal of this site is to break down the whole coffee experience in a fun, informative, and informal way.
A Thing for Coffee is meant to help the Average Joe enjoy a better cup of joe.
To that end, the site is divided into logical categories to help you find what you’re looking for quickly and easily.
All great coffee starts, of course, with great coffee beans. This category will include informative articles on different types of coffee plants and the properties of the beans they produce. In addition to the most prominent Arabica and Robusta, there are lesser-known coffees — such as maragogipe — that can expand our coffee palate….provided we know about them. We’ll also examine the current popularity of green coffee beans for use as a weight-loss aid and antioxidant boost.
Predominantly, however, this category will focus on the two primary ways we alter and interact with coffee beans in order to create a great-tasting cup of coffee: Roasting and Grinding.
Roasting is the process by which raw (green) coffee beans are transformed into the fragrant, flavorful beans we use to make our coffee. Since the flavor of the coffee we drink is directly related to the level of roast, it’s an important element in our overall coffee enjoyment. Yet few of us really understand what roasting is all about. The following articles begin to shed some light on the topic:
Grinding is the process of breaking down whole, roasted coffee beans into smaller particles so that they can then be brewed. Coffee can be purchased pre-ground, or it can be purchased in whole-bean form and ground at home. Start with this article to discover the basics about coffee grinding and whether it might be right for you:
If you’re interested in grinding your own coffee beans, the following article covers common at-home grinding methods:
Future articles will discuss individual grinding tools in much greater detail. We’ll also learn more about which type of grind — coarse, fine, or something in between — works best with different brewing methods.
And speaking of brewing…
Since there are so many unique and creative brewing options available these days, we’ve created a category just to cover them all.
Brewing is the process of combining hot water with roasted, ground coffee beans to create a drinkable beverage.
Brewing was, historically, a rather crude boiling of roughly pulverized beans that produced inconsistent results.
Today coffee brewing has transformed into a veritable art form. The vast array of brewing styles and brewing tools available to the modern coffee drinker provide consistent, flavorful cups of coffee time after time.
There are electric drip coffee makers and sophisticated single-serve brewers that dispense hot coffee at the touch of a button.
There are hands-on brewing methods, such as French presses or pour-overs, that require a bit more effort but offer greater temperature and flavor control.
And if it should be iced coffee you want, there are all kinds of ways to brew that, too.
Over time, we’ll explore a variety of creative ways to brew coffee either by the cup or by the pot. For now, these introductory articles might pique your interest:
Coffee Around the World
One of the things that makes coffee such an interesting beverage is that coffee beans develop unique flavors depending on where they’re grown. Ethiopian coffee will taste different than Brazilian coffee, and Jamaican coffee will vary from Kona or Columbian.
The taste of coffee beans is so dependent on location, in fact, that beans grown on different parts of the very same plantation may taste noticeably different from one another due to variations in soil quality, growing elevation, and sun exposure.
In the Coffee Around the World category, we will travel the globe to better understand how regional topography and farming traditions affect the coffee in our cups. It’s a fun and informative trip that will help enlighten your personal coffee-buying choices. The journey begins here:
Gifts & Gadgets
In the Gifts & Gadget category, we will explore a wide array of coffee accessories, from the tried-and-true to the new-and-trendy. Our research, first-hand experiences, and product reviews will help you discover the coffee-related tools and gadgets that will take your coffee experience to the next level.
We’ll also offer fun and helpful gift ideas for all the coffee lovers in your life…including yourself!
In fact, we might just help you find the perfect coffee-related gift you never even thought of, like these (because who knew?!):
The Blog is where you’ll find all kinds of coffee-related posts that don’t quite fit anywhere else. It’s a fun and informal section of A Thing for Coffee where we might give a shout-out to a favorite coffee shop, explore the intricacies of latte art, review a coffee-related book, or simply share insights on making the most of our personal coffee moments.
If it’s about coffee and it’s fun, funny, informative, entertaining, weird, or quirky, you’ll probably find it in the blog roll. Check out this article to see what we mean:
This site was born out of a desire to help all of us who have a thing for coffee get the most out of our coffee experience.
Because we do believe it’s true: when life happens, coffee helps.
But we believe that excellent coffee doesn’t just help, it raises life to a whole new level.
So follow along, and let’s enjoy some excellent coffee together.