Coffee is a beverage produced from the roasted beans of the coffee tree fruit. It is traditionally served hot, but can also be consumed cold. Coffee is a stimulant, because it has caffeine – usually 80 to 140 mg for each 207 ml depending on the preparation method. Studies have shown that people who drink four cups of coffee a day have a lower risk of dying from a heart attack.
In some periods of the 1980s, coffee was the second most traded commodity in the world by monetary value, behind oil alone. This statistic is still widely cited, but it has been inaccurate for about two decades due to the fall in the price of coffee during the product crisis in the 1990s, reducing the total value of its exports. In 2003, coffee was the seventh most important agricultural export product in terms of value, behind crops such as wheat, corn and soybeans.
Minas Gerais is the state with the largest coffee production in Brazil (26.6 million bags), which corresponds to more than 50% of the national production of the product and 17% of world production.
The municipality of Patrocínio, in Minas Gerais, jumped three positions and took the lead in the ranking of grain producers. In 2012, the coffee harvest reached 64,789 thousand tons in that municipality (2.1% of the national total). The information is from the Municipal Agricultural Research (PAM), released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
In the comparison by species, the municipality of Patrocínio (MG) is the leader in Arabica coffee. In the robusta or conilon coffee, the top of the list is pulled by Jaguaré. Both municipalities dedicate 100% of the production to each of these species.
In total, Brazil produced 3.037 million tons in 2012, a drop of 12.5% compared to the previous year. Of this volume, 2.278 million tons were Arabica coffee, while the other 758.796 thousand tons were robusta.
The coffee comes from the highlands of Ethiopia, in a place called Kaffa. However, the word “coffee” does not originate from Kaffa, but from the Arabic word qahwa, which means “wine” (قهوة). For this reason, coffee was known as “Arabian wine” when it arrived in Europe in the 14th Century.
A legend tells that a shepherd named Kaldi observed that his sheep were bouncy and could walk long distances when eating the leaves and fruits of the coffee tree. He tasted the fruits and felt more vivacity. A local monk, informed about the fact, began to use an infusion of fruit to resist sleep while he prayed.
It seems that African tribes, who knew coffee since ancient times, ground their beans and made a paste used to feed the animals and increase the forces of the warriors.
Its cultivation first spread to Arabia, where the oldest manuscripts mentioning coffee culture date from 575 in Yemen. Until then, the consumption of fruit in natura was common.
The knowledge of the effects of coffee spread and in the 16th century coffee was taken to the Arabian Peninsula, being roasted to become a drink for the first time in Persia.
In Arabia, the coffee infusion was named kahwah or cahue (or even qah’wa, from the original in Arabic قهوة). While in the Turkish Ottoman language it was known as kahve, whose original meaning was also “wine”. The classification Coffea arabica was given by the naturalist Lineu.
Coffee, however, had enemies even among the Arabs, who considered its properties contrary to the laws of the prophet Mohammed. However, soon coffee overcame these resistances and even the Muslim doctors adhered to the drink to favor digestion, cheer up the spirit and keep away sleep, according to the writers of the time.
In Asia, Africa and America
In 1475, the first coffee store appeared in Constantinople, a product that to spread around the world benefited, first, from the expansion of Islam and, in a second phase, from the business development provided by the discoveries.
Around 1570, coffee was introduced in Venice, Italy, but the drink, considered Mohammedan, was forbidden to Christians and was only released after Pope Clement VIII tasted the coffee.
In England, in 1652, the first western European coffee house was opened, followed by Italy two years later. In 1672, it was Paris that opened its first coffee house. It was precisely in France that sugar was added to the coffee for the first time, which happened during the reign of Louis XIV, to whom they had offered a coffee tree in 1713.
In its pilgrimage around the world coffee arrived in Java, later reaching the Netherlands and, thanks to the dynamism of the Dutch maritime trade executed by the West Indies Company, coffee was introduced in the New World, spreading in Guyana, Martinique, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Gabriel Mathien de Clieu, a French officer, was the one who brought the first beans to America.
The English and Portuguese tried their luck in the tropical areas of Asia and Africa.
Coffee Plantations in Brazil
In 1727, Sergeant Major Francisco de Melo Palheta, at the request of the Governor of the State of Pará, embarked on a mission to obtain coffee seedlings, a product that already had great commercial value. To do so, he made a trip to French Guiana and there he approached the wife of the governor of the capital Cayenne. Once his confidence was won, he got from her a coffee-arabic seedling, which was brought clandestinely to Brazil.
From the first plantations in the North Region, more specifically in Belém, the seedlings were used for planting in Maranhão and Bahia, in the Northeast Region.
The climatic conditions were not the best in this first choice and, between 1800 and 1850, cultivation was attempted in other regions: the judge João Alberto Castelo Branco brought seedlings from Pará to the Southeast Region and cultivated them in Rio de Janeiro, where the success was total. The coffee business thus began to develop in such a way that it became Brazil’s most important source of income and foreign exchange for many decades from the 1850s. In 1860, for example, Brazil accounted for 60% of the world’s coffee production, and Rio de Janeiro accounted for 90% of Brazil’s production. The success of coffee production in Rio was so great that it knocked down coffee prices all over the world, popularizing the drink, until then considered a luxury item. At the end of the Empire, due to the exhaustion of the soil in the south of Rio de Janeiro (Vale do Paraíba fluminense), the coffee production moved to the north of Rio State (to the cities of Itaperuna and Cantagalo) and especially to São Paulo and the Zona da Mata mineira. Thus, at the beginning of the 20th century, São Paulo and Minas Gerais production ended up surpassing the coffee production of Rio de Janeiro, although Itaperuna remains the largest coffee producer in Brazil throughout the 1st Republic.
The success of the coffee plantation in São Paulo during the first part of the 20th Century made the state one of the richest in the country, allowing several farmers to appoint or become presidents of Brazil (a policy known as café-com-leite, for alternating between the São Paulo and Minas Gerais presidencies), until they weakened politically with the Revolution of 1930.
The coffee was drained from the farms after being dried in the coffee yards in the interior of the state of São Paulo, to the train stations, where it was stored in sacks in the railroad warehouses, and then shipped on the trains and sent to the Port of Santos by railroads, mainly by the British São Paulo Railway.
The End of the Slave Trade and its Effects
The slave trade was one of the most profitable businesses in the Brazilian economy and moved a lot of money. With its prohibition, capital previously invested in the purchase of slaves was moved to other activities. There was an increase in industries, railroads, telegraphs and navigation. Along with coffee, the end of the traffic led to the beginning of Brazilian modernization.
Reacting to the effects of the extinction of the slave trade, the coffee growers resorted to interprovincial trafficking and developed a policy of attracting European immigrants to their crops. The decadent sugarcane plantations in the Northeast expanded the sale of slaves to the plantations in the Center-South, which became the country’s main slave region. However, the work of immigrants only gained weight in the 1880s, when coffee growers were no longer able to hold the slaves on the farms, due to the strength of the abolitionist campaign.
The Coffee And The Frost
The coffee was planted in the west of the state of São Paulo, in the highest places, the spikes, dividers of the river basins that flow into the Paraná River, places less prone to frost than the lowlands of the rivers. In these spikes were also built the railroads and the cities of the west of São Paulo, far from the malaria that was common in the vicinity of the rivers. Coffee in São Paulo suffered greatly from the “great frost of 1918” and the frost of July 18, 1975, which also reached the north of the state of Paraná, decimating all coffee plantations in the regions of Londrina and Maringá.
The Valuation of Coffee
The best known agreement of coffee states to obtain external financing for the storage of coffee in warehouses in order to reduce the external supply and to obtain higher prices for it was the Taub Convention until 1906. The assumption of retaining coffee stocks was the belief that after a good harvest, a bad harvest would follow, during which the coffee stored in the previous year would be exported. From the 1920s on, the valuation of coffee became permanent, greatly increasing the volume stocked, causing prices to rise, thus attracting new producing countries to the market and competing with Brazil. With the crisis of 1929, from the Getúlio Vargas government onwards, all coffee stocks had to be burned for prices to rise. The choice was made in order to maintain coffee as a product destined for the elites. In other words, the government preferred to burn the coffee rather than sell it for a lower price, which would make it accessible to any citizen of the time. From 1931 to 1943, 72 million bags were burned, equivalent to four good harvests. From 1944, coffee supply was regulated by agreements between producing countries.
Current Consumption And Production In Brazil
Brazil currently consumes 20 million bags of coffee annually, which corresponds to 173 billion cups. Although it is the main exporter of the grain with no added value, the volume of roasted and ground coffee exported decreases every year. With the appearance of blends, which mix coffees from various origins, the Brazilian coffee loses competitiveness, since the Brazilian law prevents the import of green coffee from other countries.
In 2020, Minas Gerais was the largest Arabica coffee producer in the country, with 74% of the national total (1.9 million tons, or 31.2 million 60-kg bags). Espírito Santo was the largest producer of conillon coffee, with a share of 66.3% of the total (564.5 thousand tons, or 9.4 million 60-kg bags). In 2017, Minas Gerais accounted for 54.3% of the total national production of coffee (1st place), Espírito Santo accounted for 19.7% (2nd place) and São Paulo, 9.8% (3rd place).
Commercial establishments in Europe consolidated the use of the coffee drink, and several coffee houses became world famous, such as Café Nicola, in Lisbon, where politicians and writers met, highlighting the poet Bocage, Virginia Coffee House, in London, and Café de La Régence in Paris, where famous names like Rousseau, Voltaire, and Diderot met.
The invention of the coffee maker, already in the late 18th century, by the Count of Rumford, gave a great boost to the proliferation of the beverage, helped by another 1802 coffee maker, this one by the Frenchman Descroisilles, where two containers were separated by a filter.
In 1822, another invention appeared in France, the espresso machine (from the Italian spremutom, that is, squeezed), although it was still only a prototype. In 1855, a more developed machine was presented at an exhibition in Paris, but it was in Italy that they perfected it.
Thus, it was only in 1905 that the Italians were allowed to market the first espresso machine, precisely in the same year that a process was invented to decaffeinate coffee. In 1945, just after the end of World War II, Italy still had the primacy over espressos and Giovanni Gaggia presented a machine where water passed through the coffee after being pressed by a piston pump. The success was notorious.
The 1929 Crisis
With the “collapse” of the U.S. stock market in 1929, Brazil had the first major crisis of overproduction of coffee, and the Brazilian government had to promote the burning of stocks to try to hold prices. By the end of the 1930s, Brazil had been faced with another production surplus that was solved with the help of Nestlé, when the latter invented instant coffee.
Overcoming this crisis further, Brazil has continued to be the world’s largest coffee producer, although in recent years it has had to compete with other countries in Latin America and Asia, such as Colombia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Coffee is currently the most consumed beverage in the world, being served around 400 billion cups per year. The most common type of coffee is Arabica, occupying about three quarters of the world production, followed by Robusta or Conilon, which has twice the caffeine contained in the first.