The more you know

Coffee

The coffee tree belongs to the Coffea genus, of the Rubiaceae family.

From the seeds of this plant, suitably roasted and ground, the best known and most-consumed drink in the world is obtained: coffee.

The origins of coffee are not known, it certainly spread first in the Arab world and then arrived in Europe. The term coffee derives from the Arabic word “qahwa”, which originally identified a drink produced from the juice extracted from some seeds, which caused exciting and stimulating effects. From the term “qahwa” it passed to the Turkish word “qahvè”, a word reported in Italian with “coffee”. Some think instead that the term coffee derives from the Caffa region, in south-western Ethiopia, where the coffee tree is grown.

In the fifteenth century, the knowledge of coffee extended in the Middle East up to Istanbul, where its consumption took place in the meeting places of the time, tavern-like places where the Turks used to sit and consume this drink.

Venice, thanks to its relationship with the East, was the first to introduce coffee in Italy: the first coffee shops appeared in 1645.

In the seventeenth century, coffee spread in England (in 1663 there were already 80 coffeehouses, which became 3000 in 1715) and in France and since then the growth was exponential so that in the eighteenth century every city in Europe had at least one coffee.

Variety of coffee

The Coffea genus includes over 100 species, however, commercially the coffee varieties are offered in two main types: the Arabica (Coffea arabica) and the Robusta (Coffea canephora).

Another species, the Coffea liberica, is grown on a large scale but in much lower quantities than the first two.

A dozen species of coffee are grown locally and are therefore little known. The best known are Coffea stenophylla, originally from West Africa; Mauritian Coffea, the brown coffee from Mauritius and the nearby Reunion Island; and Coffea racemosa, originally from Mozambique, The species differ in taste, caffeine content, and adaptability to climates and soils other than those of origin.

Coffee cultivation and market

With the large-scale spread, coffee began to be cultivated intensively in the English and Dutch colonies (in Indonesia), then France also began throughout Central America.

The first cultivations in Brazil began in 1727. The cultivation of coffee always depended on seclusion, until its abolition in 1888.

According to statistics from the International Coffee Organization, the world’s largest coffee producers are, in order of importance, Brazil (which produces almost a third of the coffee in the world), Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Ethiopia, and India follow in varying order according to the vintages.

The coffee market is in the hands of a few multinationals, about twenty companies among which the most important are: Neumann Kaffee (Germany), Volcafè (Switzerland), Cargill (United States), Esteve (Brazil / Switzerland), Aron (United States ), ED&F Man (UK), Dreyfus (France), Mitsuibishi (Japan). Only one of these 20 companies that control the market belongs to a state that is also a large producer.

This system certainly does not benefit producers who sprout very low prices at the origin, which do not allow producer states to get rich as they could if they had greater bargaining power. This is especially true for those African countries (such as Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia) that survive thanks to coffee, which represents the first source of income. These countries are highly exposed to the risk of speculation and suffer from market fluctuations.

In the early 1990s, the global value of coffee was around $ 30 billion, of which $ 12 billion went to the countries of origin; in 2001 it had reached 65 billion, of which only 5.5 billion remained to the producing countries!

Some large companies such as Sara Lee / De and Nestlé have their own import companies that control the entire coffee supply chain, from the harvest to the consumer.

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