Have you ever been sitting there, drinking your cup of Joe* and then all of sudden you freak out because you have no idea where coffee comes from? You think (maybe?) that it comes from beans but where do the beans come from? Trees like berries? Under the ground like potatoes? Foraged for in the forest by piglets like truffles? Where does coffee actually come from?
If you have no idea how your cappuccino ends up in your hands every day, here’s a few things you should know about coffee.
Where does it grow?
Coffee is grown all over the world but the big players are Kenya, Colombia and Brazil. Coffee likes tropical and sub-tropical climates and the climate can affect the taste of the coffee. For example arabica beans are grown at a higher altitude than other coffee beans. Coffee only grows in the ‘bean belt’ which is a strip of land directly below the equator. Coffee plants are very attached to their ideal climate and it’s difficult to grow coffee outside these areas. At Republica Organic, we source our beans through Fairtrade. We pay a fair price to the Third World farmers who grow our produce so they can afford basics like education & health care. We’re big believers in fair pay for a day's work.
How does it grow?
So coffee trees (yes coffee grows on trees) produce a ‘cherry’ and the coffee bean is inside the cherry. You can get the coffee bean out by drying the cherries in the sun and raking the flesh off or mashing it all up in a machine to separate the bean from from the cherry flesh. Then they go through lots of machinery to remove the outer skin and then they get polished up all gorgeous and shiny and ready for their next adventure.
Why do we even know about coffee? Who decided to start drinking it?
There’s an old wives tale about a guy called Kaldi who was a 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd. He noticed his goats would get very excited and energetic when they ate the cherries from a particular tree. He investigated further (ate the berries himself) and figured out these berries were pretty darn good. Originally people would chew the cherries to get to the caffeiney goodness inside but it wasn’t until about the 15th century in Yemen that people started actually brewing and drinking coffee.
I heard about this weird cat poop coffee - is that a true story?
Yep! It’s called Kopi Luwak and it comes from Indonesia. Their native civet cats pick only the best coffee berries to eat and once the fruit is digested they… erm… ‘pass’ the coffee beans, leaving the highest quality cat selected beans ready for (rigorous) cleaning, roasting and drinking. If you’d rather not drink cat poop coffee don’t stress - you can only get (authentic) Kopi Luwak in Indonesia and it’s pretty pricey as the supply chain of the coveted coffee relies on the digestion of wild cats. Not exactly a consistent or scalable business model.
*Want to know where the term ‘cup of Joe’ came from? Rumour has it in 1913 a man called Joseph Daniels (secretary of the Navy) issued a prohibition of alcohol on board Navy vessels. So during this time the strongest drink you could get on board a naval ship was a cup of coffee. Out of spite (and desperate for a whisky) the sailors starting calling coffee a ‘cup of Joe’.
Image source: Fairtrade Australia