Coffee and tea: A potted history

Coffee, tea

Coffee beans may now come from almost anywhere, but their history goes back to the ancient hills of Ethiopia, from whence they spread to nearby Yemen, Arabia and Egypt.

​History can be a drag, someone once said, but the history of coffee is . . . the history of coffee. The Greek historian Homer and many Arabian legends mention a mysterious black and bitter beverage with powers of stimulation, while about 1000AD, Avicenna - the Muslim Persian physician, philosopher, and scientist - was administering coffee as a medicine.

​Perhaps it was a case of what doesn't kill you makes you frisky because, as Bond University professor Mike Lyvers points out, coffee and tea plants evolved caffeine as a kind of natural insecticide.

​While the caffeine the berries produce might kill bugs, in its natural state the drug is not potent enough to kill humans except in very excessive amounts and Professor Lyvers says there have been a few documented deaths from caffeine overdose, but they are rare.

​By the late 1500s traders were selling coffee in Europe, introducing Westerners to the beverage that they would eventually make their own. The Dutch were the first to introduce coffee plantations to their colonies in Batavia and Java, followed by the French, then the English, Spanish and Portuguese.

​Coffee reached its South American heartland in 1727 and landed in Australia with the first fleet in 1788. Somewhere on that long and winding journey, the beans and their preparation took on a mystical, metaphysical, sociological and philosophical aspect.

​Tea is also an ancient drink, but while like coffee its actual origins are lost in time, one tale suggests the discovery of tea was made by the Chinese Emperor Shen-nung around 2737 BC. The Emperor was boiling water on his campfire when some leaves from a nearby tea tree fell into the water and intrigued by the aroma, the Emperor tasted it, liked it, and the rest is tea history.

​It wasn't until Afternoon Tea and High Tea became popular with the aristocracy that handles were actually added to tea cups - to prevent ladies from burning their fingers when "taking tea".

Gold Coast Bulletin​