It may just be something you get out of the cappuccino machine in the office to kick-start your day, but there is a lot more to the origins and legends of coffee than you probably imagine. For a simple drink, the number of different beliefs relating to the benefits and origins of coffee are astonishing.
Many historians have now reached agreement that the coffee plant initially came from Ethiopia and was first encountered some two and a half thousand years ago. When the invigorating effects of the plant were realized, it began to be exported by voyagers to Arabia, where it was first given its modern name.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, times of world trade and discovery, the popularity of coffee spread rapidly. By the end of this period coffee could be found in across Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East. The drink was very different to that which we find in modern cappuccino makers, being drunk strong and black, but it was widely accepted by every class of society.
The health benefits of coffee cited throughout this period, varied greatly. At various times it was believed to cure almost every known ill, often without much foundation in medical fact. However, various more recent studies have shown some benefits to the drink. It has been suggested that mammalian sperm can move quicker, and for longer periods in fluids containing coffee, supposedly fuelled by the caffeine. Another research project undertaken at Harvard indicated that diabetes can be eased by sensible coffee use. Further studies link coffee with diminution of liver cirrhosis and cutting down the effects of asthma.
The negative side of coffee in terms of health is that as a diuretic, coffee can increase urination and cause dehydration. The caffeine can also cause nerve deterioration if used over a long period of time. People can become dependent on the caffeine, and withdrawal symptoms can be severe.
Whether you choose to see coffee as a positive or negative beverage, its commercial value should not be underestimated. With an excess of four hundred billion cups of coffee being drunk each year, annual sales of coffee itself reach almost nine billion US dollars. This does not include the huge retail revenue to be gained in coffee grinders, espresso jugs, cappuccino makers and various other accessories. Coffee is big business, with new specialist outlets opening on worldwide high streets every day. Starbucks alone has over ten thousand coffee shops around the globe.
With the variety of blends, roasts and blends now available, along with speciality types such as flavored and iced coffees, the popularity of the drink seems set to last for the foreseeable future.