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Ever Wondered About... Coffee?

Updated Wednesday 27th April 2005

A consideration of coffee - its history and science.

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History

The first coffee shops opened in Europe in the 1600s, and became so popular in London that to ensure good service — and a prime seat — customers invented the idea of tipping. They’d put money in a tin labelled ‘To Insure Prompt Service’ hence the word, TIPS.

But coffee wasn’t popular with everyone. In 1674 the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was begun in London after wives complained that during domestic crises, their men were in the coffee shops rather than at home. A year later, King Charles II tried to suppress coffee houses because he saw them as hotbeds of revolution. But the public outcry meant the ban was lifted even before it took effect.

Nearly 300 years later, the first Starbucks coffee shop opens in Seattle in 1971. The first branch arrived in the UK on London’s King’s Road in 1998. There are now more than 5,500 branches worldwide.

The science of the coffee bean

Next time you’re queuing for your coffee in the morning, consider this, it can take up to 4,500 cherries from the Arabica coffee plant to produce just one kilo of roasted coffee. And since each cherry contains two beans, you’re looking at 9,000 beans per kilo of coffee.

Grinding coffee increases the surface area, making it easier for water to penetrate each particle and extract the oils and molecules which give the finished drink its unique flavour- but be careful! You should hold off grinding the beans until the very last moment as oxidation takes place as soon as the molecules are exposed to the air, which reduces the aroma and taste.

Tiramisu — Italian for ‘pick-me-up’ — owes much of its restorative power to the caffeine in coffee. But over-whipping your egg whites can leave the dessert a little flat. Egg whites can increase in volume by up to 8 times, but if they’re over-beaten, they lose their elasticity, become dry and flaky and won’t hold as much air.

There are over 800 volatile chemicals that have been identified in coffee aroma. We detect these chemicals by either smelling them directly or by swallowing the coffee. The volatile chemicals drift upwards into the back of our nasal passage where we are able to “smell” them. Quite small changes in the composition and concentration of key chemicals have a considerable effect in our perception of coffee aromas.

 

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