A long, long time ago in Ethiopia, in an indefinite historical period, coffee was discovered by a bunch of overactive sheep.
"Legend goes that an Ethiopian shepherd noticed how his sheep were always awake with great energy after eating from a particular tree," says Luciano Calosso, curator of the ongoing Espresso Italiano exhibition at Scotts Square. "It turned out to be a coffee tree, and so began the discovery process of coffee."
This is just one of the nuggets he dug up during his research on the second most consumed beverage after water. According to a survey by the International Coffee Organisation, one billion and six hundred million cups of coffee are consumed daily.
He says: "There are various reasons for this success, among which is the ability to stimulate one's mind to face a new day each morning. Coffee drinking has also evolved into a social activity that connects people, and allows them to interact and catch up with one another over a beverage."
Coffee, and most notably, espresso, has always been synonymous with Italy and its culture. This might not sound unusual at first, but when you realise that coffee beans aren't native to Italy and were, in fact, exported to Italy from Arabia starting from the 1700s, you might start to wonder, as Mr Calosso himself did.
The professor of architecture and exhibition installation at the Sapienza University of Rome recalls: "I was in Shanghai and I remember thinking why is it that every time I see an Italian flag outside of Italy, it's next to a cafe. It made me curious to find out why, so I took it upon myself to discover the history of coffee, the coffee culture, and how it is associated with Italy."
The first Espresso Italiano exhibition was held at the University of Warsaw in 2008, and it's had successful showings in six other countries since, including Romania, China, and South Korea.
Mr Calosso was fascinated by what he learnt during his research, and wanted to curate the exhibition to educate people about the world of Italian coffee, its heritage, culture, and the journey that a single coffee bean took to become the espresso.
He says: "Although coffee did not originate from Italy, it was the Italians that created the method to roast the coffee beans and brew the famous espresso, and created venues like cafes for people to enjoy it in."
The 62-year-old sees further coffee evolution as "distancing the coffee from that simplicity that has become its legacy, which the Italians have embraced and preserved".
He adds: "Though marketing strategies have found new formats and sale systems by using electrical, colourful and fast machines for domestic use, I believe the great future of coffee is still to be prepared with water heated up to 120 degrees celsius, which is then filtered through exactly seven grams of coffee powder under pressure."
Taking place in the atrium of Scotts Square, the exhibition comprises various coffee artefacts dating back to the 1800s and displays that enable aficionados to understand the history, evolution and culture of Italian coffee. As the pieces come from private collections or museums, none of them are for sale.
It also showcases how coffee has been depicted over the years in modern society through the use of reproduced paintings. One reproduction by famed Venetian artist Alessandro Milesi in the 18th century portrays a woman sitting in a cafe by herself enjoying a coffee, a rare sight in that era, which alludes to themes of female emancipation.
Espresso Italiano will also showcase an original painting by renowned Indian artists Amita and Mira Chudasama, of a woman's face which has been made entirely with coffee pigments.
The Espresso Italiano Exhibition is held at Level 1 Atrium, Scotts Square between 11am and 9pm daily till Aug 2. Admission is free.
This article was first published on July 17, 2015.
Get The Business Times for more stories.