Friday, 25 January 2013

Time for Coffee

This week, I've been looking at the devil's brew, that is coffee -where did it come from and is it really bad for you? I have also selflessly tested some coffee based cocktails and brought to you, my top 5. It would have been a top 10, but I was losing my ability to see straight, so we'll save the rest for another day. 

 Did you know that, according to the British Coffee Association, we drink around 70 million cups of coffee every day in the UK?  So how did we, as a nation, become so hopelessly hooked on caffeine and where did the black stuff come from, before there was a coffee franchise on every corner?

The origins of coffee are more myth than actual history, but it's a good story so let's go with it for now.
Around A.D 800 in Ethiopa, lived a goatherd named Kaldi. According to legend, he noticed that his livestock were extra frisky, frolicking between the coffee shrubs, munching on the red fruit (coffee beans aren't beans at all - they are actually the seeds of this red fruit). Not wanting to miss out on anything that might relieve the tedium of goat herding, Kaldi scoffed a load as well and was soon bouncing off the hillside. A passing monk spotted Kaldi off his trolley on caffeine and picked some to take back to the monastery where no doubt they then stayed up all night praying  and brewing moonshine as monks were wont to do.

There are historical accounts detailing various uses of the coffee plant fruit, by Africans around this time -they made a kind of wine from the coffee fruit pulp and energy balls using coffee and animal fat - yum! From Africa, coffee traveled across the Red Sea to Arabia where it was drunk as an infusion like tea, by soaking the leaves and dried fruit of the coffee plant in hot water. By the 13th century, Muslims were drinking coffee in its more recognisable form, crushing and grinding the dried seeds of the coffee plant and brewing them up as we do today.

 As Islam spread across to India and the Mediterranean, coffee went too, although being such a precious commodity, Arabia tried to keep coffee growing, in house, by exporting only infertile beans. Legend has it that no coffee seed took root outside of Arabia until the 1600s, when Indian pilgrim Baba Buban, smuggled them out of the country and initiated a global coffee agriculture.

From then, the race was on to obtain coffee plants as it was clear that this brew meant big business and everyone wanted a piece of the action. The Dutch were the first to bring a coffee plant into Europe and set up a plantation in Indonesia, which was then, colonial Java. The Dutch in a bid to curry favour in Europe, gifted coffee plants to the European aristocracy and thus, Louis XIV came to install one in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Some years later, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, an ambitious naval officer serving in the french colony of Martinique, stole a cutting from  this plant, with the intention of creating a Java style plantation on Martinique.

De Clieu's dreams were realised and the progeny of his seedling went on to provide coffee to Latin America until another opportunist in the form of Lt. Col Fransisco de Melo Palheta was able to obtain seedlings by wooing the governor of Martinique's wife, who presented them to him covertly, in a bouquet, as a token of thanks for services rendered. These fruits of love were taken to Brazil which went on to become the world's biggest producer of coffee and today holds 30% of the entire world market.

Coffee began it's journey to our grey shores by way of the British East India Company and the first coffee house was opened in Cornhill  by Pasqua Rosee, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods. By 1675 there were more than 3000 coffee houses, which became a hotbed for political discussion among the enlightened, middle classes, to the extent that Charles II tried to remove them. The king was not the only one to object - women were banned from entering these establishments and in 1674, published a charter, outlining their distaste for coffee. It is so hilariously ridiculous that I almost think it must be a Wikipedia joke, but it is definitely worth a read. Here is a little snippet to amuse you.

.The disgruntled women of 1647 were of the belief that coffee was to blame for the menfolk's lack of vavavoom in the bedroom, but there certainly is no medical evidence to bear out this theory. So is coffee bad for you? Opinions seem to sway on a daily basis, but the general consensus seems to be that it is fine to drink coffee in reasonable amounts. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that there was no increased risk of death of any sort from drinking coffee and that it was fine to consume up to 600mg of caffeine a day, which amounts to six normal size cups of coffee. Basically, if you are drinking so much coffee that you've got the shakes and can't sleep, then it's probably too much. The advice to pregnant woman is still to reduce intake due to a slight risk of early miscarriage and for people with high blood pressure, excessive amounts of coffee could exacerbate the condition, but otherwise, it's all good.

A recent study showed that coffee's ability to dilate blood vessels could possibly help relieve a tension headache and it even has some antioxidant content, (though admittedly, tea has more), so don't feel guilty - enjoy your coffee with a clear conscience. However, you might want to hold back on mega whopping frappalappadingdong ccinos with extra whipped cream - coffee on it's own has only 2 calories in an 8oz cup, but a caramael frappuccino has 390 - eek.

 That said, I have spent an interesting afternoon, 'testing' cocktails containing coffee, which probably do not have any health benefits whatsoever, but it was a lot of fun....calorie count not included. x

Here are my top 5

Espresso Martini

2 oz Vodka
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 oz. espresso

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass.

Taster's verdict - Grown up, but sweet enough to be quaffable.

The Truffle

1 oz. Frangelico
1 oz Vodka
¾ oz. cold espresso

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into an espresso cup

Taster's verdict - Yummy - a bit like drinking praline without the creaminess.

1 oz. Espresso
1½ oz. gin
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. orange juice
Garnish: orange wheel and blackberry

To make simple syrup, mix equal parts hot water and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into a glass filled with ice and garnish with an orange wheel.

Taster's verdict - Thish onesh really nice too - I imagine it's lovely on a summer's day, but it's not bad in the middle of winter either.

1oz Coffee liqueur
1oz Baileys
Double shot of espresso
Steamed milk
Garnish:sprig of mint

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Taster's verdict - mmmmmmmm......hic...

Double shot espresso
1/8 oz. absinthe
1½ oz. gin

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass.

Aye caramba ! That'll certainly put some lead in your pencil.

1 comment: