At this time of year, many Spanish Schoolhouse preschool parents arrive at school to the welcoming aroma of freshly brewed coffee! In some of our schools, this is sampling time for an annual fundraiser when students sell custom-roasted bags of Latin American coffee. Other SSH schools sell tamales (another popular Latin American treat) but since October 1 is International Coffee Day, we thought it would be a perfect focus for this blog post!
By the way, International Coffee Day is highlighted by the coffee community to promote the industry. Keep an eye out for deals at your favorite coffee shop. You might even get a free cup!
Let’s learn a little about this beloved beverage and its ties to Latin America. Read on to boost your coffee knowledge!
A Few Fun Coffee Facts
The Early Days. The exact details about the origins of coffee aren’t clear, but it’s said that way back in the 1500s, a goat herder in Ethiopia discovered it when he noticed strange behavior in his goats. After they ate coffee cherries, they suddenly had a lot of energy and couldn’t sleep at night. He shared his observations with local herders, farmers, and monks. They made their own drinks from the coffee beans and the word soon spread about this energizing beverage. The rest, as they say, is history!
Coffee is Actually a Fruit! Coffee “beans” as we call them, may look like beans but they’re actually the seeds from the fruit of a tree. It grows as a self-pollinating, bush-like tree with little red cherries. Each cherry produces 2-3 seeds, and these are what we harvest, roast, and grind to make the drink.
How Many Billion Cups?! Can you believe that approximately three BILLION cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day? After water, it’s the most consumed beverage in the world.
It Inspired an Opera! The love of coffee has been so widespread in history that it even inspired a short opera! Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Coffee Cantata in 1734 as a humorous look at society’s obsession with coffee. This operetta is about a father’s concern that his daughter was so enamored by coffee she wouldn’t be able to find a husband!
Coffee is BIG Business. Coffee beans are among the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. The industry provides the livelihood for tens of millions of farmers, harvesters, roasters, and vendors. Over 90% of coffee is produced in developing countries. For some countries, like Brazil, it’s their most important export item. Brazil puts out one third of the world’s beans on its own, making it the largest producer!
Proudly Latin American Coffee
Latin America is home to three of the world’s most important coffee-growing regions – Brazil, the Caribbean, and the Cordillera (which includes Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia).
The Americas have produced most of the world’s coffee since the mid-18th Century. In fact, even the US produces small amounts of coffee! The only two states that have the right growing conditions for coffee are Hawaii and California, but fans say their coffee rivals the flavor of international beans!
A New Kind of Coffee Tourism
Coffee growing and production has created opportunities for “coffee tourism”. In countries like Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, you can stay in a Bed and Breakfast on a coffee plantation to see the process first hand. Visitors can watch and learn from pickers on steep hillsides, or even participate in the harvest.
What’s in a Coffee Bean?
Latin America produces both of the world’s main types of coffee beans: Robusta and Arabica.
Robusta beans grow best at lower altitudes – from sea level to 2,500 feet. These beans are more tolerant of climate changes and their high caffeine content makes them more resistant to pests. Their flavor can be somewhat harsh and bitter, so they’re often used for making instant coffee instead of brewed or expressed.
Arabica beans are the type the goat-herder first discovered at the high altitudes in Ethiopia. They flourish in a warm, humid climate. Since their caffeine content is lower, they do better away from pests, at higher altitudes like 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. Arabica coffee has a smoother, sweeter flavor and often has hints of berries, fruits, or chocolate. It makes up 60% of the world’s coffee production.
The taste varies with the growing conditions. Flavor is affected by climate, soil, altitude, and harvesting methods. The biggest influence on taste is the region of origin. Each area gives its beans a unique flavor that may not be found anywhere else.
We hope this look at coffee has filled your cup of knowledge! If you’ve ever visited a coffee plantation in your travels, feel free to share in the comments below. And to our SSH students who are selling coffee this month, we wish you a successful fundraiser!