For nearly three hundred years, coffee has been a popular beverage throughout the civilized world, but of the exact manner of its discovery we really know very little.

Possibly you've heard of some of the ancient legends of goats frisking on the mountain side, nibbling the berries, and subsequently cutting up queer antics due to the stimulating properties of coffee.

There are other accounts that tell of a religious fanatic outlaw from Mocha who took refuge in the mountains of Arabia. He tasted some strange berries growing on a bush. As they were bitter, he tried to improve the taste by roasting them over his fire. This made them so brittle he tried to soften them in water, and when the water in which he had immersed them turned brown, this Mr. Omar (for that was his name) drank some of it and discovered how invigorating and good it was. All this was way back in the 13th century. Long before that coffee grew wild in Abyssinia.

Coffee, up to the close of the 17th century, came entirely from Arabia and was known as Mocha, the name of the city from which it was shipped. About that time, however, shrewd Dutch traders, realizing the increasing demand and the prospects for new trade, induced their government to experiment with coffee in the Dutch East India possessions. The governor of the Island of Java distributed seeds to various parts of the Island and prolific growth, due to the fertility of the soil and favorable climatic conditions, soon followed.

From Java, coffee found its way to the West Indies, and finally to the mainland of South and Central America, where the climate was found to be peculiarly adapted to the rapid development of the coffee plant.

There its cultivation was carried on extensively, until now, probably over 90% of all the coffee grown comes from the Western Hemisphere.

Thus the center of production has shifted from an old world to a new and, from an unimpressive beginning, coffee today is one of the leading commodities of the world's commerce. The normal consumption is approximately 4 billion pounds, about 57% of which is furnished by Brazil.

The United States leads as a coffee drinking nation, using nearly one-half of the entire amount consumed. Our normal per capita consumption exceeds 14 pounds per annum.

The coffee tree is started from the seed, well ripened, fully matured berries being selected for the purpose. After the trees have attained a growth of about fifteen inches, they are set out on the plantation in rows, twelve to sixteen feet apart. When full grown, they attain a height of from ten to twelve feet.

Each tree produces from one to three pounds of coffee annually, after the fourth or fifth year. Coffee trees have been known to bear fruit when over 100 years old, but their most productive period is from the fifth to fifteenth year. The foliage of the tree is waxy dark green leaf, about six inches in length. The blossoms are small, white, star shaped, fragrant flowers, which grow in clusters.

About six months is required for the development of the berry which, when ripe, is of a dark red color and is known as the "cherry."

During the picking season, the services of all the plantation laborers and their families are necessary so that the fruit may be gathered quickly and made ready for the final preparation for market.

Coffee crops are prepared in two ways:

1. The natural process 2. The washed process

"Natural coffee" is obtained by allowing the berries to remain on the trees after they have ripened. The tropical sun, within a short time, causes most of the moisture of the pulp to evaporate, so that the berry becomes shrivelled and black. At this stage the laborers strip the branches, allowing the berries to fall to the ground, from which the women and children sweep them up and bag them. They are then sent to the "Beneficio," or factory, for further treatment. This consists of a quick washing to remove sticks, twigs, and other foreign substances.

The berries are then spread in a thin layer upon cement drying grounds, where they remain exposed to the sun for about seven days. Each night, however, they are gathered into heaps and covered with tarpaulins to protect them from the dew, for moisture at this stage would be injurious.

When the coffee is thoroughly dried, the outer skin becomes brittle and can easily be removed by a hulling machine.

The berries are then separated according to various sizes and grades through a screening process, after which they are packed in burlap bags for export. The natural process of grading is used almost entirely in Brazil.

"Washed coffee" requires entirely different handling, and, as the name implies, an actual washing takes place during the curing.

Instead of stripping the dry berries from the branches, as is done with "natural coffee," each red ripe berry is picked individually, transported to a pulping machine, which is very similar to our cherry pitter, and there processed. This machine removes the pulp, leaving the coffee beans incased in a tough leathery parchment. The beans are then placed into large cement tanks or vats filled with water. The berries are allowed to remain in these tanks from twenty to thirty hours. During their immersion, a fermentation takes place which changes the flavor, producing what is known as "acidity."

After the washing process is completed, the method of drying and hulling is very similar to that of "natural coffee." In appearance, however, the washed berry has changed entirely. It is much cleaner and better looking, and, when properly washed and cured, it is of a dark green color and of greater value than the corresponding grade of "natural coffee."

Its value is further enhanced by removing by hand the imperfect and damaged beans which cannot be removed by machinery. This is known as "hand picking."

The coffee tree requires a warm climate and can be profitably grown in the belt twenty degrees north and south of the equator. The condition of the soil, location of the plantation, and altitude, all vitally enter into coffee cultivation, and all have more or less bearing on the cup quality of the coffee produced. The finest coffees grown come to us from plantations situated three to five thousand feet above sea level, where the days are hot and the nights cool and where the trees are planted on gradually sloping ground that has proper drainage.

The crop of each country is to a degree similar in appearance and taste from year to year, although excessive rain or the lack of it may change the appearance somewhat, and excessive moisture during the drying season is very apt to have a detrimental effect on the drinking quality.

There is a great difference, particularly in the cup, of the product of every country. Each has its own peculiar characteristics and individual flavor. Coffee blending is really an art in itself. By bringing together distinctive and individual flavors, in exact proportions, experts produce a delicious coffee to suit every taste.

So much for the first part of the "story of coffee." There is yet another part, which has to do with the fact that coffee is a mild stimulant.

Stimulants are substances which excite the nerves and some organs of the body. Excited nerves send messages to and from the brain very swiftly. This makes the person think and act in a more alert and lively fashion.

Coffee (like tea) contains a drug called caffeine. The caffeine increases blood-pressure and acts as a mild stimulant. A daily cup or two of coffee is probably quite harmless to most people. But some people find that drinking coffee before going to bed causes them sleeplessness.

Doctors sometimes advise certain patients to abstain from coffee altogether, or to drink a decaffeinated (caffeine-free) coffee. However, when a person is tired and weary, a fragrant and delicious cup of coffee is certainly refreshing and stimulating.

In many factories and offices, therefore, a "coffee-break" is provided for the employees at the expense of the business. This is considered good policy - and is good investment, for the coffee break refreshes and stimulates the workers to greater energy and efficiency.

To many people, coffee is simply a delicious brew, but to us it also has a special message, which has to do with our spiritual life.

In the religious and spiritual life it is also possible to get tired and weary from performing the same duties over and over again. During daily prayers and the performance of our other daily Mitzvoth are apt to become "mechanical," without vitality and enthusiasm.

A spiritual "coffee-break" is therefore called for. What are the spiritual stimulants that can refresh the soul as coffee refreshes the body?

The Torah itself, of course, is the great stimulant of the religious and spiritual life, but certain parts of it are even more stimulating to most people. Such are Mussar (religious ethics) and especially Chassiduth (the latter already includes Mussar of the highest order), which arouse the natural qualities of the love of G‑d and the fear of G‑d which are part of the soul of every Jew. These are the qualities which provide the vitality and enthusiasm in the performance of all the Mitzvoth.

There are also certain days in the year which act as stimulants in our religious and spiritual life. Shabbos and Yom Tov, the month of Tishrei, and similar occasions are our "cups of coffee" in the spiritual sense. Their purpose is not to provide temporary spiritual stimulants, but lasting inspiration. However, the effect is likely to wear off under the stress of a daily routine taken up mostly with material things. Therefore a spiritual "coffee break," in the morning and in the evening is a vital necessity.

In fact, the Mitzvah of Talmud-Torah (studying Torah) makes it obligatory upon every Jew to set aside a period of time, during the day and at night, for Torah study. This is our spiritual "cup of coffee."