Today, September 29th, is National Coffee Day and in celebration, I am resurrecting and old article I wrote for The Hawaii Tribune-Herald of Hilo in February 2003 when I was their weekly food columnist.
COFFEE…The frisky berry!
Have you ever wondered how coffee was discovered?
According to records, coffee was first found in the upper plateaus of Abyssinia
(modern day Ethiopia) around the latter part of the 10th Century. But there
are some sources that state coffee was found even earlier than that.
Coffee (Coffea arabica), the seed of a cherry from a shiny leafed small tree,
grows only within ranges from sea level to approximately 6,000 feet in a narrow
The popularity of coffee spread all over the Middle East, through centuries of
nomadic travels due to the trade and bartering generated during those travels.
Coffee reached Arabia where many coffeehouses started to sprout. It eventually
reached Spain with the Moors who had settled there and to England during the
Coffee became the “patriotic drink of choice” in the American colonies due to
England’s Tax Law of 1773, where by trying to do away with the middle merchants
and underselling tea, the British East India Company was hoping to avoid going
The colonist’s response was to stage the first major protest against
“taxation without representation” by dumping hundreds of tea chests into
Boston Harbor in December of 1773. This act of revolt has been known ever
since as “The Boston Tea Party”. As word spread throughout the colonies,
other coastal towns in every one of the thirteen colonies joined in and
dumped their tea into the ocean.
As legend goes the coffee berry was discovered by Kaldi, a goat herder or
shepherd who, around 600-800 AD, was tending to his animals one night on the
mountainside in Eastern Africa, around the regions of what we know today as
Kaldi noticed that his herd was acting quite merry and strange, leaping and
cavorting after eating the little red cherries from bushes growing wild in
the area. Curious, he picked some and tasted them himself. He found that
the berries invigorated him and made him wide-awake!
Kaldi decided to take the berries to the abbot of the monastery in his
village. Upon hearing the report on the goats’ behavior after eating the
berries, the abbot condemned them as evil and threw them in the fire to
The wonderful aroma of the berries as they roasted brought all the villagers
out to investigate. Soon they were raking them from the coals and grinding
the roasted berries between rocks and adding hot water to make a drink.
From then on, legend says they all embraced coffee drinking as it kept them
awake during the long hours of prayers in the mosques and monasteries.
Apparently, the Dutch were the first Europeans to grow coffee commercially
in Java around 1696. The French took the plant to the Caribbean, where many
of the islands depended on coffee crops for their survival. It was being
grown in Cuba as early as 1748.
From Cuba, the Spanish took it to Central America and it eventually was
brought to Hawaii in 1825. Now coffee is grown in several of the islands
with Kona grown coffee being the best known. For the last few years though,
several coffee farms have sprouted in the Hamakua area with very good results.
Whether the legend of Kaldi and his goats is fact or fiction, coffee has been
around for centuries and I am so grateful to be able to greet each day with
that wonderful first cup of the aromatic brew!
CAFÉ CON LECHE CUSTARD
Café con leche is the traditional “latte” that most Latinos drink for
breakfast. It combines a strong espresso coffee with steamed milk and
sugar. Yields 4 portions
4 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2-1/2 Tablespoons instant coffee powder
1 cup sugar
Chocolate covered coffee beans for garnish
Stir cornstarch in one cup of milk, stirring until smooth. In top of a double
boiler, pour the cornstarch mixture, the rest of the milk, cream, instant
coffee powder and sugar. Stir over medium-high heat until thickened.
Cover and let simmer about 10 minutes.
Beat the eggs well. Slowly add 1 cup of the hot coffee mixture to the eggs,
beating continuously so eggs don’t curdle.
Pour egg mixture into remaining coffee mixture in the double boiler, still
over low heat, beating well to incorporate. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and pour into coffee cups. Cover with plastic wrap, leave
to cool and refrigerate. When chilled, top with fresh whipped cream and one
chocolate covered coffee bean.
(c) Sonia R. Martinez - originally published February 2003