The Origins of Coffee

Coffee is the most widely accepted, addictive psychoactive substance in the known world. 85% of Americans, nearly 250 million people, drink coffee every day. How about you?

The first coffee trees bloomed in Ethiopia. However, coffee was first cultivated in Arabia by Muslims. The Muslims – who for religious reasons forbidden to drink alcohol – were the first to discover the coffee bean's pleasant, stimulating effect.

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The first coffee drinks were simply steeped in hot water. It was both dark and bitter. The coffee drink did not achieve true popularity until someone - who regretfully shall never be known for his contribution to this world - discovered the potent mix of coffee, milk, and sugar.

Subsequent to the discovery of its stimulating properties, the popularity of coffee took on mythic proportions in the Middle East, culminating in more than 1,500 coffee houses springing up in cities like Cairo, Aleppo, and Damascus at the height of the Ottoman Empire.

Coffee's Introduction to South America and Europe

Although coffee is now a major export for Brazil and other South American countries, it was not indigenous to the region. Captain Gabriel Clieu, a French naval officer and governor, was credited with transporting a coffee seedling from the greenhouses of the Jardin royal des Plantes to Martinique across the Atlantic Ocean in 1720. Like a story straight from the movies, Captain Clieu escaped from pirates, sailed through hurricanes, and even rationed his drinking water with the seedling.

Coffee eventually found its way into Europe through European merchants trading in the Mediterranean. Venice, Genoa, and Marseilles were among the first cities to enjoy the wonders of coffee.

The discovery of caffeine in the laboratory is one not many people know about. It all started with a group of professors and students dedicated to the enjoyment and pleasure of drinking coffee. Incidentally, these very men were also responsible for re-igniting the spark of scientific discovery during the English Restoration in the 17th century.

The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge

The Royal Society was conceived in 1655 and was initially known as the Oxford Coffee Club. The Oxford Coffee Club began as an informal fraternity of scientists and students who often congregated to consume the exotic drink – in a time when coffee was regarded as an outlandish drug. They drank coffee not for its taste – for, without milk and sugar, it was dark, murky and bitter – but primarily for its energizing and mind boosting properties. In the year 1662, King Charles II chartered the Oxford Coffee Club officially as the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, or simply known as the Royal Society.

Robert Boyle, a leading scientist of his time and a founding member of the Oxford Coffee Club, is credited for making the first clear distinction between alchemy and chemistry. Boyle formulated the predecessor to the modern theory of elements, accomplishing the first major advancement for chemical theory in two thousand years.

The dawning of the coffee mania in England – with the merchants returning from the Mediterranean – coincided with the modern revolutions not only in chemistry but also in physics and mathematics. Twentieth-century science has concluded that caffeine – from the coffee – enhances the mental performance of repetitive tasks like research, as well as boosting mental stamina.

With some of the greatest scientific thinkers of the 17th century among the biggest coffee fanatics, it can be said that coffee precipitated the age of modern chemistry and physics. Coffee can be considered the only drug in world history to accelerate its own discovery.

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