Arabia And Abyssinia Coffee

( Originally Published 1900 )

THE name Mocha coffee is applied generally to the coffee produced in these countries. The best portion of the crop, it is said, goes to Turkey and Egypt, being purchased on the trees by traders who themselves look after the picking and preparation. The coffee which reaches Mocha for sale is that which is not considered worthy of purchase by those traders.

It is rather a curious fact that though no coffee is grown at Mocha any more than it is at either Santos or Rio, the names of these towns should have been given to the coffees that pass through these ports. The name Mocha is, however, applied to all the coffee grown in these countries. Such a designation is not given to any other descriptions but they are known by the names of the countries. By far the largest part of the coffee known as Mocha is certainly not entitled to the name, coming as it does from Abyssinia. As we have said in a former part, this is the original home of coffee and it is still grown in its native luxuriance and primitive abundance. In many parts it still grows wild, but it is also cultivated in almost all situations, plateaux and table lands, mountains, hills and valleys. The annual crop is a moderate one, how large is not generally known, for communications and transport facilities are so crude and difficult that it is hardly likely that the whole of it reaches the outer world. The country is particularly fertile and most suited for its cultivation, so that when it becomes more opened up to commerce and the unchanging East has learnt its lessons `from the West, it is probable that with more scientific methods of production it may become more generally used and take a more important part in the trade of the world. Though Abyssinia may lay claim to being the country where coffee was first discovered, yet Arabia has a strong claim also. The explanation probably is that the seed, or plants, were taken to Arabia at a very early stage. Certain it is that Arabian seeds and plants were utilized in transferring the plant, both to the old and new world, for there is distinct evidence that the original trees in Java, as well as in the West India Islands, were first brought from Arabia, while the very term " Coffea Arabica," by which it is known botanically, would certainly imply that this was its original habitat. Further, it is in evidence that from Arabia the civilized world first learnt the art of preparing it in a liquid form, while in Abyssinia when first used it was eaten, or, as it was, and still is, called, " taken " in the " solid form." To this day many tribes of Arabs in this and the neighbouring 'countries carry with them portions of roasted coffee, ground and pressed into cakes which they eat with their dates. The finest coffee of Arabia is grown in the Yemen province, a highland country formed by a labyrinth of fertile valleys and precipitous hills. While so much of the country is an arid waste, this province is well supplied with water and without it coffee cultivation would be impossible. The best, as in all other countries, is grown on the hill slopes, and as these are very precipitous and difficult of access the area of cultivation is cut up into what must be called gardens rather than plantations. The trees yield their fruit twice in the year and indeed a third crop is by no means uncommon, though the quality of this latter is much inferior. , As one would naturally expect from such a people as inhabit this country, the cultivation and preparation is of the simplest and most primitive kind. 'When ripe the fruit is simply shaken from the trees and it has been alleged that this system, involving, as it does, the necessity of the fruit being actually ripe, is a primary cause of the excellence of this growth. The husking or cleaning is done in the most primitive manner, being simply pounded in a species of mortar until the husk can be easily removed ; when this, as well as the inner, parchment, has been thoroughly taken away the beans are most carefully and even laboriously picked, with the object of grading them into the various qualities, the finest lemon coloured, transparent beans being reserved for consumption in the country, or by the court of the Sultan of Turkey, the Khedive of Egypt, or the Shah of Persia, in other words, by the principal rulers of the Mohammedan world. As we might expect from this old-world, Eastern country, where customs are said never to change, the packages used are different to those in any other part of the world, being made of strong-matted straw, lined with cloth and known generally as Frazils. The only figures obtainable as to the crops give the total as varying from 115,000 bags to 175,000 bags.


The produce from Java, Sumatra, Celebes, and Borneo is known generally as " Java coffee," and the greater part comes from Java. The plantations are largely owned by the Government, and great care is taken in the cultivation and preparation.

Though for many years now there has been more coffee grown in private plantations than by the Dutch East India Company, which is a Government monopoly, at one time the reverse was the case, and an enormous revenue was obtained from its cultivation. Under that system every family was compelled to cultivate, pick, dry, husk and deliver to certain specified ports and in return received a small payment, but the work was in general looked upon in place of the ordinary taxation. The system seems to have worked well and without causing any serious trouble, but, as has been said, only a comparatively small part is now grown by the Government. Years ago all the available mountain slopes were literally covered with coffee, but the introduction of the fateful leaf disease has ruined many estates, while the prices to which all coffees have fallen bave further impoverished the planter, and in consequence the manuring of the trees, which is essential for their productiveness, has not always been continued. Hence though trees on the uplands will Iast in full bearing for twenty years they seldom attain that age, and though the introduction of the Liberian tree was hoped to save the situation, yet many plantations have now been cleared and the rubber industry, even more than tea-planting which was first tried, is proving so remunerative that there seems little chance of coffee cultivation ever again becoming as important as it was in years gone by. In ten years the total crop of the various islands has decreased from 826,000 bags to 300,000 bags. Old Government Java, for which there is still a large demand and which realises some of the highest prices of any coffee, is obtained by storing the products from the finest estates in warehouses for from five to ten years before allowing it to be marketed. The warehouses are specially constructed to admit of both sun and air, so that the beans may become thoroughly mellow and the volatile oil which gives coffee its distinctive aroma is by this means completely developed. The beans by this process become of a rich brown colour though often much eaten by various insects of the weevil order. The coffee is said to lose as much as 15 per cent. in weight in three years, but this loss is compensated for by the higher price obtained and to the dealer by the fact that being so dry the further loss in roasting is proportionately less. Much of the Liberian, which is sold as Java Liberian, is grown in the smaller islands of Malaysia and in the Straits Settlements generally, but this has not proved the success which it was at one time expected to be.

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