10 Fun Facts About Coffee You Probably Didn’t Know
Coffee – just the word conjures up the amazingly potent, energizing aroma, the aura of relaxing with friends over a steaming cup of java, the allure of the tropical lands where the coffee cherries grow. But there’s a whole lot more to the world’s favorite brew than the sweet liquid gold in the cup. As one of the most traded commodities in the world, the humble coffee bean has been the bedrock of trading empires and the inspiration for more than one feat of espionage. It’s been known as the devil’s brew, and banned by churches and governments alike. No matter how much you know about coffee, though, chances are you’ll still find something you didn’t know in this round up of ten fun coffee facts that you probably didn’t know.
1. Coffee shops are hotbeds of revolution.
Or at least, that’s what monarchs appear to believe. Since the 1500s, governments and other leaders have repeatedly banned coffee and/or coffee houses, largely because – in the words of a governor of Mecca in 1511 – it promotes radical thinking and foments revolution. This thought was echoed by King Charles II in 1675, who attempted to ban coffeehouses because drinking coffee promoted political debate and – again – fomented revolution. In a proclamation, he whined that coffeehouses were “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers.” Coffee and/or coffeehouses have also been banned in Prussia, Constantinople and Italy, where a college of cardinals tried to convince Pope Clement to ban “Satan’s drink.” Their plot came to naught, however, when the good cleric tasted a cup and declared it so good that it would be a sin to let the infidels have it all to themselves.
2. Beethoven was the original coffee snob.
If you think today’s coffee intelligentsia are precise with their scales and thermometers, you can blame Ludwig Beethoven for the trend that started it all. According to contemporary reports, Beethoven enjoyed his coffee daily – and insisted that every cup be made with exactly 60 beans.
3. George Washington invented instant coffee.
No, not that George Washington. While Satori Kato actually created the first “recipe” for making instant coffee, the first man to successfully mass-produce and market the instant coffee. While it wasn’t very tasty, it did hit the spot for soldiers on the battlefield in World War I.
4. The stock exchange – both in London and in New York – started in coffeehouses.
Just as they are today, coffee houses often served as portable “offices” for gentlemen doing business in earlier years. Both the London Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchanges started in popular coffee houses in their respective cities. Other financial industries that also started in coffee houes include auction houses (Sotheby’s of London) and the insurance industry – Lloyds of London began in a coffee house as well.
5. Coffee may not make you sober, but it does seem to protect your liver from alcohol related diseases.
Despite old wives tales to the contrary, if you feed coffee to a drunk, all you get is a wide-awake drunk. On the other hand, considerable research has found that people who drink coffee regularly show a much lower incidence of all liver diseases, including cirrhosis of the liver, which is commonly associated with chronic alcoholism.
6. New Yorkers drink almost 7 times as much coffee as people elsewhere in the U.S.
Maybe that’s why it’s the city that never sleeps.
7. In ancient Arab culture, coffee was grounds for divorce.
While mid-1970s US ads centered around women who couldn’t make a good cup of coffee and the displeasure of their husbands, in ancient times, the onus for coffee was laid upon the providers. A woman could legally divorce her husband if he failed to provide her with enough coffee.
8. Coffee inspired the first webcam.
Programmers at the University of Cambridge worked in a room that was up several flights of stairs from the single Mr. Coffee in the building. Rather than troop down the stairs only to find an empty coffee pot, they rigged up a web camera to transmit a real time image of the coffeemaker to save themselves the trip.
9. Coffee grows on trees.
Yes, on trees. Left to themselves, coffee trees will grow to a height of 30 feet or more. On coffee plantations, farmers keep them trimmed to around 10 feet tall to make picking the coffee cherries easier. Oh, and coffee is a fruit. Or at least, it’s the pit of fruit that’s commonly called a cherry.
10. Two smugglers played a big role in the spread of coffee.
In order to maintain their domination of the world market, Arabs prohibited the export of fertile coffee seeds or coffee plants. In the 17th century, a Muslim pilgrim smuggled seven coffee seeds out of Arabia and planted them in India, where they flourished. The Dutch, likewise, prohibited export of their trees, but a delegation presented a living coffee tree to King Louis XIV of France. One of his courtiers stole cuttings from that tree, planted and cultivated them, and transported them to Martinique, in the Caribbean. Most South American coffees spring from those stolen cuttings, which originated with smuggled seeds.