How the story of Coffee and Chocolate also captures human story and history!
We love Coffee. And if we were asked to pick a compliment for it, most of us would pick Chocolate. Coffee and Chocolate almost feel like a natural pairing, as if they were meant to be together from their birth.
There is a reason for their attraction too. Not only they come from similar origins (tropic and similar latitude) but are also processed in a similar way (both first fermented and then roasted to bring out the flavor).
And yet, Coffee and Chocolate share a twist of fate. For thousands of years, they grew almost a world apart and never met each other. And today, now that they have not only met each other but become a pair, they have also exchanged their original home.
Amidst their story and twist of fate, one more story goes parallel. It is the story of humans, that is human history. Yeah, you read that right. And to understand all of this, let us start with the story of Coffee.
The Story of Coffee
Coffee is considered to have first originated in Ethiopia. If we go by the popular myth, around the 9th Century, an Ethiopian goat-herder named Kaldi observed his goats chewing on some berries and acting excitedly. The red berries that were causing excitement would be nothing but our Coffee.
It was from Ethiopia where Coffee made its journey to Arabia, passing through the Red Sea to a port city in Yemen known as Mocha. Yemen would become the new home of Coffee, and the name of the port city would become immortalized in the Coffee world as “Mocha”. From Yemen, the influence of Coffee would grow to nearby regions like Egypt, Iran, and Turkey. Coffee would eventually become the most popular drink of the Islamic World and would be known as the “Wine of Arabia”.
With Mecca being the hub of Islamic pilgrimage, the secret of Arabia would first reach India. It was only a matter of time for Coffee to find its way into Europe too, but not before an initial hiccup and a timely ‘divine intervention’. Initially seen with suspicion for being a satanic drink, Coffee found safe heaven in Europe only after the intervention of Pope Clement VIII, who tasted the drink (around 1600) and baptized it as the “Christian drink” (which is not too surprising if you analyze history!)
Soon, Europe too would be flooded with Coffee houses which would become the hub for political and intellectual discussions. Especially in the UK, the Coffee houses would be known as Penny Universities, for offering intellectual knowledge almost at a cost of a penny.
The Netherlands would be the first European country to try its hand in Coffee plantations. After its failed attempt to grow coffee in the Netherlands due to the unfavorable cold climate, it would switch to its colonies in Indies. An island in modern-day Indonesia would soon become the new hub of Coffee plantations. The name of the Island, just like Mocha from Yemen, would be immortalized in the Coffee world as “Java”.
But Coffee had not even made half of its journey, as it was still miles away from the land where it is mostly associated today. It would be a France that would carry Coffee to the other part of the world, in a journey that would eventually change the fate of Coffee. A French naval officer (around 1720) would carry the beans across the Atlantic, planting them in a Caribbean island called Martinique.
From the island, the beans would travel to both North America and South America. South America would eventually become the new home of Coffee. Brazil, a country that lies miles away from Ethiopia, would become the biggest producer of Coffee, accounting for over 40% of global Coffee production.
But remember, when Coffee had first landed in America, it was far from the America that we know of today. The landmass, as it was disconnected from the rest of the world, was known as the New World. And it is the same New World where our story of Chocolate would begin.
The Story of Chocolate
The story of Chocolate is even older and begins in ancient Mesoamerica, present-day Mexico. The Cocoa plants, from where Chocolate is made, were first grown in Mesoamerica. Mostly absorbed as a drink then, Chocolate functioned as an important drink for rituals right from the days of Olmecs, one of the oldest civilizations in America. Since then, Chocolate would serve both as a “drink of god” and currency (in the form of Cocoa beans).
The rest of the world, on the other hand, was oblivious of Chocolate. It was only after the Columbus exchange in the early 16th century, which is to say Spanish conquest of the New World, the secret of Chocolate would reach Europe.
Chocolate, unsurprisingly, first reached Spain. Enriched by its exploration and conquest of the New World, Chocolate quickly became popular among the rich people in Spain. From Spain, Chocolate would make its way to neighboring France, before becoming popular all across Europe.
But remember, Chocolate was still absorbed as a drink then. And it was in its liquid form Chocolate would meet its eventual partner. Chocolate and Coffee finally met in Europe in the above-mentioned “Coffee houses” and soon-to-flourish “Chocholate houses”, where both of them would be consumed as drinks.
It was only during the late Industrial Revolution (around 1850) the solid Chocolate that we are familiar with was born. But the beans that gave Chocolate had only made half of their journey. As Chocolates had eventually swooned over the heart of every commoner, the demand for Cacao was very high. This is where the story of Chocolate goes to Africa.
The tropic climate of Africa was found to be favorable for Cocoa plantations. And Africa was a land colonized by a few European nations at the time. Thus, Capitalism and Colonialism, the two forces that had turned South America into the new home of Coffee, would not only carry the beans of Chocolate to Africa but eventually make the continent the new home of Chocolate.
Ivory Coast and Ghana, two countries miles away from Mexico, would eventually become the two biggest producers of Cocoa, accounting for over 60% of global Cocoa production.
And just like that, the two crops that were born miles apart would first meet each other, then mingle with each other, and end up exchanging their homes. All only to find themselves at cafes and households together, side by side, all across the world. Amidst their twist of fate, their story would also capture human history.