Imagine a world without coffee – it’s challenging, isn’t it? But how exactly did we come to cherish this energizing beverage? It all began around 800 AD when a shepherd in Ethiopia observed an unusual phenomenon. His goats, after nibbling on a certain shrub, seemed particularly alert, foregoing sleep and bleating well into the night.
Intrigued, he brought this plant to local monks who concocted a drink from its berries. Thus, coffee was born.
Historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch, in his book “ Taste of Paradise,” details the transformative effects of coffee in Europe and the Arab world. He highlights two major repercussions of the coffee trend. Firstly, the process of coffee brewing required boiling water, an act that was not customary before its introduction. As we know, boiled water eliminates most pathogens, significantly reducing water-borne diseases and enhancing public health.
Secondly, coffee’s caffeine is known to promote linear thinking and boost productivity, a fact well recognized by coffee and tea aficionados.
These factors potentially contributed to the Arabs' significant advancements in various fields during the Islamic Golden Age, including science, mathematics, theology, philosophy, and engineering.
Fast forward to the 1650s when caffeine entered European culture. Prior to its introduction, alcohol was a preferred beverage due to its relative safety compared to microbe-laden water. However, the arrival of coffee and tea from Asia marked the beginning of Europe’s Renaissance. With the health benefits of boiled water and the mental stimulation from caffeine, the age of enlightenment ensued, and coffee replaced alcoholic drinks as the popular beverage.
At the height of World War 2, a Denver-based necktie manufacturer, Wigwam Weavers, faced a workforce crisis. With many skilled workers drafted for the war, they had to recruit older adults and women who lacked experience in knitting intricate tie patterns. The solution to increased productivity came in an unlikely form – breaks for coffee, although the term ‘coffee breaks’ was not coined then. This seemingly simple change resulted in a significant surge in productivity and quality.
To dive deeper into the fascinating history of coffee and its effects, watch this video: What Michael Pollan Learned from Quitting Caffeine for 3 Months. Michael Pollan is the author of the book This Is Your Mind on Plants.
From stimulating scientific advancements to enhancing everyday productivity, the journey of coffee is a testament to its enduring allure. So, the next time you sip your coffee, remember its rich and transformative history.