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April 2017
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Coffee has ancient origins. In 1500 it was particularly popular in the Islamic world and then towards the 1600s, following the expansion of Turkey, it arrived in Europe too. At that time, the first coffee shop opened in Italy, in Venice, and was quickly followed by many others, and coffee started to become well known and appreciated by many. Today, coffee is considered a national drink of Italy and Italian espresso is famous all over the world. Going for a coffee is almost a ritual in Italy as it is often associated with having a quick chat with friends or having a quick break from work.

Taste and quality are related to many factors: the species of coffee bean is very important, as well as the blend and roasting, which is dark in Italian espresso and medium light or light for almost every other country.

There are different species of coffee and they all come from the Rubiaceae family. The most commonly cultivated ones are:

  • Arabica
  • Robusta
  • Liberica

85% of the coffee produced in the world is made from Arabica. Liberica coffee, cultivated in Guinea, in west Africa, and in India lacks caffeine and is usually used to make decaffeinated coffee.

Cultivation The cultivation of this plant, which occurs in countries with very hot and subtropical climates, requires manual labour. Coffee improves with aging, which usually lasts no longer than a year. During this time, the seeds loose water and weight but increase in aroma and fragrance. The biggest global coffee producer, especially of Arabica and Robusta coffee, is Brazil, which is the biggest exporter to Italy. The second biggest producer is Colombia, which mainly exports to the USA. Many other countries produce coffee but some, like Salvador and Guatemala, have a product that do not meet the Italian taste as it cannot withstand toasting.
Components The components of the coffee bean are carbohydrates (cellulose, sugars), nitrogenous substances, fatty substances, minerals and some specific components like caffetannic acid and caffeine.
The blending The blending, or roasting, is a delicate process that transforms raw coffee into the final product that can be consumed. Coffee is roasted at 200-220°C in order to transform its components, make it suitable for preparation and give the bean the characteristic black-brown colour. When roasting, the volume increases and the weight decreases, which is mainly caused by a loss of the water contained in the beans, and organic substances are freed which are used for pharmaceutical purposes. Blended coffee has a particular smell, is crumbly and easy to grind. If it is in powder form, it loses many volatile, aromatic components very quickly and therefore it must be preserved in vacuum conditions.

Is drinking coffee good or bad for our health?

A lot of research has been done with the aim of giving a clear answer to this question sine coffee has always met with critics, as well as fans.

In general, the substance that is accused of being harmful is caffeine, that is the component which is pharmacologically active as it has a stimulating action on the central nervous system, however, many surveys have been done to determine the effect that fats in coffee have on us. One of the effects of caffeine, which is especially appreciated when we are tired, is the stimulation that the substance causes on brain activity, inducing a greater capacity for learning, association of ideas and storage. It is with good reason that we drink coffee at certain times of the day; to improve our performance.

  • In some cases it is recommended that we drink decaffeinated coffee, rather than normal coffee, for example, if you suffer from ulcers (for the stimulation of gastric excretion), or for those who have serous cardiac problems.

  • Pregnant women must drink very little coffee precisely because of the biological effect that caffeine has. The more coffee you drink, the higher the possible risks are because caffeine links itself to plasma protein therefore it is rapidly distributed in tissues and fluids, passing easily to the placenta, thus the unborn child is already exposed to its effects in the womb.

  • As far as fatty substances are concerned, some research carried out has shown that coffee, made through the filtration process, like Italian coffee, does not alter the level of cholesterol. Research carried out in Norway however, showed that there is a link between the consumption of boiled coffee and the level of cholesterol in the blood, especially LDL cholesterol. The preparation method is responsible for the different results, because of certain components of the fats passing into boiled coffee, but not filtered coffee.

In general, drinking coffee does not do you in any harm, in fact it can help to make you feel more alert and active, and it improves digestion by stimulating gastric excretion. Drinking too much is not recommended though, as well as not drinking it when you are ill or in certain physiological or emotional states (i.e. pregnant of depressed, respectively).

In normal conditions, drinking coffee is a pleasure that can be relished until the very end, especially if drinking an espresso.

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