Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug (you can thank globalization and rough Monday mornings for that).
But before we had a Starbucks on every other block, the drink endured years of prohibition and reinstatements, picking up plenty of advocates and critics throughout its existence.
In his recently published book, Innovation and Its Enemies, Harvard University professor Calestous Juma highlights the some of the early difficulties that the drink faced when early coffee shops opened. Here are a few of them.
Coffee started out in Ethiopia, then spread to Yemen and the rest of the Middle East in the 16th century. It was known as 'qahwa.'
Sufi Muslims started drinking 'qahwa' in the early 16th century to stay awake during their evening devotionals. Since both laypeople and clergy were in attendance, Juma writes that people likely brought the drink home to integrate into their daily lives.
As coffee drinking spread, people started opening 'coffee houses,' which became centres of interaction for men who didn't have anywhere else to converse about politics and philosophy.
'The preexisting public institutions included the ill-reputed wine tavern; the bathhouse, reserved for the upper classes and lacking in entertainment; and the mosque, which allowed only limited exchanges before and after worship,' Juma wrote. 'None of the existing social venues at the time allowed for the breadth of social discourse that occurred in the coffeehouses.'
You might have heard that the French Revolution was planned in coffee houses, where members of the so-called 'intelligentsia,' the class of political thinkers and polemics, gathered to plot their rebellions.
Coffee houses' potential to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information scared leaders long before the French Revolution. In 1511, Khair Beg, a young governor of Mecca, called for the closure of all coffee houses, fearing they'd be centres of secular uprising. Anyone caught drinking or selling coffee at that time was beaten.
Officials in Cairo, which ruled over Mecca at that time, overturned Khair Beg's coffee ban the same year it was issued. But fear of the coffee houses lingered -- some saw them as seedy meeting places, similar to whorehouses.
In 1535, religious critics pointed to Islam's Hanafi laws, which forbade drunkenness, as a justification to ban coffee again. But whether that concept of 'drunkenness' included caffeine jitters depended on which school of Muslim thought you subscribed to at the time.
Two Persian doctors also weighed in on behalf of coffee critics in 1611. Juma writes:
'The two physicians claimed the beverage was endowed with vile characteristics and said the governor should receive 'great glory and abundant rewards' if he opposed the drink, thus appealing to the governor's desire for legitimacy and power as a ruler.'
When the drink made its way to Europe in the 17th century, critics used fake science to get people to stop drinking it.
'Coffee's critics likened the drink to wine and attempted to outlaw it on this basis repeatedly,' Juma wrote.
In fact, when the drink started spreading to Europe in the 17th century, the wine and beer industries attacked. One winemaker in Marseilles allied with a university student to write up a thesis titled 'Whether the Use of Coffee Is Harmful to the Inhabitants of Marseilles.'
'(The student) asserted that the 'burnt particles, which (coffee) contains in large quantities, have so violent energy that, when they enter the blood, they attract the lymph and dry the kidneys.' The result, he claimed, was one of 'general exhaustion, paralysis, and impotence.''
When coffee started arriving in England in the 1660s, the coffee houses that served it became go-to places for political conversation, socialising, and roughhousing. They started competing with taverns, and detractors came out of the woodwork. Some blamed the Turks for bringing the drink over.
'A 1663 broadside entitled A Cup of Coffee: or, Coffee in its Colours, derided those who had turned into Turks by drinking coffee. These 'Pure English Apes,' the author charged, 'might learn to eat Spiders.''
Some women also ganged up on the drink, saying that it caused impotence.
'(In 1674), The Women's Petition against Coffee, representing to public consideration the grand inconveniences accruing to their sex from the excessive use of the drying and enfeebling Liquor charged that men had become as 'unfruitful as the Desarts whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought.''
In the US, coffee houses also became popular meeting places for the politically charged, the same way they did in Europe. Coffee houses were being built before the American Revolutionary war, but like their European counterparts, they were primarily for men.
In the 19th century and early 20th century, home roasting became popular.
'In the predominantly rural United States of the mid-nineteenth century, people bought green coffee beans (primarily from the West or East Indies) in bulk at the local general store, then roasted and ground them at home,' wrote Mark Prendergast in Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World.
American homes started using pre-ground coffee in the early 1900s, and instant coffee after World War II.
In the early 20th century, coffee companies started putting out pre-ground coffee. After WWII, brands that would become big household names -- Folgers and Maxwell House -- started selling instant coffee, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Coffee was praised for its purported health benefits in the 1960s.
'(Coffee) mitigates headaches, cherishes the animal spirits, takes away listlessness and languor, and is serviceable in all obstructions arising from languid circulation,' wrote John Hull Brown in Early American Beverages in 1966.
'The habitual use of coffee would greatly promote sobriety being in itself a cordial stimulant; it is a most powerful antidote to the temptation of spiritous liquors,' he wrote.
The instant coffee fad would continue until the 1980s, when Americans started opting for more fresh-brewed coffee.
The American obsession with instant coffee didn't last. The so-called third wave of coffee -- the point at which drinkers began to seek out higher-quality brews -- started in the 80s and 90s, around the time when Starbucks expanded.
Though Starbucks has been around since 1971, its popularity significantly rose in the 90s. After the company went public in 1992, the number of Starbucks locations ballooned from 165 stores to roughly 23,768 stores today. Now, smaller third wave coffee roasters hearken back to the class of people who once occupied coffee houses. Roasting house Intelligentsia even has the reference in its name.
Today, even after hundreds of years of coffee drinking, we're still learning about its longterm effects.
Scientists are still trying to figure out whether or not coffee is healthy.
Does it cause cancer? Probably not, says the World Health Organisation. Does it cause heart disease? Inconclusive, says the American Heart Association. It may even be good for your heart in moderation, say researchers from the Kangbuk Samsung Hospital in Seoul.
As of now, it is difficult to come to an ironclad conclusion about the drink's long-term effects. However, moderation can't hurt.
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