Coffee: Wine of the Bean

Coffee has been used as a beverage since the ninth century, when it was discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia. According to local legend, Ethiopian shepherds were the first to observe the effects of the caffeine in coffee beans on their goats, which appeared to “dance” and have an increased energy level after consuming the wild coffee berries. Arabians made wine from the pulp of fermented coffee berries, which soon became a beverage used in religious ceremonies. Today, you can sit in nearly any cafe in the world and drink your choice of a double-shot latte, a decaf flat white, or a skinny cappuccino. Coffee enjoyment has progressed a long way from watching dancing goats.

Coffee belongs in the genus Coffea, which contain more than 90 species of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. Native to subtropical Africa and southern Asia, coffee is an evergreen shrub or small tree that can grow up to five metres tall if left unpruned. The leaves are dark green and glossy and the plant produces clusters of fragrant white flowers that bloom simultaneously. The seeds are called “beans” in the coffee trade. Coffee beans are widely cultivated on plantations in tropical countries for both local consumption and export to temperate countries. Coffee is one of the world’s major commodity crops and is the major export product of some countries.

Some of our Norfolk elders fondly recall the days when many coffee trees grew in our island’s valleys. Around many island homes, the coffee plant was not only appreciated for its beautiful white flowers and bright red berries, but also for its strong straight wood, which was used to make handles for gardening hoes and adzes. And, coffee branches were “just perfect” for making a bow, in the childhood game of “bows and arrows”. In one small tree, a coffee plant could provide mothers with their brewed morning coffee, children with bows and arrows, and fathers with comfortable gardening handles.

One islander recalls how as a child, he assisted with the picking and preparing of the tiny red berries. The coffee berry is green when immature, then ripens to a yellow and finally crimson red. This cascade of colour change takes place within seven to nine months. Once ripe, the berries are ready to be picked and the outer skin removed. How handy it would have been to have had many such small hands “making light work”. The next step was to wash the two halves of the berry (now considered beans) and soak them for three days in water, then drain and soak them again for another three days. “We would strain and wash the beans, then dry them outside by laying them out on hessian in the sunshine. We had to keep
stirring and turning them over and over until they were dry. It was our job to be careful that they didn’t get full of mildew. Our mother would then take the sun-dried beans and bake them in the oven.” Kerosene tins were a favourite uniquely Norfolk container that provided extra large, airtight storage, and were perfect for the roasted beans. When needed, a handful of beans could be taken from the kerosene tin, ground up in a bowl, and then boiled slowly in water for a fresh morning cup of coffee before the day began.

A cup of coffee begins the breakfast morning routine in many countries around the world. Until recently, coffee lovers did not consciously consider where their beans came from. But now, large global companies such as Eco Organic Coffee and Starbucks have begun to value and invest solely in coffee beans that are grown only in fair trade arrangements. These companies look closely at whether or not the coffee they purchase has been grown in an environmentally sustainable manner and whether the links from the farmers, workers, communities and distribution channels fulfil a commitment to socially responsible chains
of production. Even for small coffee shops, consumer preferences resulting from this large scale socially responsible marketing campaign, drive demand. A small bean within a cup of latte or cappuccino, or short black, or long black, is now chosen by coffee connoisseurs by where exactly the beans come from and whether the cup of coffee they’re purchasing is supporting authentic socially and environmentally sound harvesting practises. As you meander around our island, seek and you shall find locally grown and roasted coffee. Our environment is perfect, our practises are committed. So go ahead and try the flavour and judge for yourself. You may even purchase and take the beans home to savour them there!

Image Credit: Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in 2899 Magazine V1 Iss2, 2008. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.


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