Jewish World Review July 11, 2014 / 13 Tammuz, 5774
Cup of Joe
By Greg Crosby
It's not the delicious robust taste of the coffee bean that I look forward to, although I enjoy that very much. No, it's the caffeine that I crave, of course. That's right, I need it. It's my little morning upper, that nice little kick-start that I need to get me going for another day. As Doctor Pretorius said in The Bride of Frankenstein when referring to gin, "It's my only weakness." Caffeine is my one and only daily "must have" and I prefer it in coffee because nothing tastes better with breakfast than a cup of coffee.
So who were the first guys to come up with crushing these little beans and brewing them to make a coffee drink? And I wonder how many OTHER beans were crushed and brewed before they discovered coffee was the right bean to use? How many of those beans were poison? And how many people died drinking poison beans? Plenty, I'm sure. And you thought coffee was a non-violent activity. Think about that the next time you causally suggest to someone to "go out for a nice cup of coffee."
Coffee goes back at least as far as the 13th Century (I can't count further back than that). One legend says that coffee was first discovered by a goat herder in the Yemen. He noticed that after eating the red fruit of the coffee bush his goats stayed awake all night. Wow! Wired goats - that must have been one really weird night. Another story involves a Yemenite Sufi mystic who was traveling in Ethiopia, the legend goes; when he observed birds of unusual vitality, and, upon trying the berries that the birds had been eating, experienced the same vitality.
Other accounts attribute the discovery of coffee to a guy named Omar. According to legend, Omar, who was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer, was once exiled from Mocha to a desert cave near Ousab. Starving, Omar chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavor, but they became hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Ta Da! Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized and sustained for days. As stories of this "miracle drug" reached Mocha, Omar was made a saint.
There are many, many legends on how coffee first got started, but here's the real story. A little Jewish man invented coffee one day because his wife needed something to serve with the coffeecake she bought from the bakery. "Herman, what good is having coffeecake without coffee?" So Herman invented coffee. It's a good thing she didn't buy lemon cake that morning or we would all be drinking hot lemon juice.
Some people prefer getting their caffeine in tea, not me. Tea is all right if you're English, or for women getting together, or when you're sick, but not as a regular thing in the morning. Cola has caffeine too, but it's a kid's drink. Real men get their caffeine fixes from coffee. Grrrr.
The term "coffee break" became popular through a Pan-American Coffee Bureau ad campaign of 1952 which urged consumers, "Give yourself a Coffee-Break - and Get What Coffee Gives to You." The increased popularity of instant coffee and vending machines helped make "coffee break" an institution in the American workplace.
Today everybody takes coffee breaks, even people who don't drink coffee. It just sounds better to say "I'm taking a coffee break," than to say "I'm taking a diet Coke break" or "I'm taking a tea break."
Coffeehouses have existed for over five hundred years. The first coffeehouse in England was set up in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish man (named Jacob, not Herman) in the building now known as "The Grand Café." A plaque on the wall still commemorates this historic event. America had its first coffeehouse in Boston, in 1676. Coffee, tea, beer and other libations were often served together in establishments which functioned both as coffeehouses and taverns; one such was the Green Dragon in Boston, where John Adams, James Otis and Paul Revere sat and made their plans for revolution over a nice hot cup of coffee. Or maybe it was hard cider?
We'll never know.
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© 2008, Greg Crosby