Since we have come to associate the word coffee so absolutely with a hot, aromatic brown liquid, some may find it hard to believe that human beings waited for several hundred years before concluding that the most effective way to get what they wanted from the coffee tree was to roast the dried kernel of the fruit, grind it, and combine the resulting powder with hot water to make a beverage. The alternative solutions are many, and some apparently still survive as part of the cuisines of Africa and Asia. The berries can be fermented to make a wine, for example, or the leaves and flowers cured and steeped in boiling water to produce a coffee tea. In parts of Africa, people soak the raw beans in water and spices, then chew them like candy. The raw berries are also combined with bananas, crushed, and beaten to make a sort of raw coffee and banana smoothie.
In Yemen, where coffee was first cultivated as a commercial crop, the husks of the dried coffee fruit are boiled with spices to produce a sweet, light beverage called qishr. It is served cool as a thirst quencher in the afternoon, much like we might serve iced tea.
The key to the success of the current mode of coffee making is the roasting process, to which we owe the delicately flavored oils that speak to the palate as eloquently as caffeine does to the nervous system.