We do not known exactly when coffee was discovered first, but the archeologists have found evidences of the use of coffee as a medicine in the Arabic world in early writings around 900 BC. A common legend assigns the discovery of coffee to an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi (around 300 AD). He observed that his flock was very active when the animals ate certain red berries. He decided to taste them and learned the energetic effect of coffee berries. Little by little the habit to use coffee berries as energetic food spread and people learned that a tasty drink could be prepared by roasting the berries and then brewing them. From Ethiopia the use of coffee spread to the Near East, when the first coffee plantations started in Yemen.
Later the cultivation spread to Arabia and Egypt, where drinking coffee (or “Kahweh”) soon became a daily habit. Only from the early 17th Century did coffee become popular in Europe and its popularity grew very quickly. At the beginning of 1600 coffee houses sprang up everywhere, especially in Italy, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. Before – in 1570 -, coffee had been introduced in Europe by a Venetian physician, Prospero Alpini. Venice was the first Italian town to appreciate it and to have public places where to taste the drink.
Soon coffee houses became very popular, the oldest, Cafè Florian, has been offering the precious drink until present times under the porches of Piazza S.Marco. In Italy, among the aristocrats coffee became soon a precious gift to be offered as symbol of friendship or love. Coffee culture spread across the Italian peninsula, and other cities had their coffee houses: among them Caffè Greco in Rome, Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua, Caffè San Carlo in Turin. Famous people and men of letters used to spend their time there, thus conferring those places further fame and appeal.
The first domestic appliance to prepare coffee at home was invented in 1691 in Napoli: the famous caffettiera napoletana . People used that metallic tool, clean water and 4-5 grams of finely grounded coffee to prepare three or four cups of coffee at the same time, and taste the drink at home: soon an aromatic cup of coffee at the end of the meal became a ritual in Italy. Coffee was thus freed from the reputation of an “aristocratic drink” and its diffusion spread across all social classes. From an exclusive moment, it became a daily habit in which you gave yourself up to the pleasure of a fortifying drink. Espresso coffee was combined with other ingredients; most famous coffee based drinks have Italian names: Espresso, Cappuccino, Macchiato. Across the centuries Italy has become the official ambassador of the Espresso philosophy.
The history of coffee can be traced also with reference to the origin of the word, coffee, in fact, derives from the term “Kaffa”, town of Ethiopia where it is believed the plant originated. Here it grew spontaneously at an altitude of 1000/1300 metres. In some Arab documents dating from 900-1000 A.D. the use of this beverage is for medicinal purposes. In spite of the jealousy of the Arab population, coffee spread widely throughout almost all the oriental countries. In 1500 the beverage became increasingly more popular, and the first coffee shops were opened, public meeting and drinking places first at the Mecca and then at Constantinople. In these regions, where the religion of Islam prohibited the use of alcohol, since it was considered against the teachings of the Koran, coffee began to spread considerably. In fact, unlike the consumption of alcoholic beverages, prohibited like every substance that could inebriate or stupefy, coffee was considered an excellent stimulant for intellectual faculties and virtues such as courage, an enemy of sleepiness and also a good aphrodisiac. It is not by chance that in Europe the beverage was jokingly referred to as the “wine of the Arabs”
From China and India to Japan, there are many amazing tales surrounding the history of tea. What is certain, however, is that the Chinese were the first to discover tea and its properties more than 5,000 years ago. Japan was the first nation outside of China to adopt tea-drinking as a result of close contact between Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monks.
Tea only arrived in Europe at the start of the seventeenth century when trade began to flourish between Portugal, Holland and England and the Far East. England, in particular, was at the forefront of the new tea-drinking craze and imported all of its tea directly from China. But with the disruption of trade following the Opium wars of the 1840s, England was forced to find other ways to meet the demand for tea. A chance discovery in India, where the Camellia Sinensis plant was also found, saw the English colony become the world’s largest producer of tea. Then, as tea became the drink of choice in England, Sri Lanka and then Africa began to produce and export large quantities of tea. Today there are more than 40 countries that produce an incredible variety of white, green, black and oolong teas in order to meet the still-growing global demand.
All the world’s teas originate from one single species, the Camellia Sinensis, an evergreen shrub which produces small white flowers and berries similar to the nutmeg. There are two main varieties of Camellia Sinensis: the Chinese variety which grows to 2-3 metres in height, and the Assam variety from India which grows up to 20 metres. The Assam variety gives a strong, dark tea while the Sinensis variety gives a lighter, more delicate tea.
To facilitate harvesting the plants are pruned to ensure that they don’t grow above 1,5 metres. The tea plants likes a hot, humid climate and can grow in high mountains up to 3000 meters, like in Darjeeling. Not all the leaves are used to produce tea. Only the first 4 are plucked when young and tender. In hot countries such as Africa the tea plants produce leaves all the time giving a stable tea, which doesn’t change much from one season to next. In other countries such as Darjeeling in India or Sri Lanka, the tea depends very much also on the season. “Tea tempers the spirits and stimulates wise thoughts. Refreshes the body and calms the mind”. So wrote Shen Nung, the supposed discoverer of tea more than 5000 years ago. Tea has proven medicinal qualities which are recognised in Chinese and now modern medicine. The small leaves of the Camellia Sinensis contain polyphenols (antioxidants) and many vitamins and minerals which help to keep the human body balanced. Tea also contains theanine, which helps regulate absorption of caffeine and stimulates intellectual activity, whilst diminishing fatigue.
Most importantly, tea contains no calories or salt, helps to disperse fat and aids digestion. Tea strengthens the circulatory system by gently stimulating the heart and circulation, keeping capillaries and veins healthy. Last but not least, tea contains fluoride which builds tooth enamel and reduces plaque. Regarding caffeine, latest research shows that white and green teas contain more caffeine than black teas and generally that the Assamic variety contains less caffeine than the Sinensis variety. Blending, scenting or flavouring teas is quite an art, though many people do mix two of their favourite varieties of tea to make a personalised tea which is just right for them. All our teas are chosen carefully according to the origin of the leaves, the aroma and the appearance before, during and after infusion.
Regarding caffeine, latest research shows that white and green teas contain more caffeine than black teas and generally that the Assamic variety contains less caffeine than the Sinensis variety.
The Indians attribute the discovery to Prince Bodhi-Dharma, son of King Kosjuwo. One day he went on pilgrimage to the north of India in order to preach Buddhism along the way. At the end of the fifth year was sick and weak. At the suggestion of the sages he picked some leaves from a special tree, drank the infusion and was cured and of course the remedy proved to be tea. Its outstanding properties enabled him to fulfil his promise.
The Japanese legend adds a sensual touch. They say that at the end of the first three years of the pilgrimage, Prince Bodhi-Dharma dreamed one day of all the women he had loved. It seems he was a real lady-killer and when he awoke, he was ashamed of his uncontrolled libido and could think of nothing better to do than make a promise impossible to fulfil; never to sleep again and thus be unable to dream of his sins. When he was about to succumb and break the pious promise overcome by sleepiness and fatigue, he found a beautiful shrub, chewed some of the tea leaves and found they had the property of keeping his eyes wide open and the sinful memories at bay
“If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee” (Abraham Lincoln)