For such a popular drink, coffee has a relatively short history – there are no records of it having been consumed before the mid-1400s. No wonder they were called the Dark Ages.
Given its Arabian origins, it’s hardly surprising that the word coffee also originates from there. It percolated its way into English around 1600 via the Italian caffe, which was drawn from the Turkish kahveh, which trickled down from the Arabic qahwah.
As English writers are wont to do, they spelt the word a gazillion different ways before settling on today’s eminently sensible version. One of the more outlandish early options was chaoua. One can only imagine that whoever came up with that was barely awake and desperately in need of a strong cup of the very thing they were writing about.
As a callow youth, I was right into instant coffee with my morning toast and jam. That disgusting brew (my palate is vastly more discerning now) was created from the rough and ready robusta, as opposed to the arabica species which gives us those heady brews that send Aucklanders into paroxysms of delight that almost make us forget how long it took us to crawl the one kilometre to the café on our city’s pathetically overcrowded and underfunded roading network.
One of my most exciting coffee adventures was when my former brother-in-law and his wife returned from a trip to Malaysia with a packet of Indonesian kopi luwak for my birthday. In the delicate words of Wikipedia, this coffee “undergoes a peculiar process” – namely, being first eaten by the Asian palm civet and subsequently evacuated from its bowels, having fermented slightly and developed a “uniquely rich, slightly smoky aroma and flavour, with hints of chocolate.”
E. coli be damned – I was in heaven.
Although horrifically expensive – around $30 a cup – kopi luwak pales in comparison to the black ivory coffee beans fed to elephants in Thailand, who then perform a similar function to the civet on a presumably grander scale. The resulting delicacy sells for three times the price of the civet’s efforts. Despite that, what’s the bet that the poor sod who trundles after the elephant with a trowel and bucket only earns a pittance?
As for my fellow coffee nuts, you’ll be pleased to know that its consumption is associated with multiple health benefits, including lower rates of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and – one health benefit to rule them all – longer lifespans.
Then, of course, there's the benefit to our partners. Who doesn't prefer a tolerable, post coffee human being to the monosyllabic monster they woke up to a few minutes earlier?