Coffee is a brewed beverage prepared from the roasted or baked seeds of several species of an evergreen shrub of the genus Coffea. The two most common sources of coffee beans are the highly regarded Coffea arabica, and the "robusta" form of the hardier Coffea canephora. The latter is resistant to the coffee leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix), but has a more bitter taste. Coffee plants are cultivated in more than 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Once ripe, coffee "berries" are picked, processed and dried to yield the seeds inside. The seeds are then roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor, before being ground and brewed to create coffee.
Coffee is a major export commodity: it was the top agricultural export for twelve countries in 2004, the world's seventh-largest legal agricultural export by value in 2005, and "the second most valuable commodity exported by developing countries," from 1970 to circa 2000. This last fact is frequently misstated; see commodity market, below. Further, green (unroasted) coffee is one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. Some controversy is associated with coffee cultivation and its impact on the environment. Consequently, organic coffee is an expanding market.
In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi, the goatherd, originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries. Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend.
It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.
Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.
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Coffee Comes to Europe
European travellers to the Near East brought back stories of the unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Opponents were overly cautious, calling the beverage the 'bitter invention of Satan.' With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.
Despite such controversy, in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, coffee houses were quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication. In England 'penny universities' sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation. By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.