The coffee trail

El recorrido del café

When we enjoy a cup of coffee, we tend to ignore the origin of the beans that are in our drink, the history that this product has had, and the multiplicity of hands involved in the process. The history of coffee and its diffusion are a mix of myth and reality, it is a story with positive and negative aspects, and it is a tale with tons of flavor.

Coffee was discovered in East Africa a millennium ago, in an area now formed by Ethiopia and South Sudan. The leaves and cherries (the fruit) of coffee were used for their invigorating qualities and the seeds used to be mixed with fat and spices to be ingested by shepherds looking for more energy. The coffee leaves and pulp were boiled to obtain an infusion rich in caffeine as well.

The coffee plant was brought from East Africa to Yemen, where it was used by Sufis in the 15th century to make quishr. This drink was an infusion of cherries that facilitated being awake during night prayers. Such a quality made the coffee tree famous and began to be used by merchants and academics, even promoting the creation of sites for the consumption of quishr.

In the 16th century, Arab consumers began to roast and grind the beans, brewing a drink very similar to the one we know today. This new form of consumption spread throughout what is currently Turkey and North Africa, mainly in Egypt. The Arab merchants who offered coffee in different latitudes were very jealous of the seeds and even boiled them so that no one could grow them. However, in the early 17th century, seeds were smuggled from Yemen to India and Amsterdam. The Dutch took advantage of the newly arrived seeds from the Arabian Peninsula and planted them in their colonies, especially in present-day Indonesia.

Coffee arrived in America in the 18th century through the French and the Dutch. The seeds from the Netherlands were sown in what is now Suriname and they gave seeds to the French, who brought them to their colonies in French Guyana, Haiti and Martinique. Furthermore, the British brought seeds to the islands of Jamaica and Haiti. It was through the Caribbean that coffee seeds came to Mexico. In our country, coffee production is found in several states, being Chiapas one of great quality and the seat of Balancan.

The next time you taste our coffee, remember the history of more than a millennium of consumption of this beautiful plant and the thousands of kilometers that it has traveled over the centuries to reach your hands. The history of coffee is a history of the whole world and Mexico is an important chapter in the coffee story of today.

Source: Moldvaer, A. 2014. Coffee Obsession. Doring Kindersley Limited, London.