Coffee is a huge part of modern culture — both in Italy and around the World. The humble coffee bean is actually a seed which grows inside a red cherry on a tree. Flavoursome, aromatic and hugely versatile, coffee has become the World’s favourite hot beverage, but its origins are far humbler.
The history of coffee
Most historians agree our relationship with the coffee bean began back in the 10th or 11th century. Legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder became curious when he noticed his goats acting strangely. At certain times of the day, his animals seemed over-excited and full of energy. He noticed that these periods of strange behaviour coincided with the consumption of small red cherries from wild trees in the mountains. Of course, his instincts were right. It was the caffeine in the cherry pits that was giving his goats their bursts of energy. Eager to take advantage of the same energy bursts, the man picked some of the cherries to take back to his friends. They too experienced increased levels of alertness — and the rest is history.
Coffee arrives in Italy
The coffee we drink today is heavily inspired by Italian coffee traditions from several hundred years ago. During the Italian Renaissance, Italian importers started to bring in coffee bought from the Middle East through the ports in Venice. As Italian culture already involved large family gatherings over food, wine and desserts, coffee had found its spiritual home.
Within just a few years. Italians were drinking very strong, concentrated shots of coffee called ‘espresso’, which means ‘pressed-out coffee’. This was typically consumed in the morning with breakfast. A new drink made with espresso and frothed milk was named a ‘cappuccino’. Legend has it that this drink got its name because it was similar in colour to the robe worn by Capuchin monks in 16th century Italy.
Coffee eventually became much more than a drink in Italy; it was something to socialise with. Friends and families served coffee as a mark of respect and thanks, and the drink became every bit as important as pasta or wine.
Coffee plays an important social role in Italy
Marco Lavazza perfectly defined coffee’s role in Italy. He said: “For Americans, coffee is a beverage. For us it’s about a culture. A lot happens around coffee in Italy”. Coffee bars in Italy are where friends and family meet to discuss the issues of the day. Espresso is a drink most commonly consumed early in the morning, while mid to late morning is when the majority of lattes and cappuccinos are served. People in Italy demonstrate their respect and love with coffee, and they usually organise their daily social lives around the consumption of it.
What are the main types of coffee?
There are two main types of coffee harvested in the World. Arabica is regarded as the premium bean. It is grown at high altitudes and delivers a smooth, balanced flavor Robusta coffee is grown at much lower altitudes, making it much cheaper to harvest and process. However, this type of coffee bean delivers a harsher, more bitter flavour profile.
Good quality coffee needs a certain amount of direct sunlight every day. This means that viable coffee growing is only possible between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn — around the Earth’s equator. Among the major coffee-growing regions in the World are Central and South America, India, Indonesia and Central Africa.
What foods are made with coffee?
Coffee is not only used for making hot beverages. It is also an important ingredient for popular entrees and desserts. For instance, coffee is mixed with cream, mascarpone cheese and other ingredients to make tiramisu. It is also a very popular flavour of ice cream, and it is a great accompaniment to chocolate in lavish desserts. Coffee is also increasingly being used as a main ingredient in stews, casseroles and marinades.