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We can thank a herd of unruly Ethiopian goats for discovering the world's most indispensable beverage: coffee. As the legend goes, a goat herder noticed that whenever his charges nibbled on the bright red berries of the coffea Arabica tree, the goats danced around with a renewed energy that kept them awake into the night.

Whether or not you choose to believe this tale, the science behind coffee's energizing properties is unquestioned. The pit of the coffee tree's berries is made up of two seeds that are laced with caffeine--an alkaloid produced by the tree as a natural pesticide, but that also functions as a powerful stimulant.

The Arabs were the first to cultivate coffee and develop its trade. By the 17th century, coffee had spread from the Yemeni district to Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey, and was embraced as a welcome alternative to alcohol, which is forbidden under Muslim law. Coffee houses proliferated as a result, and the drink became known as the "wine of Araby." Coffee's rise was much rockier in the West however. Initially, coffee was deemed so untrustworthy by the European clergy that they condemned the beverage; some even referring to it as "the bitter invention of Satan."

The Process
The two main species of coffee, Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora) from the family Rubiaceae, are first raised in shaded nurseries, and then cultivated in small pots until they are strong enough to take root on their own. In about three to four years, the trees bear red fruit called "coffee cherries," which are then picked, dried and stripped down to a green-colored bean. Once roasted, they become the fragrant, popular brown beans populating stores and coffeehouses.

Arabica coffee makes up 70 percent of what the world drinks, thanks to its mild taste, though it has less caffeine than other species. Robusta coffee--mostly grown in sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam, and Brazil--has the most body, but its bitterness relegates it to second place for those who like a bolder, stronger coffee, like Italians.

Coffee Today
Today, coffee is the world's second most traded commodity (behind oil) and part of a major global industry of growers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers. Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia are the top producers of coffee, with other equatorial nations like Brazil and India forming a so-called "Bean Belt" of favorable growing regions around the globe. Americans lead the pack in coffee consumption. In fact, we collectively consume 400 million cups--every day.

But coffee goes beyond the cup, enriching a wide range of dishes both savory and sweet. Coffee's complex, roasted aroma heightens the flavor of beef, which makes dishes like The Capital Grille's Kona-Crusted Sirloin (pictured above) so popular. On the sweet side, Italians have mastered the art of the affogato, a deceptively simple dessert of coffee-drowned gelato. But for a more decadent treat, add espresso to dark chocolate cake for a dessert so deliciously sinful that it may just merit the moniker, "an invention of Satan."