Coffee is a tree of genus Coffea, its seeds, and a stimulating beverage prepared from those seeds. Coffee is widely cultivated in tropical countries in plantations for export to temperate countries. Coffee ranks as one of the world's major commodity crops and a major export for coffee-producing regions.
Coffee trees grow best at high altitudes. They are small and evergreen and grow best when shaded by larger trees. There are several species of Coffea that may be grown for coffee, but Coffea arabica is considered to have the best quality. The other species (primarily Coffea robusta) are grown on land unsuitable for Coffea arabica. The tree produces red or purple fruits (drupes), which contain two seeds, called the "coffee beans" or "coffee berries" (though coffee is not a true bean).
Preparation of the Beverage
The coffee beans are removed from the flesh of the fruit and dried. This is the commodity of international trade. Once the raw coffee beans arrive in their destination country, they are roasted. This darkens their color and gives them a distinctive aroma. Then the beans are ground. The coffee beverage is made by infusing the resulting meal in hot water. Many variations on the brewing technique exist: the drip method, espresso, coffee pots, etc.
The coffee may be served plain ("black") or mixed with milk or cream and sweetened with sugar. Flavored coffees are common; chocolate is a common additive, as are spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Coffee is normally served hot but iced coffee drinks have become popular in recent years. Coffee in all forms is an acquired taste, since its flavor is strong and bitter.
There are many conveniences available for coffee drinkers, which ease the preparation for hurried workers about to begin their commute. "Instant" coffee is a powder that may be mixed with hot water and drunk moments later. Electronic coffee makers boil the water and brew the infusion with little human assistance and sometimes according to a timer. Connoisseurs shun such conveniences, which compromise the flavor of the coffee; they prefer freshly ground beans and traditional brewing techniques.
Coffee is so popular in the United States and Europe that many restaurants specialize in coffee; these are called "coffeehouses" or "cafés". Most cafés serve tea, sandwiches, pastries, and other light refreshments as well. Some cafés are miniature shacks that specialize in coffee to go for hurried travelers. Some travelers transport their coffee in Thermos bottles, which can keep a beverage hot for hours.
Coffee as a Stimulant
Coffee contains caffeine, which acts as a stimulant. For this reason, it is mostly drunk in the morning and during working hours. Students preparing for examinations with late-night "cram sessions" use coffee to maintain their concentration. Office workers take a "coffee break" when their energy is fading. "Decaf" (coffee from which most of the caffeine has been removed by decaffeination) is available for people who wish to enjoy the taste of coffee without stimulation. There are also tisanes that resemble coffee in taste but contain no caffeine (see below).
Coffee dependance is widespread and withdrawal symptoms are real. See the caffeine article for more on the pharmacological effects of caffeine.
Coffee probably originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa, though there is controversy about its origins. The crop first became popular in Arabia, where its popularity doubtlessly was enhanced by Islam's prohibition against alcoholic beverages. Around 1650, coffee importation into England began and coffeehouses opened in Oxford and London. Coffee planting began in the English colonies, but a disease wiped out the plantations, leading the English to re-plant them with tea instead.
By the 18th century, the beverage had become popular in Europe and European colonists had introduced coffee to tropical countries worldwide as a plantation crop to supply domestic demand. During the 19th century, European demand for coffee was so strong that when genuine coffee beans were scarce, people developed similar-tasting substitutes from various roasted vegetable substances, such as chicory root, dandelion root, acorns, or figs.
Major coffee-producing regions are tropical South America (Colombia is famous for its coffee), Vietnam, Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire, and others. There is limited production of high-quality, high-price coffee in Hawaii. Major per-capita consumers of coffee are the United States, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the Nordic countries.