Cultural Caffeine

Publication Year: 
2005

It was less than 200 years ago that people first figured out that the buzz they got from coffee and tea was the same buzz, produced by the same chemical agent. An alkaloid that occurs naturally in the leaves, seed, and fruit of tea, coffee, cacao, kola trees and more than 60 other plants, this ancient wonder drug had been prescribed for human use as far back as the sixth century B.C., when the great spiritual leader Lao-tzu is said to have recommended tea as an elixir for disciples of his new religion, Taoism.ΒΈ
But it wasn't until 1820, after coffee shops had proliferated in western Europe, that a new breed of scientist began to wonder what it was that made this drink so popular. The German chemist Friedlieg Ferdinand Runge first isolated the drug in the coffee bean. The newly discovered substance was dubbed "caffeine," meaning something found in coffee. Then, in 1830 chemists discerned that the effective ingredient in tea was the same substance as Runge's caffeine. Before the end of the century the same drug would be found in kola nuts and cacao.
It's hardly a coincidence that coffee and tea caught on in Europe just as the first factories were ushering in the industrial revolution. The widespread use of caffeinated drinks -- replacing the ubiquitous beer-- facilitated the great transformation of human economic endeavour from the farm to the factory. Boiling water to make coffee or tea helped decrease the incidence of disease among workers in crowded cities. And the caffeine in their systems keot them from falling asleep over the machinery. IN a sense, caffeine is the drug that made the modern world possible. And the more modern out world gets, the more we seem to need it. Without that useful jolt of coffee, or Diet Coke or Red Bull-- to get us out of bed and back to work, the 24-hour society of the developed world couldn't exist.

-Text from National Geographic, Caffeine, January 2005, Reid, T.R.
-Image from http://www.tea.co.uk/

coffee, house, industrial
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