A Tale of Beans and Brews – the Coffee Culture

The legend around coffee goes that an Ethopian goat-herd discovered coffee after he noticed strange effects on the behaviour of his goats after consuming the plant. The earliest credible sources of coffee drinkers (according to Wikipedia at least) appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi shrines of Yemen. Throughout history, the bitter brown bean has formed a part of culture, often extending beyond the dinner table. In East Africa and Yemen, coffee was used as a part of native religious ceremonies. As these rituals conflicted with the beliefs of the Christian Church, the Ethopian Church had once banned the consumption of coffee. The drink was also banned in the Ottoman Empire during the 17th century, and has also been associated with rebellious activities in Europe.


Coffee today has become an intricate part of the modern Western culture, rapidly being assimilated by many countries in the global village. Often the act of drinking coffee goes beyond the mere consumption of the same. Chains of coffee-houses and cafes, notably Starbucks or Café Coffee Day among numerous others, have become an all-too-common sight in Indian metropolitan cities. Drinking coffee is part of the morning ritual for many students and young professionals alike. I have many friends who cannot fathom starting a day without the caffeine buzz that coffee provides. As the day progresses, coffee becomes a motif for social interaction. Friends call each other up, ‘Hey, let’s meet for coffee’. Life issues, romantic estrangements, social problems and contemporary affairs alike are discussed over steaming cups of cappuccinos, espressos or lattes in the winter; and with ice-cubes or a scoop of ice-cream in the summer, or have a frappe.

downloadIn the romantic context, ‘going out for coffee’ may sometimes involve no coffee at all. Cafes are actually one of the most popular spots for a first date. Ask your friends, if you don’t believe me. I bet 9 out of 10 of them will have had their first date in a coffee house.

‘Coffee breaks’ too are a time for socialization and interaction between members, during a meeting, a seminar or on a normal workday. Coffee houses, like the one in Kolkata, has been reputed for being the rendezvous spot for the intellectual elite.

Caffeine has a stimulating effect on the brain – this much is scientifically proven. Thus coffee now is synonymous to studying or working late. An interesting fact: the Computer Language JAVA, which is used for most internet applications, was named after Java Coffee. Incidentally, the programmers were in a meeting trying hard to find a name for their new language, and they were having cups of coffee. And suddenly someone joked that they should name the language JAVA, and the name kind of stuck. You might also have noticed that the logo of JAVA is a steaming cup of coffee, reminiscent of that night.

coffee2Many global transactions are hidden behind a cup of coffee. A veritable network of complicated social and economic relationships are stretched across the globe on the basis of coffee. Coffee is primarily consumed in the developed and rich countries of the first-world, but grown in relatively poorer countries. It is the primary source of foreign exchange for many countries. The production and transportation of coffee requires continuous transactions between people thousands of miles away from each other, and the coffee drinker. Moreover since coffee is not naturally grown in most European countries or North America, it hearkens back to the colonial rule and is a souvenir of its legacy today. It was only when European colonizers settled in Africa and South America that coffee became a part of the ‘Western’ diet. Its history is the history of colonial rule and colonial struggle.

Coffee is also a lifestyle choice. The choice you as a consumer make about what kind of coffee, which brand of coffee, and which coffee house, says a lot about your life style. You may choose to drink only organic coffee, natural decaffeinated coffee or coffee that has been ‘fairly traded’ through schemes that pay full market price to the small coffee producers. You may choose to patronize an independent coffee house over corporate coffee chains; or you may just make it at home yourself. Next time that you drink a cup of coffee, pause between sips to appreciate all that is the ‘coffee culture;.

Now, you have to excuse me……I am going out for a cup of coffee 🙂


The Coffee I had. It is a Crunchy Vanilla Frappe, with butterscotch. I like it cold. How do you like it?


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