One of the world’s oldest culinary commodities, coffee is a force of nature. (Literally.)
Some 2.25 billion cups of the stuff are sipped every day, from bean-growing equatorial regions like Ethiopia and Ecuador, to the legendary cafés of Vienna, Paris and Rome.
While exact origins are up for debate, human beings have been snacking on the red, berry-like fruit of the coffee shrub since 1000 AD. Early on, it was mixed with animal fat to create an ancient energy bar, and fermented to make a highly caffeinated wine.
In the 13th Century, Arabs invented the roasted version of the beverage that (vaguely) resembles the double-skim half-caf coffee drinks we sip today. Pious Muslims who wanted to power through long prayer sessions would parch and boil the beans to create a potent brew.
It wasn’t until the 17th Century that coffee plants traveled outside of the Arab world. Legend has it that a single pilgrim, India’s Baba Budan, carried beans all the way from Mecca to mainland Europe, thereby inaugurating generations of European coffee drinkers.
Apocryphal or no, by 1616, Holland launched its first coffee plantation in South Asia. France began cultivating the crop in its Caribbean outposts, and the Portuguese in Brazil. Soon thereafter, Europe was hooked.
Late adopter America got keen to the bean in the late 18th Century, largely for political reasons. After the Boston Tea Party of 1773, Americans deemed drinking coffee an act of nationalism. Coffee went on to energize Civil War soldiers, caffeinate the cowhands settling the American West, and invigorate California gold seekers.
In typically American style, bean production and packaging was industrialized in the late 19th Century, giving birth to the pre-roasted, pre-ground Maxwell House and Sanka cans that dominated American coffee culture throughout the next 100 years.
Fortunately, in the past 20 years, national culinary interests have matured. Ingredients like extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, once deemed “ethnic foods,” have become quotidian fare. Naturally, high-quality coffee has become increasingly important to everyday epicures in the United States and worldwide as well. Along with a focus on hand-cultivated beans, properly farmed, roasted, stored and sold, there is a renewed interest in the art of brewing the perfect cup.
Enter this guide to the world’s top coffee machines. From NASA-empowered espresso brewing, to the $20,000 Japanese siphon imported to a quiet San Francisco café, the premier tools of the trade elevate the simple cup to an art form. Get ready to get galvanized.