“Don’t bother me until I’ve had my morning _________.” We all know what word people finish that sentence with. Coffee…such an intriguing part of our modern society. How would the (adult) world run without it? Let’s look at the story of this pervasive, everyday upper!
What is coffee? Coffee is derived from the shrub of the genus Coffea. Coffea produces the berries from which coffee is extracted, and the two main, commercially cultivated varieties of it are Coffea canophora (‘robusta’) and C. arabica1. The latter is native to Ethiopia, the Boma Plateau (southeastern Sudan), and Mount Marsabit, while the former is native to western and sub-Saharan Africa (Guinea, Uganda, and southern Sudan)2,3. All species fall under the large Rubiaceae family.
The family of evergreen shrubs/trees may grow 5 meters (15 feet) tall when unpruned, and their leaves are dark green, glossy, and usually 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) long/6 cm (2.4 inches) wide. The flowers are axillary, their clusters of fragrant white bloom simultaneously, and they produce oval berries about 1.5 cm (0.6 in)4. Each berry usually produces two seeds, but 5-10% of the berries (known as “peaberries”) only contain one5,6. Arabica berries take 6-8 months to ripen, while robusta berries take about 9-11 months7.
How do workers produce coffee? Traditionally, coffee workers will select berries by hand at the peak of their ripeness. But, in the widespread commercial industry, people or machines will strip the crops, regardless of what state of ripeness they are in. Cultivators will then use either a simpler, less-labor-intensive “dry process” to produce green coffee, or a “wet process method,” in which they’ll use batch fermentation. The latter, which involves larger amounts of water, often yields milder coffee8.
The coffee preprocessors will then sort by ripeness and color and remove most of the berries’ flesh. They’ll ferment the seeds to remove a slimy layer of mucilage (still present in the seed), and, when that step is complete, they’ll wash the seeds in large quantities of water to remove fermentation residue9. This in turn creates massive amounts of coffee wastewater. Finally, they dry the seeds9.The workers will then dry the pulped and fermented coffee on thinly raised beds, and then sort and label the green coffee. In regions where humidity is very high, some companies pump heated air to dry the coffee seeds9.
The next step- producers will roast the green coffee (if consumers don’t roast the beans at home). This influences the beverage’s taste by physically and chemically changing the coffee bean. The bean both decreases in weight as it loses moisture and increases in volume (becoming less dense). The resultant bean density influences the coffee’s strength and packaging requirements. Though different seeds differ in moisture and density and, therefore, roast at different rates, the common temperature for bean-roasting is approximately 200 °C (392 °F)10. While the beans roast, intense heat breaks down the starches (producing caramelization) and changes them into brownish simple sugars (this in turn darkens the bean color)9. Sucrose is rapidly depleted (and often disappears entirely in darker roasts), aromatic oils and acids weaken (changing the flavor), and, at 200-205 °C (401 °F), oils such as caffeol start to develop10.
Beans are labeled either light, medium light, medium, medium dark, dark, or very dark. The degree of roasting affects the color of the coffee after brewing, and the degree of the roast affects the coffee’s flavor and body11. Darker roasts generally have less fiber and more-sugary flavor, while lighter roasts usually have a more complex and therefore perceived stronger flavor12. Roasting does not alter the amount of caffeine in the bean. Producers can decaffeinate coffee beans by soaking the green seeds in hot water (the “Swiss water process”) or steaming them, and then using a solvent to dissolve caffeine-containing oils13,14. Coffee’s freshness and flavor is usually preserved best when people store it away from moisture, heat, and light, and the best air-tight containers are ceramic, glass, or non-reactive metal15.
What is the history of coffee and its relationship to humanity? Its heritage can be traced back to ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau16. An apocryphal legend says that a goatherder named Kaldi first discovered the beloved beans when his flock ate berries from a certain tree and became sleeplessly energetic16! Kaldi allegedly reported his findings to the local monastery, and its abbot brewed a drink with said berries, keeping him (the abbot) up for long nights of evening prayer16. While coffee trade and cultivation began in the Arabian Peninsula, people started growing it in the Yemeni district of Arabia as early as the 15th century16. By the 16th century, Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey were all well-acquainted with coffee16.
Qahveh khaneh– public houses where customers could consume the new beverage (when they weren’t enjoying it at home). People drank coffee, listened to music, engaged in deep conversation, played chess, and diligently tracked the news16. When 17th century European travelers visited the Near East, they arrived back with tales of the dark black beverage, and, shortly, “coffeehouse culture” swept across Europe (namely England, France, Austria, Germany, and Holland)16. Many initially regarded it with suspicion and fear, dubbing it the “bitter invention of Satan”16. Pope Clement VIII intervened when coffee arrived in Venice in 1615, but, after he drank it and it satisfied him, he gave it papal approval16. Europeans commonly referred to coffeehouses as “penny universities”- people could purchase a large cup of coffee for a penny and engage in stimulating conversations16.
By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffeehouses in London16. Merchants, shippers, brokers, artists and the like all frequented these new places16. Coffee replaced beer or wine as the breakfast beverage of choice, and, because it made people more energized and alert, work productivity increased16. In the mid-1600s, coffee arrived in New Amsterdam (later dubbed New York)16. The English generally preferred tea, but the Boston Tea Party revolt (1773) pushed U.S. colonists in a different direction16.
In the 17th century, the Dutch planted coffee seeds in Batavia (the island of Java), and they then expanded their cultivation of coffee trees to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes16. In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented King Louis XIV with a young coffee plant (which he then had planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris)16. 9 years later, though, Gabriel de Clieu, a young naval officer, obtained a seedling from the Botanical Garden and smuggled it to Martinique (facing horrible storms, pirate attacks, and other threats along the way)16.
His seedling gave way to over 18 million coffee trees across the island, and eventually, it became the parent seedling to all coffee trees across the Caribbean, Central, and South America16! Francisco de Mello Palheta retrieved seedlings and brought them to French Guiana16. This helped pave the way for the famed Brazilian coffee that would emerge16.
Coffee is a significant crop in many Central and South American countries, especially Peru and Colombia. Missionaries, travelers, colonists, and traders continued carrying coffee seeds to new lands, and people planted coffee trees worldwide16. Today, it is one of the world’s most profitable crops. Just peer out at all the countless Starbucks shops on virtually every corner!
People can of course order decaffeinated coffee, but it’s usually the little caffeine “kick” that people go for when they reach for their brown/black morning beverage. Caffeine is a methylxanthine class stimulant that can increase alertness and attentional performance17. It acts on our central nervous system by blocking the binding of adenosine to the adenosine A1 Receptor, which in turn enhances the release of acetylcholine18.
Caffeine- a bitter, white crystalline purine and methylxanthine alkaloid- is chemically related to the adenine and guanine bases of human DNA and RNA. It is found in various seeds, fruits, nuts, and leaves across Africa, East Asia, and South America19. While its best-known source is the coffee plant/tree, caffeine is also found in teas and colas. According to one statistic, in 2020, people consumed at least 10 million tons of caffeine globally20. It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug21,22!
Caffeinated coffee is sort of like cocaine’s much friendlier and more pleasant cousin. And, while most of us like to joke that we bookend our days with coffee and wine (in the morning and at night, respectively), one is clearly more potent and dangerous than the other. Ironically, alcohol, which chemically relaxes people, has a far more ferocious reputation than coffee (which stimulates one’s nervous system). There are age, place, and time restrictions for alcohol (which frequently leads to overdoses, fights, car crashes, and more) but not for coffee or caffeinated beverages. Is caffeine a good thing then? It certainly has that capability. It makes people alert, energized, productive, and enthusiastic. But caffeine can also make people edgy and antsy. It’s far easier to have a panic attack when drinking coffee than when drinking wine (at least not until the morning after when alcohol-related “hangxiety” kicks in).
Coffee and caffeine, for all intents and purposes, though, is relatively harmless. Still, it’s sad to consider the great pull that drugs- even ones as innocuous as caffeine- have on our psyche. How exactly does the night and the day greet most of us as adults? Does a natural sense of wonder, excitement, and curiosity envelope us or does a natural sense of staleness, struggle, and ennui envelope us instead? Kids are usually swimming in an ocean of the former, while adults classically resign themselves to the latter. Alcohol may dishonestly dampen anxiety, but caffeine dishonestly heightens enthusiasm (“dishonestly,” at least, in the sense that it’s the drug that produces the emotion).
We’d like to think that the positive experiences from both alcohol and caffeine could arrive with as much ease and regularity in our sober states as they do in our heightened or intoxicated states. Is that a pipe dream, though? Are we being too optimistic? Are the lengths so great and the opportunities for such genuine existential freshness and novelty so few and far between that we default to our usual substances? Do we need substances like caffeine to calibrate our souls? Sometimes it appears we do. Other times not so much. In those cases, though, it’s still pleasant to enjoy a nice refreshing cup of joe!
 Anthony F, Berthaud J, Guillaumet JL, Lourd M. “Collecting wild Coffea species in Kenya and Tanzania”. Plant Genet Resources Newsletter. 69 (1987): 23–29.
 van der Vossen, H. A. M. in Clifford & Wilson 1985, p. 53
 Hamon, S.; Noirot, M.; Anthony, F. (1995). “Developing a coffee core collection using the principal components score strategy with quantitative data” (PDF). Core Collections of Plant Genetic Resources. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 September 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
 Pradeepkumar, T.; Kumar, Pradeep (2008). Management of Horticultural Crops: Vol.11 Horticulture Science Series: In 2 Parts. New India Publishing. pp. 601–. ISBN 978-81-89422-49-3. Archived from the original on 3 December 2015. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
 Vincent, J.-C. in Clarke & Macrae 1987, p. 1.
 Kummer, Corby (2003). The Joy of Coffee: The Essential guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
 Yeager, Sara E.; Batali, Mackenzie E.; Lim, Lik Xian; Liang, Jiexin; Han, Juliet; Thompson, Ashley N.; Guinard, Jean‐Xavier; Ristenpart, William D. (2022). “Roast level and brew temperature significantly affect the color of brewed coffee”. Journal of Food Science. 87 (4): 1837–1850.
 Dobelis, Inge N., ed. (1986). Magic and medicine of plants. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest. pp. 370–71
 Nehlig A, Daval JL, Debry G (1992). “Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects”. Brain Research. Brain Research Reviews. 17 (2): 139–170.
 Ribeiro JA, Sebastião AM (2010). “Caffeine and adenosine”. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 20 (Suppl 1): S3-15.
 Jamieson RW (2001). “The essence of commodification: caffeine dependencies in the early modern world”. Journal of Social History. 35 (2): 269–294