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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Cup of Joe’

CRL columnist John Gray talks coffee.

Chances are you started your day with a nice, hot cup of coffee, and for that you should thank some dancing goats and a dude named Khaldi. No, I’m serious. Back in the 9th century an Ethiopian goat herder by that name was out doing what goat herders do when he noticed his normally docile goats dancing around with renewed energy. At first he wondered if they had been watching “Dancing with the Stars” the previous night, but since television hadn’t been invented yet he searched for another explanation. That’s when he noticed his goats had been eating a strange red berry off of a tree. He collected the berries, took them to show his friends, and they quickly figured out if you chewed on these things long enough, you too, would be up dancing the jig. And that is how coffee was born.

As I pound down my third cup of coffee this morning I wondered about the origins of my favorite drink, and after doing a little research learned some interesting stuff, starting with the fact that it’s the second most consumed liquid on the planet, next to water. I was surprised to learn coffee is actually a fruit and the only place it’s grown commercially in the United States is Hawaii. Aloha!

The world’s first coffee shop opened in 1475 in Constantinople (Istanbul today) and the “Turks” took coffee consumption pretty seriously. In fact, it was once custom in Turkey that if a man didn’t supply his wife with good, tasty coffee to start her day it was grounds for divorce. I think most married couples today would understand that rule since waking up and dealing with your spouse without a gallon of Dunkin Donuts is near impossible some days.

My favorite coffee, and a place I love to visit, is called Pequod. What? Never heard of it? Oh, I’m sorry; I used its ‘almost name’ by mistake. I meant to say Starbucks. Back when the coffee giant was founded in 1971 the owner wanted to name the coffee chain after a ship in one of his favorite novels, Moby Dick. In that book the ship is called the Pequod, but after talking it over with friends they decided that name didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so they went with the name of the ship’s chief mate: Starbuck. I think they made the right choice.

Here are some other fun facts I brewed up during my coffee research. When people are sluggish they’ll order a shot of espresso, but the truth is it has a third of the caffeine in a regular cup of coffee because of its size. Oh, and if you are really tired don’t order the “dark roast” over the “light” thinking the coffee will be stronger. The taste might be, but the “light roast” tends to have more caffeine than the “dark” because the longer you roast the bean the more caffeine you lose. Who knew?

People often refer to coffee as a cup of “Java” or “Joe.” It gets the name “Java” because when coffee became very popular in the 19th century much of it came from the island of Java in Indonesia. No one knows for certain how it got the nickname “A cup of Joe,” but the best theory is that early on, because of its inexpensive price, coffee became the drink of the common man (known as Joe, Joe Blow, Average Joe, and G.I. Joe) so the phrase just kind of stuck.

I like coffee, not just for the taste and boost it can give, but for the memories it has shared with me. I remember having coffee with my parents at our kitchen table the night I got my acceptance letter to college. When something big is going on in your family, a death, a medical or financial crisis, one of the first things someone says is, “I’ll put on a pot of coffee.” And I don’t know how any of us would have finished a single term paper or pulled an all-nighter studying for finals without it. And is there anything better than sitting and laughing with an old friend as you share a cup of coffee in your favorite java joint after a long week? Truth be told, I just like the way the warm cup feels between my hands as I face a harsh, cold world.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the most expensive coffee is Indonesia’s Kopi Luwak (as seen in the movie “The Bucket List”) and the rumors about it are true. They are coffee beans that have been eaten by a kind of weasel or rat-like creature and after percolating in its digestive track, pop out this ugly thing’s back end and are scooped up with the rest of the excrement, separated and ground into coffee. Nectar of the God’s, they say.  I don’t give a rat’s (you know what) how good it tastes, I’ll stick to Pequod, er, Starbucks. Now somebody please pass me the cream.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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