Do you know which surprising country drinks the most coffee of any country in the world? And that you can make tea from coffee? Discover all the facts you didn’t know about one of the world’s oldest and most popular drinks as we reveal 29 surprising facts you didn’t know about coffee.
Where does coffee grow?
Coffee grows in a wide belt around the middle of the Earth, roughly bordered by the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Essentially as far south as southern Brazil, Madagascar and Indonesia. And as far north as southern Mexico, southern India and northern Vietnam.
What are the ideal growing conditions?
Arabica coffee requires high altitude to grow, around 1,800-3,600m (6,000-12,000ft) above sea level, and a climate with two distinct rainy and dry seasons. Another coffee variety, robusta, can grow from sea level up to 3,000m (10,000ft) above sea level but is generally considered an inferior coffee.
Coffee is actually red when it grows
Coffee beans grow as a pair within hard-shelled berries that are actually red when growing on the coffee bush.
Then it’s green
The coffee beans themselves are a fresh green color within the red berry and, once processed, spend most of their life a deep green color. In this dehydrated, inert state the green bean can remain fresh and usable for up to two years.
Finally it becomes brown
Coffee doesn’t turn from green into brown until the roasting stage, when the natural sugars and oils are taken to around 250°C (480°F) for 10 to 15 minutes until they caramelize, creating the richly brown, oily beans we know and love.
It’s easy to roast your own coffee
Buying roasted coffee is actually a relatively new phenomenon. Until around the 1950s, it was common to buy green beans and then roast them at home when needed. Basic roasting merely involves dry-frying the beans in a frying pan (without oil), constantly rotating and moving them to evenly roast the bean to a medium-dark brown.
How much coffee is drunk?
Around the world, an astonishing 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed each and every day, on average.
How is the coffee bean harvested?
The vast majority of quality coffee is handpicked, since the coffee berries tend to ripen at different times even on the same bush. Handpicking also makes good sense, since the steep slopes on which much coffee is grown makes mechanical picking close to impossible.
Robusta and arabica
Robusta coffees (with their typical burnt-rubber flavors) have a much higher caffeine content than arabica coffees; around twice as much in fact.
Coffee shops started revolutions
In the seventeenth century, coffee shops were the central meeting places of activists, intellects and anyone else with something they wanted to talk about. In 1675, the English King Charles II banned coffee shops for fear they were brewing as much discontent as they were coffee, while the French Revolution was initiated in a cafe.
The coffee and petrol connection
Apart from fueling many people’s day, coffee and gas/petrol have another connection: back in the 1970s, coffee was the second most valuable traded commodity around the world after petrol. It’s since lost out to some other commodities such as aluminum, but the point remains: the coffee market is still a big deal.
Coffee is actually a fruit
While we all refer to coffee as a bean, it is in fact a fruit pip, being the seed of the coffee cherry, which is a fruit.
In some countries coffee gets its own day
For many of us, ‘coffee day’ is more or less every day. But in several countries around the world, it gets a national celebration on a designated day. In the US that day is 29 September, in Costa Rica it’s 12 September and in Ireland it’s 19 September. International Coffee Day takes place on 1 October.
Growing coffee beans takes time
The average coffee bush takes three to four years to produce its first harvest, after which it will produce once or twice a year, depending on the varietal and climate.
How is coffee transported?
Once cultivated, collected and processed, the green beans are usually packed into jute bags and shipped via container vessel. Since coffee beans contain water, jute is the preferred choice since it allows moisture to escape and avoids rotting the beans. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is an exception, since beans from there are transported in a wooden barrel.
Which country produces the most?
Brazil produces around 35% of all the coffee grown in the world. That’s around 22.5 million bags.
What proportion of world coffee is really good?
‘Really good’ coffee usually means ‘specialty coffee’, or coffee that independently scores at least 80 out of 100 on an international scale. Around 1% of all coffee in the world meets this standard, but in countries such as the US, around 25% of coffee consumed is specialty standard.
Highest coffee consumption in the world
Finland actually consumes the most amount of coffee per capita of any country in the world, grinding and brewing a whopping 12kg per person each year, on average. It’s closely followed by Norway on 9.9kg, Iceland on 9kg and Denmark on 8.7kg, suggesting those long, dark winters call for lots of long, black coffees. The US trails in 26th place while the UK barely makes the top 50 in 45th place.
Instant coffee is 250 years old
While instant coffee may seem a modern convenience, it first emerged in the UK back in 1771, almost 250 years ago. The methods have evolved since then, of course, with the first US patent coming in 1910 and the most popular modern method of freeze-drying coffee being developed in the 1960s.
Coffee can actually be a tea
Yes you read that correctly. ‘Cascara’ is a sort of tea, also known as coffee cherry tea. It’s an infusion made with the skin of a coffee cherry, or berry. Until recently these skins were discarded after the core beans inside were removed, but now they’re sun-dried and bagged for sale. The caffeine is low and the taste is comparable with a fruit infusion or tisane rather than a herbal or leaf tea.
A lot of farmers depend on coffee
Around 25 million farmers around the world depend on growing coffee for their livelihoods. The vast majority of these are in relatively poor countries. So how you choose to buy your coffee, who you buy from, and rewarding quality with an appropriate price can have a significant, tangible impact.
How much water does it take to make a cup of coffee?
It’s a complex answer but essentially far more than a coffee cup. It typically takes around 100 liters of water (22 gallons) to grow and process each cup of coffee. Most coffee is processed using the ‘wet’ method to get the bean from the cherry, which requires vast amounts of water. Opt for ‘dry’ washed or ‘natural’ processed coffee to reduce your footprint.
Coffee cup waste is a hot topic
There is growing awareness worldwide surrounding the issue of what happens to your takeaway coffee cup when it’s discarded. In the UK, 2.5 billion cups are thrown away each year. With less than 1% of takeaway cups recycled owing to a pesky plastic lining inside, the rest are incinerated or go to landfill. In the US, it’s estimated that 25 billion styrofoam cups are thrown away each year. Opt instead for reusable cups or thermos flasks.
What is the point of shade-grown coffee?
Shade-grown coffee refers to coffee beans that have grown in the shade, typically beneath the canopy of banana trees. The coffee grows more slowly, which may improve the flavor, but more importantly means less water is needed for irrigation, fewer herbicides and chemicals are used, soil erosion is reduced and the trees give wildlife a place to call home.
There’s caffeine in decaffeinated coffee
In the US, decaffeinated coffee legally means 97% of the original caffeine has been removed or, put another way, up to 3% of the original caffeine still remains. While that means what’s left is a fairly nominal amount, it means there’s still potentially some caffeine in your decaff.
How many beans does it take to make an espresso?
Around 45 coffee beans are needed to make a typical shot of espresso or around 18g (0.6oz) of dry ground coffee. The average coffee bush produces just less than 1kg (2.2lb) per year, or around 50 cups of espresso.
The role of Fairtrade coffee
Fairtrade coffee is coffee certified by the Fairtrade organization to its particular standards. These include paying a fair price to the coffee farmer and ensuring that unwelcome practices such as child or forced labor have no place on a coffee farm. It doesn’t guarantee quality and there’s a case that many farmers producing higher-quality coffees earn more than the Fairtrade minimum.
Caffeine and how you make your coffee
Short, intensely-flavored coffees such as espresso can surprisingly have less caffeine than those such as cafetière. While the inherent caffeine in each bean is key, the general rule of thumb for preparation is that the longer the coffee grinds spend in contact with water, the more caffeinated the resulting drink will be.
Supply and demand
World demand for coffee is currently near an all-time high, showing a long-term, worldwide trend for increased coffee consumption. This steady increase in demand contrasts greatly with the highly unstable supply of coffee. Coffee production is highly susceptible to bad weather conditions, volatile political situations in growing countries and local challenges faced by the many smallholder farmers who produce the vast majority of coffee.