The coffee drink has had a curious evolution. It began, not as a drink, but as a food ration. Its first use as a drink was as a kind of wine. Civilization knew it first as a medicine. At one stage of its development, before it became generally accepted as a liquid refreshment, the berries found favor as a confection. As a beverage, its use probably dates back about six hundred years.
The protein and fat content, that is, the food value, of coffee, so far as civilized man is concerned, is an absolute waste. The only constituents that are of value are those that are water soluble, and can be extracted readily with hot water. When coffee is properly made, as by the drip method, either by percolation or filtration, the ground coffee comes in contact with the hot water for only a few minutes; so the major portion of the protein, which is not only practically insoluble, but coagulates on heating, remains in the unused part of the coffee, the grounds. The coffee bean contains a large percent of protein—fourteen percent. By comparing this figure with twenty-one percent of protein in peas, twenty-three percent in lentils, twenty-six percent in beans, twenty-four percent in peanuts, about eleven percent in wheat flour, and less than nine percent in white bread, we learn how much of this valuable food stuff is lost with the coffee grounds.
Though civilized man (excepting the inhabitants of the Isle de Groix off the coast of Brittany) does not use this protein content of coffee, in certain parts of Africa it has been put to use in a very ingenious and effective manner "from time immemorial" down to the present day. James Bruce, the Scottish explorer, in his travels to discover the source of the Nile in 1768–73, found that this curious use of the coffee bean had been known for centuries. He brought back accounts and specimens of its use as a food in the shape of balls made of grease mixed with roasted coffee finely ground between stones.
Other writers have told how the Galla, a wandering tribe of Africa—and like most wandering tribes, a warlike one—find it necessary to carry concentrated food on their long marches. Before starting on their marauding excursions, each warrior equips himself with a number of food balls. These prototypes of the modern food tablet are about the size of a billiard ball, and consist of pulverized coffee held in shape with fat. One ball constitutes a day's ration; and although civilized man might find it unpalatable, from the purely physiological[Pg 694] standpoint it is not only a concentrated and efficient food, but it also has the additional advantage of containing a valuable stimulant in the caffein content which spurs the warrior on to maximum effort. And so the savage in the African jungle has apparently solved two problems; the utilization of coffee's protein, and the production of a concentrated food.
Further research shows that perhaps as early as 800 A.D. this practise started by crushing the whole ripe berries, beans and hulls, in mortars, mixing them with fats, and rounding them into food balls. Later, the dried berries were so used. The inhabitants of Groix, also, thrive on a diet that includes roasted coffee beans.
About 900, a kind of aromatic wine was made in Africa from the fermented juice of the hulls and pulp of the ripe berries.
Payen says that the first coffee drinkers did not think of roasting but, impressed by the aroma of the dried beans, they put them in cold water and drank the liquor saturated with their aromatic principles. Crushing the raw beans and hulls, and steeping them in water, was a later improvement.
It appears that boiled coffee (the name is anathema today) was invented about the year 1000 A.D. Even then, the beans were not roasted. We read of their use in medicine in the form of a decoction. The dried fruit, beans and hulls, were boiled in stone or clay cauldrons. The custom of using the sun-dried hulls, without roasting, still exists in Africa, Arabia, and parts of southern Asia. The natives of Sumatra neglect the fruit of the coffee tree and use the leaves to make a tea-like infusion. Jardin relates that in Guiana an agreeable tea is made by drying the young buds of the coffee tree, and rolling them on a copper plate slightly heated. In Uganda, the natives eat the raw berries; from bananas and coffee they make also a sweet, savory drink which is called menghai.