Dwyn’s Den: The Violent History of Caffeine

   Ah caffeine, the fuel for many finals and late night study binges. But this miracle substance is more than meets the eye.

   Caffeine is a chemical that naturally occurs in many plants, including coffee beans and certain plants often used for teas. It can also be found in kola nuts, which are used to make certain soft drinks and in cacao pods that are used to make some chocolates.

   Synthetic caffeine can also be found in many pain medications, and over the counter drugs meant to boost alertness.

   Caffeine has some very interesting legends and history surrounding it.

   In Chinese mythology, there is a story that dates back to 2737 B.C.E (Before Common Era) that says emperor Shen Nung first discovered tea when he was sitting under a tree drinking a cup of hot water. As the legend goes, a leaf from the tree fell into the emperor’s cup and created the first tea.

   Many Arabian legends and tales that date back to as early as 900 B.C.E, also reference a bitter beverage that “had the power to ward off sleep.” And of course, the tale of the Ethiopian goat herder, which is attributed as the first discovery of coffee.

   As the story goes, one night the goat herder, Kaldi, notices his goats have not returned from grazing. In the morning Kaldi finally finds them, quite energetically dancing around a cluster of shrubs that have red berries growing on them. He notices a few of the goats eating the berries, and decides to try one himself.

   The berry gives Kaldi a great boost of energy and begins dancing around the shrub with his goats. Kaldi later speaks with monks who make a bitter drink from the berries.

   A few hundred years later, in 1100 C.E (Common Era) people began cultivating coffee trees on the Arabian Penisula, and boiled the berries to make a drink they called Qahwa. From there the caffeinating qualities of coffee spread like wildfire.

   First through Yemen in the mid 1400’s, the drink was originally used for medical or even religious purposes. People often drank it to stay alert during long nights of praying and devotional practices.

   Soon after, in 1475, the first coffee shop opened in Constantinople, and according to one legend, a Turkish law was passed that a women could leave her husband if he didn’t provide a sufficient amount of coffee.

   The use of coffee began to spread to Mecca and Medina as the 1500’s drew closer, and people began drinking coffee more for pleasure. One article states this may have partially been because wine became outlawed in the Quran around this time.

   Coffee became a luxury drink around this time, however, many holy men begin to attack the drink saying it should also be illegal in the Quran, as it is a stimulant like wine.

   Because of this, in 1511 the governor of Mecca tried to ban coffee because he feared the influence of the drink might foster an uprising against his rule. This resulted in all the coffee shops and houses in Constantinople being shut down, and the beginning of a “reign of terror” on coffee.

   However, this ban did not last long. Within a week the Sultan received word of the governor’s actions and promptly declared coffee sacred and had the governor executed for his actions.

   Coffee first spread to central Europe in the mid 1500’s, when the Turkish army left behind bags of coffee as they fled Vienna. Franz George Kolschitcky, the leader of the army that defeated the Turkish, claimed the coffee in the victory and the first coffee house in central Europe was soon established.

   This new discovery quickly spread throughout the Ottoman Empire and led to a lot of controversies. Sultan Sulieman the Great banned coffee in the Ottoman Empire soon after its arrival, however, the number of coffee houses in Constantinople started to rise.

   Shortly after, in the early 1600’s, Pope Clemente VIII was asked by religious followers to ban coffee within the church; his response to this was quite relatable and humorous: “This beverage is so delicious it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it.” He then ordered a baptism of sorts on coffee to put the issue to rest.

   Shortly after coffee was brought to the new world, although Canadian historians argue it arrived there first. At the same time, coffee began to spread through Europe, with coffee houses opening in Italy, Paris and Britain.

   From this point, many countries, such as the Dutch, started smuggling coffee all over Europe. Many countries placed temporary bans and regulations on coffee, which were usually reversed after a short time due to public protest.  

   Soon, coffee became the new favorite breakfast drink in New York City, replacing beer. And the Dutch became the first to transport and trade coffee commercially.

   Soon after, the coffee tree was brought to the Americas for cultivation, and the industry began to boom. By the late 1800s the New York Coffee Exchange officially opened, and within a few decades, the variety in coffee drinks had exploded.

   By 1995, coffee had become the world’s most popular beverage, with billions of cups being consumed each year.

   Many of these cups will be consumed by desperate college students, hoping the alert quality of caffeine will save them from the sleep deprivation that studying can cause.

   One college student just drank a large helping of Starbucks while writing over 900 words about the history of coffee, and hopes the caffeine gods will take this article as a tribute, and bless us all with the energy to survive finals.

   Good luck this week everyone, may the odds be ever in your favor!

Cerridwyn Kuykendall
Managing Editor

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