Today, most of the northern half of South Dakota is hunkered down mid-blizzard. I-29 is closed from Watertown north, into North Dakota. It’s the last day of February—practically spring already—and I guess Jack Blizzard wanted to make this leap day extra special, lest we let down our prairie guard too soon. Here in the southeast corner of the state, we have only a little dusting of snow, but the 35-mph winds whip it into the air, turning our little farmyard all grey and blizzardy. I have a pile of papers to grade, but thankfully, I don’t have to leave home today, so it’s a delicious, woodstove-fired, coffee-fueled, tucked-in day.
And speaking of coffee, part of my utter joy at staying home stems from long, lingering, pajama’ed coffee mornings. You can read about the coffee origin myth, and my own re-discovery of the magic brew during my college years, on this previous blog post: http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2008/10/blog-post.html
But my obsession with coffee goes back much further. When I was in 3rd grade at Florence School in Omaha, Al Vaccaro dared me to eat a whole clove of raw garlic. I felt compelled to take the dare, both because Al was my boyfriend and often brought me snapdragons to school (making Lori Boonstra, my arch nemesis, gloriously jealous), and because, well, I’ve been a rebel from the get-go. It didn’t take Mrs. Lindsay, my teacher, long to discover the shenanigans. She marched me to the cafeteria, where the Evil Lunch Lady made me chew up a few…my life will all make sense to you now…coffee beans!
Lunch Lady’s evil deed was designed to override my garlic-breath, but what it actually did was to set me on a path that would eventually become my passion. My kitchen is decorated in "coffee kitsch;" I own every kind of coffee apparati made (Bunn auto drip, Moka espresso pot, French presses, Melitta, etc.); I have a potted Arabica plant in my greenhouse; I collect coffee cookbooks; my anniversary present from Ray was a burr coffee grinder, for which he scored major partner points; my entire wardrobe is various shades of brown and black. As the song goes, “I love the java jive, and it loves me.”
So I’m settling in today with my second pot of elixir, and I thought I’d offer a bit more coffee lore to warm up this snowy South Dakota day…
Today, nearly half of the coffee plants in existence are the progeny of one tree that was smuggled into Martinique by a French soldier in the 18th century.
The coffee beans we know & adore are the pits of a cherry-like fruit that grow on evergreen trees. Coffee trees (cultivated to grow only 10 feet high for easier picking) cannot tolerate frost, and they prefer volcanic soil, indirect sunlight, and high altitude. The higher the altitude, the better the coffee. The annual yield of a coffee tree is about a pound of beans.
There are only two species of coffee, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the stuff most of us drink. Robusta is generally lower in flavor acids and higher in caffeine but is sometimes mixed with Arabica to give the brew an extra caffeine kick.
Contrary to popular belief, the darker the roast, the less caffeine, since caffeine is broken down in the roasting process. Espresso roasts have the least caffeine.
Coffee is the second most widely used product in the world after oil. We drink 1400 million cups per day, and it’s the world’s most popular drink after water.
Coffee was declared illegal 3 times by 3 different cultures: (1) In Mecca during the 16th century; (2) By Charles the II in Europe; (3) By Fredrick the Great of Germany in 1677.
Medicinal Benefits – People who drink coffee have less colon cancer, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, gallstones, and cirrhosis of the liver. Coffee can protect your teeth from cavities, and it can help manage asthma and help stop an asthma attack in progress if no meds are available. People who smoke or drink alcohol and also drink coffee get some protection from liver and heart problems.
Other Coffee Uses – sprinkle used coffee grounds around your garden plants to stop snails and slugs, and to keep cats away from the garden. Coarsely ground coffee makes a good exfoliating facial scrub. Greasy pans can be cleaned with the leftover ground beans you used to scrub your face. Rubbing coffee beans between your hands for a few seconds will get rid of food prep odors, and you can suck on a coffee bean to freshen your breath (or chew a few, if you’re a daredevil 3rd-grader).