Coffee Traditions from Around the Globe
We love coffee here at at Boulevard, and we know you do to. However, not everyone serves coffee the same way: every coffee-drinking nation has its own likes, dislikes and traditions. From its beginnings in East Africa, coffee has gone on a long journey to become the drink we serve up here in Ashland. Here’s a look at some of them – some sound fantastic, others you’d only try if you were getting freebies.
The original coffee
The very first coffee came from the area we now know as Ethiopia. Local legend has it that a hungry goat herder started eating berries from a tree, which he found gave him energy and strength. These were the berries which contain the coffee bean. Coffee quickly became a drink with religious connotations, as monks began to use it so that they could spend more time at prayer. Their way of making coffee was to dry the berries so that they would keep longer, then to place them in water to rehydrate, picking the berries out to eat and then drinking the liquid. African coffee is still considered to be among the world’s best, and coffee can still be found growing wild there. Today, Ethiopians drink a lot of coffee, and have moved on from the rudimentary monks brews. It is almost worshipped, drunk in a ritualistic ‘coffee ceremony’. They roast the beans in a special bowl, and then grind them with a pestle and mortar. The coffee is then served strong in small cups.
From Ethiopia, coffee spread first to the Middle East, where it took on a life of its own. As in Africa, it came to have religious and spiritual associations, with Sufis using it to keep themselves awake during their religious rituals, believing the coffee to have mystic properties. It also became a popular drink amongst ordinary people, first in Mecca, and then throughout the Arab world as pilgrims took it back to their home towns. It was drunk in little coffee shops, which became places for men to gather, chat and play games. Like the Ethiopians, they drank their coffee strong in small cups, and still do today, with the addition of lots of sugar.
Because of coffee’s association with Islam, Christians thought of coffee as ‘the drink of the devil’, and in the sixteenth century called for the Pope to ban it. As it happened, the Pope was himself a coffee-lover, and the drink became quickly accepted and loved throughout Europe. Many European cities quickly developed a strong cafe culture. The first coffee house in Europe opened in Venice in 1683, and many more followed in other cities. Each European nation went on to develop its own coffee traditions. Italy, most notably, invented the espresso and the cappuccino. The espresso is drunk every morning by many Italians on their way to work, at little stand-up coffee bars. In Austria and Hungary, coffee became the drink of intellectuals and bohemians, who gathered in the grand coffee-houses of Vienna and Budapest (which can still be seen today). In France, coffee with milk (or cafe au lait) quickly became popular, and many French people begin their day with a big bowl (not a mug) of it. Surprisingly, the strongest coffee in Europe is drunk in Scandinavia, perhaps to help keep out the cold.
Coffee and the Americas
It was the British and Dutch who brought coffee out of Europe and over to their American colonies, during the eighteenth century. Coffee became inextricably linked with slavery, as many African slaves were brought over to work on West Indian coffee plantations. Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, coffee cultivation spread throughout Central and South America, and Colombia in particular, still one of the world’s largest coffee producers.
And of course, in North America, we have absorbed and adapted the world’s coffee traditions and adapted them for our own. Coffee drinkers here get to choose from a huge array of beans, roasts, and methods. There is even a choice of different kinds of milk. However you take your coffee, what is universal is its place as a social drink which people gather in cafes like ours to share.