By David Martin –
When we opened our internet tubes for cleaning this week, out poured enough coffee to keep us alert for hours. Compared to tea, which was cultivated 5,000 years ago, coffee is a newcomer, making its way through the Middle East and into Europe some 500 years ago. But coffee made the bigger splash because coffee’s jolt of caffeine (an average of about 95 mg per cup) is twice that of tea (47 mg per cup).
Oddly, tea leaves contain a higher percentage of caffeine (3.5%) than do coffee beans (2.2%), but the method of preparing the beverage is what produces the caffeine. A double shot of espresso will send you along your way with well over 100 mg of caffeine.
According to an Ethiopian legend, a goat herder found that his goats were unusually energetic after eating the red berries of a certain tree. Kaldi, the goat herder, tried the berries himself and had renewed energy. He shared the coffee berries with monks who found that, after consuming coffee, they could stay alert during prayers all night. Fast forward to today when coffee is the second most valuable commodity on earth, second only to oil. Worldwide, 2.25 billion cups are consumed daily. New Yorkers, you might not be surprised to learn, drink seven times more coffee than do the residents of other large American cities.
In medieval times, before coffee, people did not drink beer, wine, mead, and other alcoholic beverages exclusively, but their consumption of booze was high. Workers often began and continued their workday by drinking beer. If these workers and society at large had a certain boozy lethargy, you could see why. Then comes coffee and, just as important, coffeehouses where people could gather to discuss the issues of the day, foment change and revolution, and keep themselves at a fever pitch with cup after cup of coffee.
In England during the Enlightenment, people began calling coffeehouses penny universities because for the penny-a-cup cost of coffee, a person at a coffeehouse could engage in the kind of intellectual exchanges that are supposed to occur in universities. The London Stock Exchange started in a coffeehouse.
In Colonial America, patriots avoided tea because it was being heavily taxed by the Brits. Instead, these revolutionary Americans began drinking coffee and gathering in coffeehouses to debate the overthrow of the monarchy.
Today, coffeehouses are less about debate and more about getting your latte and getting on your way. But if you are a coffee drinker, you can take comfort from the multiple health studies that have shown moderate coffee consumption (two to five cups a day) can, according to Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, lower your likelihood of developing “type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver and endometrial cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and depression. It’s even possible that people who drink coffee can reduce their risk of early death.”