November 27, 2007 § 19 Comments
Coffee is my favorite beverage. It is a widely consumed stimulant beverage which is prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant. These seeds or “beans” as we call them today, were discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia. Coffee was first mentioned in literature by Muhammad Razi, a Persian physician and Islamic scholar. Coffee spread from Egypt to Yemen and by the 15th century it had reached Central Asia, Persia and North Africa. Coffee’s popularity grew in the Muslim World and spread to the West thereafter.
The coffee beans are put through a fermentation process before they can be roasted and prepared as a beverage. The coffee-beans are usually sold in its roasted form, however green coffee beans can be bought, roasted and ground at home. There are a number of different preparation methods which include: Americano, espresso, French press and Turkish coffee.
By the end of the 17th century coffeehouses, informal establishments offering a range of food-stuffs and beverages, particularly a variety of coffee, were becoming popular in France, Italy, Holland, England, Germany, the United States and many other countries.
One point we must make clear before moving forward, is that there can be no discussion of coffee or coffeehouses without discussing the Turks and the Ottomans. This is because coffeehouse culture developed out of the Ottoman lifestyle. Sources say that the first coffeehouse was established in 1554 under the authority of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman I, known in the West as Suleiman the Magnificent developed an elaborate reconstruction of the Ottoman judicial system. Sultan Suleiman I, was known worldwide to be a fair and just ruler, a man of the people and protector of the arts and sciences. This can be seen historically, as his rule oversaw the “Golden Age” of the Ottoman’s cultural development.
The first coffeehouse was owned by two people according to a historian named Ibrahim Peçevi Efendi wrote of this saying,
“Until the year 962 (1554-55), in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffeehouses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hakam from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus, came to the city: they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtalkala, and began to purvey coffee.”
The Tahtalkale district of Istanbul, which was home for the first coffeehouse, remains a lively center for trade and commerce even today. Early in coffeehouse-history they were merely kind of getaway for many of the locals both the educated and uneducated alike. The coffeehouse would provide an environment for reading or games like backgammon and chess, conversations on art and culture and of course the occasional disagreement.
Overtime the coffeehouse industry bloomed and soon it was a regular meeting place for everyone, from the unemployed to the high ranking officials; from the troublemakers to the imams and muezzins. Later, the coffeehouses became regular meeting places for troublesome activities and as a result Sultan Murat III banned coffeehouses, a ban which was lifted by subsequent sultans.
In Europe coffee was prohibited prior to the 17th century and there are reports of severe punishment for drinking coffee such as being sewn into a leather bag and tossed alive into the sea. However, Pope Clement VIII baptized coffee making it a “true Christian beverage”. In 1782 King Frederick II of Prussia, placed controls on the coffee industry. This was an attempt to uproot unlicensed coffee roasting, Frederick II commissioned wounded soldiers to be discharged and employed as “Coffee Smellers”. These “Coffee Smellers” worked as spies to “smell out” unlicensed coffee roasting operations during the coffee monopoly in Germany.
Today, coffee is everywhere and widely distributed. There are mega-coffeehouses like Starbucks, which one can find on nearly every Manhattan corner and there are smaller organizations with a pleasant environment such as the Sugar Hill Cafe on W. 145th St. between St. Nicholas and Edgecome in Harlem. Social excitement surrounds coffeehouses and coffee today is, perhaps, just as much a part intellectual and social interaction as it was during the time of Sultan Suleiman I.
One reason for this is the nature of coffee’s effect on the body. Coffee is a stimulant and caffeine is the most important chemical in coffee. It is an odorless and slightly bitter solid. Caffeine mostly affects the brain, kidneys, and the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) system, but it also increases metabolism and breathing. A five ounce serving of regular coffee contains about 90-125 milligrams of caffeine; whereas, an equal amount of tea only contains 30-70 milligrams of caffeine. A soft drink only has about 37 milligrams of caffeine per five ounces.
Coffee has several effects on the human body:
- it produces a feeling of well-being
- it can speed up a person’s thoughts
- it helps to increase circulation of the blood
- it can cause nervousness and loss of sleep when taken in large amounts
- it gives some people the ability to memorize simple numbers, concepts, and thought sequences easier
If you drink one or two cups several times a day, coffee will have little effect on the cardiovascular system. However, if you drink three to four cups several times a day, it will slow your pulse rate, raise blood pressure, contract blood vessels that are right under the skin, and dilate blood vessels of the kidneys, muscles, skin, and heart. Finally, caffeine makes the heart contract harder while it’s pumping. So please enjoy your coffee, but drink responsibly.
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