Quick, think of one thing that you can get everywhere – from upscale street corners to fluorescent-lit fast food joints, from your office to (most likely) your kitchen. It’s coffee, of course! Coffee is such a part of daily life that many of us take it for granted. How much do you know about everybody’s favorite caffeinated beverage? Brew up a fresh cup and enjoy these 10 coffee facts.
1. Coffee beans are not really beans, but the pits of a cherry-like fruit. Coffee trees produce sweet, bright red berries with green pits. The pits are removed and roasted to produce the brown, richly fragrant coffee beans we’re familiar with.
2. Coffee originated in Ethiopia. According to legend, a goatherd named Kaldi was the first person to discover coffee and its effects. Kaldi noticed that his goats acted more energetic than usual after eating berries from a coffee tree, so he tried eating them and found that they made him hyper, too. He told the abbot of the local monastery about his discovery. The abbot disapproved of the plant’s stimulating effects, so he tried to get rid of the fruit by throwing it into the fire. The roasting coffee beans smelled so good that the monks pulled them back out of the fire and made a drink out of them.
3. Today coffee is almost always enjoyed as a drink, but when it was first discovered, people ate it. In the 9th century, Ethiopian nomads ground up green coffee beans and mixed them with animal fat to make energy balls. Sometimes the coffee fruit was also eaten, with or without the seed. After coffee was brought to the Arabian peninsula, the Arabs started roasting coffee beans and brewing a drink out of them, inventing coffee as we know it today.
4. The rarest and most expensive coffee in the world, called kopi luwak, is produced in a rather unusual way: by using beans that have been digested and excreted by civet cats. Yes, really. Coffee fruit is fed to civet cats. The cats are unable to digest the beans, which ferment while passing through the digestive tract. After the cats excrete the beans, they are collected, roasted, and ground up as usual. Supposedly, the process of fermentation removes much of the bitter taste of the coffee and imparts a smooth, earthy flavor. Kopi luwak sells for $100 to $600 per pound.
5. Coffee is one of the most valuable traded commodities in the world, alongside oil, wheat, corn, and rice. More than 25 million people, mostly in developing countries, make a living growing and harvesting coffe
6. Coffee has been banned multiple times throughout history for supposedly inciting bad behavior in people. One such prohibition happened in Mecca in 1511, when coffee was believed to be as intoxicating as alcohol. The governor feared that caffeinated citizens might start plotting against him, so he made coffee illegal. Another law against coffee was passed in 1623, after Murad IV seized the Ottoman throne. He believed that coffee, alcohol, and tobacco corrupted people, so he banned all three substances. Italy got in on the anti-coffee movement for a while, too – during the 16th century, the clergy believed the effects of coffee were satanic and wanted to outlaw it. This episode ended happily for coffee lovers, though. When Pope Clement VIII tasted the drink, he declared it too delicious to be evil, and even joked that it should be baptized.
7. Coffee gets a bad health rap sometimes, but it is actually good for you in moderation. Black coffee contains riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamine, potassium, and manganese – not a bad way to start the morning. Coffee is also a rich source of antioxidants and can reduce your risk of type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee protects your liver, too. People who drink 4 or more cups of coffee a day are 80 percent less likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver than those who don’t. Don’t overdo it, though – too much coffee can make you jittery and give you high blood pressure.
8. Although switching on the coffee pot is the first thing many of us do when we get up, an early-morning cup of java doesn’t actually wake you up that much. Though you might feel like the mug of coffee you sip throughout the morning is making you more alert, the effect is probably just due to your body naturally waking up. If you want to make the most of your caffeine boost, you’re better off saving it until mid-morning or even afternoon, when you’re fully awake.
9. You can do more with coffee than just drink it! Freshly ground coffee beans can deodorize your fridge or car by absorbing other strong smells. Turn used coffee grounds into plant fertilizer, or try tossing the grounds (and the filter) into your composting – the grounds are rich in nitrogen and make the soil slightly acidic, which plants love. Moist coffee grounds make a gentle and great-smelling exfoliator for your skin. Coffee can even be used as a hair rinse to impart shine.
10. Most people have heard that coffee dehydrates you. Good news – it’s not true. Caffeine is a mild diuretic, but the water content in coffee offsets this, making the diuretic effect negligible on people who drink a moderate amount of coffee every day. In other words, coffee hydrates your body almost as well as water does. Drinking large amounts of coffee (as in more than six cups a day) can amplify the diuretic effect of the caffeine, though, so take everything in moderation.
It’s easy to see why drinking coffee is a tradition that goes back over a thousand years. The sublime smell, distinctive flavor, and concentration-enhancing powers of fresh coffee have made the plant nearly as valuable as such staples as oil and wheat, and even won over a pope. No wonder coffee prohibition didn’t work! Brew up a fresh pot or indulge in a visit to your favorite coffee shop and enjoy the health benefits, energy boost, and legal status of coffee.