episode #89 caffeine part one: coffee

Marine Lake, West Kirby

Coffee is cited as the “most widely used psychoactive substance in the world” with it’s effects akin to cocaine. Chemically, caffeine is an alkaloid, falling in the same category as cocaine, nicotine, codeine & morphine. It is safe to say that, however we look at it, caffeine affects the brain.

Caffeine is contained in more than sixty plants, which is a remarkable number, thus it has been hypothesised that caffeine was originally a minor nutrient, not essential for the plant, but extremely useful as a pesticide. In fact, caffeine is toxic for several insects and animals, especially herbivores. 

Many caffeine-containing beverages and products exist and contain significant amounts of the substance, for example, tea, chocolate, cocoa beverages, soft drinks, and energy drinks… People use caffeine for the effects that it has on nerve cells of the brain. These effects include increased alertness, energy, and concentration. About two-thirds of daily caffeine consumption come from drinking coffee. How long the effects of caffeine last vary from person to person depending on how sensitive they are to caffeine.  Caffeine has a half-life of about three to seven hours. Half-life is the time that half of the caffeine’s effect has worn off by being removed from your system.  For most people the effects of caffeine last about six hours.

There are several legendary accounts of the origin of the drink itself. One account involves a 9th-century Ethiopian goat-herder named Kaldi, the ancestors of today’s Kaffa people in a region of Kaffa Ethiopia. Kaldi lived in the central highlands of Ethiopia, the native home of the coffee plant, possibly as early as the 6th century CE. According to tradition, he noticed that when his goats ate the red, cherry-like fruit of a certain plant, they became so energetic from eating the berries that they wouldn’t sleep at night. So, he tried the fruit himself and experienced a similar effect. Apparently, he enjoyed it and showed to an abbot of the local monastery. The abbot tried the berries out for himself and turned them into a drink. Word of this amazing fruit spread quickly across northeast Africa and into the Arabian Peninsula, where it became a dietary staple.

The people of the Arabian Peninsula loved their coffee, which they called qahwah

“The Canon of Medicine”, written in 1025 by the Persian physician Avicenna, is the first text mentioning coffee as a medication. At the time, coffee was used to “clean the skin, dry up the humidities that are under it, and give a better odor to the body”.

Another historical evidence surrounding these miracle berries can be found in the 15th century. Coffee was first exported out of Ethiopia to Yemen by Somali merchants from Berbera and Zeila, which was procured from Harar and the Abyssinian interior.It is known that coffee was cultivated in the Yemen district of the Arabian Peninsula in the 15th century. There is also evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree from the early 16th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen, spreading soon to Mecca and Medinae. Sufis in Yemen used the beverage as an aid to concentration and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God. Coffee started to make its way throughout the world. Coffee became a real hit in Persia, Turkey, Egypt and Syria. However, it would not be discovered in Europe until the 17th century.

Coffee was first introduced to Europe in Hungary when the Turks invaded Hungary at the Battle of Mohács in 1526. 

Within a year, coffee had reached Vienna by the same Turks who fought the Europeans at the Siege of Vienna (1529). The first coffeehouse in Austria opened in Vienna in 1683 after the Battle of Vienna, by using supplies from the spoils obtained after defeating the Turks. Today world-famous personalities such as Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, James Joyce and Egon Schiele were inspired in the Viennese coffee house. This special multicultural atmosphere and culture was largely destroyed by the later National Socialism and Communism and only survived in individual places such as Vienna or Trieste. 

Later in the 16th century, coffee was introduced on the island of Malta through slavery. Turkish Muslim slaves had been imprisoned by the Knights of St John in 1565—the year of the Great Siege of Malta, and they used them to make their traditional beverage. Coffee was a popular beverage in Maltese high society—many coffee shops opened.

In 1580 the Venetian botanist and physician Prospero Alpini imported coffee into the Republic of Venice from Egypt,and soon coffee shops started opening one by one when coffee spread and became the drink of the intellectuals, of social gatherings, even of lovers as plates of chocolate and coffee were considered a romantic gift. By the year 1763 Venice alone accounted for more than 200 shops, and the health benefits of the miraculous drink were celebrated by many.Some people reacted to this new beverage with suspicion or fear, calling it the “bitter invention of Satan.” The local clergy condemned coffee when it came to Venice in 1615. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. He decided to taste the beverage for himself before making a decision, and found the drink so satisfying that he gave it papal approval.

Despite such controversy, coffee houses were quickly becoming centres of social activity and communication in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland. In England “penny universities” sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation.  

According to Leonhard Rauwolf’s 1583 account, coffee became available in England no later than the 16th century, largely through the efforts of the Levant Company.The first coffeehouse in England was opened in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, London. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods. Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. 

The Arabian Peninsula was the centre of international trade in the medieval world, and by roughly the 17th century merchants had introduced the drink to Europe. The Dutch Empire in particular found great success and wealth by planting the beans in their colonies of Indonesia, starting with an island called Java. The Dutch were also the first to call the drink koffie, likely from the Turkish name for it, kahveh.

Coffee began to replace the common breakfast drink beverages of the time — beer and wine. Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and energised, and not surprisingly, the quality of their work was greatly improved. 

By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted like-minded patrons, including merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.

Many businesses grew out of these specialised coffee houses. Lloyd’s of London, for example, came into existence at the Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.

In the 19th century a well-known consumer was Honoré De Balzac. Saying that he loved the coffee is not enough. He was completely dependent on it and in the period in which he wrote “The Human Comedy” he went on to drink up to 50 cups a day. In 1830, he published an article in a French magazine called “Pleasures and pains of coffee”, which recounted: “coffee slips into the stomach and you immediately feel a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army on the field of the battle and the battle takes place. Memories come at a gallop, carried by the wind”. 

The use of caffeine to stay awake and alert is a long-standing habit. Coffee is the most popular beverage after water and is consumed worldwide in daily amounts of approximately 1.6 billion cups, which is quite an impressive figure. According to reports from consumers of coffee and other caffeinated products, caffeine withdrawal is often characterised by a headache, fatigue, feeling less alert, less energetic and experiencing difficulty concentrating. Caffeine withdrawal is at its worst between 24 to 48 hours and lasts up to a week.

Research suggests that a lifelong, regular and moderate intake of coffee/caffeine may have an effect on physiological, age-related cognitive decline: in women, and those over 80 years old in particular. Moderate coffee consumption is typically defined as 3-5 cups per day, based on the European Food Safety Authority’s review of caffeine safety. Please, keep in mind that caffeine is also in tea, thus… limit caffeine drinks proportionally.

Recent studies suggest that habitual coffee consumption may help maintain cognitive function in older adults, particularly in women. Research has also investigated the effects of coffee on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Furthermore, caffeine abuse and dependence are becoming more and more common and can lead to caffeine intoxication, which puts individuals at risk for premature and unnatural death. A daily cup of joe is probably not a problem, but more than 3-4 cups of caffeine, which is metabolised in your hard-working liver, may raise a few issues.


Prince: Starfish and Coffee

Vanessa Paradis: Dans mon café

Kraftwerk: Electric Cafe

Boards of Canada: Energy Warning

Superlounger: Super Lounge

Nils Krogh: Things We Do

Spengler: Good Things

Ella Fitzgerald: Black Coffee

Bonobo: Noctuary

City Of Prague Philharmonic: High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin’)

A community radio midnight show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass is aired Sunday, Tuesday and Friday night at midnight (GMT), that means you stay late on Saturday, Monday and Thursday. A new episode is aired every Sunday midnight on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.