I was intrigued to read an analysis of coffee by Patrick Cox, including an historical overview and some very interesting health information. Here’s an excerpt from the first part of the article.
Serious historians have proposed that the introduction of coffee into the Western diet contributed significantly to both the Enlightenment and its offshoot, the American Revolution. The idea is not such a stretch.
Given the lack of modern water purification and plumbing technologies, beer was routinely consumed in Great Britain in the 1700s to prevent water-borne diseases. Though alcohol at the concentrations common in beer may not always kill pathogens, it does keep them from growing in beer that has been boiled during the brewing process.
When coffee came onto the British scene in the 1500s, it provided a popular and alternative way to take water safely. As with tea, pathogens were killed during the brewing process. Coffee, however, is often viewed as the disreputable cousin of tea, which is widely regarded as healthful. Coffee usually has higher caffeine levels and that difference may have quite profound implications.
In those days, coffee was much more expensive and few people had experience brewing the stuff. Coffeehouses sprang up in response, but they didn’t normally sell individual cups. Rather, they charged an entry fee, after which java flowed freely. The result was that hyperactive groups of coffee drinkers began to pop up in place of semi-sedated beer drinkers.
Students and merchants found these establishments pleasant places to study, do business, and talk. Lacking Wi-Fi connections, merchants who tracked current events and their impact on business would announce major news to the entire assemblage. Naturally, a lot of discussions turned to politics and philosophy. Arguments took place and movements were born.
Just as contemporary politicians would like to regulate political speech, especially on the Internet, British royalty took a dim view of the free and often antiauthoritarian ideas associated with coffee and coffeehouses. In 1675, “A proclamation for the suppression of coffee-houses” was issued by King Charles II.
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Many efforts all over the world have been made to stamp out the demon bean. Though such efforts have failed, coffee is part of our lives and our culture.
Edward Lloyd opened his coffeehouse “The Angel” in 1650. The Oxford hangout of merchants and shippers eventually morphed into Lloyd’s of London, the best-known insurance company in the world. In Scotland, the tenets of the Enlightenment were worked out in coffeehouses where works by Adam Smith and Spinoza were passed around.
Daniel Webster called the Boston coffeehouse, Green Dragon Tavern, “headquarters of the Revolution.” Open from 1697 to 1832, it played a role in the birth of America and was frequented by the likes of John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere who met there to conspire. The New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York were first coffeehouses.
There’s more at the link, including an analysis of the health benefits of coffee, which the author describes as “the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet and … the single-most important food item available in most grocery stores”. He provides some impressive medical opinions to back up his claims, including an opinion that coffee helps prevent or mitigate Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s a bit late for a cup of coffee now, but tomorrow morning . . .