Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Project 7 - Head First Java

Objective - Research your topic

Masbout in Egypt, Kalawa in Kenya, Gafae in Thailand, Sourj in Armenia, Buna in Ethiopia, Mocha, Latte or Kaapi...all names for that magical drink, the potion that keep us alive and more importantly awake as we try and concentrate in a meeting, fix a bug or write a piece of elusive code in Java...precisely that - Java...coffee. Join me today as we take a close look at this well-loved beverage.

This miracle was discovered about 3000 years back by Capra Hircus...that’s goats. An Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi noticed one day that his docile goats were more lively than usual. He saw some of them munching red berries from a nearby plant. He tasted them and felt very invigorated. He then took his find to a monk who put the berries in hot water and drank the decoction. That was the first recorded brew of coffee.

Thereafter, coffee was cultivated and consumed extensively throughout the Arab world. In fact, the word Coffee has been derived from the Arab word for coffee, Qahwah. The plant was guarded closely and no beans allowed to be taken to other continents. But an Indian pilgrim by the name Baba Budan smuggled 7 beans in his waist belt to India in the year 1650 and planted them in the Chikmagalur district near here. Today India is the 7th largest producer of Coffee in the world, the first being Brazil.

The first Coffeehouses were established in Turkey and they were called Qahwah-Khaneh. They were popular meeting places for scholars, traders and politicians alike. English traders in Turkey would visit these coffeehouses as business would be discussed there. From Turkey, the English took coffee to Europe. When the Dutch beat the Turkish in a battle, they found sacks of coffee among the plunderings. And they started cultivating it in their colonies in Malabar in India and Java in Indonesia.

Coffee was brought to the Americas by a French Naval Officer after raiding Louis XIV’s plantation in Paris and facing pirates, storms and a rough, adventurous and dangerous journey over the Atlantic. Today Americans are the largest consumers of coffee in the world followed by the French and the Germans. Together they consume nearly 3 quarters of the world’s coffee!

Coffee grows in the form of green berries on plants that can grow to heights of 30 to 40 feet. When ripe, the berries are stark red in colour. Each berry contains 2 beans inside.

The two major varieties of coffee grown worldwide are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica has a more refined flavour but is prone to frost and diseases. Robusta, as the name suggests, is the more robust variety and has an earthly flavour to it. Yet, Robusta accounts for only 1/4th of the coffee grown all over while the rest is Arabica.

Unroasted beans have all the acids, proteins and the caffeine but not the much-loved flavour. Upon roasting, the carbohydrates and fats turn into aromatic oils and the moisture and carbon dioxide burn off, releasing the exotic flavour of coffee.

The Roasts for coffee range from light to darkest and have interesting names. The New England roast is a light roast and has a somewhat sour and snappy taste. The American medium roast is a bit sweeter and has a full body with the acid snap, aroma and complexity. The dark French roast is more complex, aromatic and somewhat spicy. The darkest roast is the Italian roast which tastes smoky and not even like the bean.

As opposed to the common notion that darker coffee is better, the amount of caffeine reduces as the coffee is roasted more since the caffeine burns off at higher temperatures. But a recent research suggests that the stimulating effects of coffee are due to a yet unknown chemical which triggers the secretion of the stimulating hormones Cortisone and Adrenaline. So, the secret behind coffee’s kick remains a secret.

"Last comes the beverage of the Orient shore,
Mocha, far off, the fragrant berries bore.
Taste the dark fluid with a dainty lip,
Digestion waits on pleasure as you sip."

So said Pope Lea XII about coffee. The health benefits of coffee are numerous. It reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Type-2 Diabetes, Cirrhosis of the Liver, Heart Disease and the painful condition Gout. The tannins in coffee reduce the incidence of dental caries. Studies performed by the Harvard School of Public Health suggest that coffee reduces the risk of Gallstones and Gall Bladder Diseases. And here is some good news for all of us who want to lose weight...coffee increases the metabolic rate according to a Danish study. It is even higher while exercising and coffee makes body fat more easily available to the exercising muscles.

The downside is that coffee can cause insomnia, anxiety and irritability. It may dehydrate and hence cause constipation. It also causes staining of teeth.

Now for a quick bit about the office coffee break...a time to relax and enjoy a hot, steaming cup of coffee -- and bacteria! Public-health officials in Grande Prairie in Alberta, Canada tested reusable mugs from four government offices, including the Health Department itself, and found high concentrations of bacteria. The fact is that we don’t clean our coffee mugs well-enough -- just a quick rinse. To properly sanitize a mug, it should be washed thoroughly and then rinsed for 30 seconds in water of 170 degrees or more. The key to avoiding health hazards then is to either use disposable cups or use good detergents and an ounce of your time to rinse the mugs.

Drink it with milk or without it, with chocolate, cream or a dash of cardamom...drink it at Barista, Coffee Day, Kalmane, the Italian Vending machine outside or from the stainless steel filter at home...savour it in the morning, noon, evening or even at night, just keep in mind this piece of advice from Jilly Cooper’s book How To Survive From 9 to 5...Never drink black coffee at lunch; it will keep you awake in the afternoon.