Monday, 5 January 2015


Learning that ritualising coffee and tea as national beverages and past-times, with plenty of celebrity endorsements to bolster acquiring the taste, carried aloft by these habit-forming tonics, was done on such an institutional level, in part to perk-up and pacify a proletariat given to drinking more adult beverages that were needed in the factories and in a condition to operate heavy-machinery. Beer, wine and spirits were still the safer alternatives to water, since Europe had been cursed with bad plumbing and poor sanitation since the fall of Rome, and had of course the added benefits of antiseptic properties and inebriation. Required to be brewed and seeped which killed germs in the process, coffee and tea, as production increased and came under colonial control, however, could be released into the mass-market.
Unlike tea, whose cultivation and ceremony maybe as far back as five-thousand years in China (allegedly due to a fortunate mishap that blew some tea leaves into a pot of water on the boil, the government having decreed ages before that all water must be boiled before it is drank) and slowly leached to the rest of Asia, coffee’s properties were discovered relatively late—possibly by observing the behaviour of birds and goats fiending after the berries, which were too bitter for human-consumption. This late entry and South American plantations had me convinced, considering the timing during the Age of Exploration, that coffee was purely a New World import. Introduced to Yemeni dervishes by Ethopian planters, the devotees sipped the strong wild coffee (qahwat al-bun, wine of the bean, loaned into Turkish as kahve, whence it was discovered by European merchants) to help them keep awake for all-night vigils. A domesticated variety of the plant was cultivated in the port city of Mocha and the drink gradually expanded beyond religious use. Conflating New World chocolate with the souqs of this Yemeni port is similar to the word for the quintessentially North American poultry coming indirectly to England via merchants from the Ottoman Empire. Just as the methods of silk and porcelain production were a highly guarded industry secret for China, so too was coffee for Yemen, East Africa and Persia. Only beans already roasted were allowed for export to prevent propagation. Another Sufi Bada Budan smuggled seven cultivars from the Middle East to India, where, like the British despoiling China’s monopoly on tea, the plant and coffee-culture thrived and promulgated to the rest of the world.