It began in Africa with horny dancing Ethiopian goats. Legend has it that the very first effects of caffeine were noticed by Ethiopian shepherds who saw their goats eating these plump red coffee berries. Suddenly the animals began to dance and copulate wildly.
These days Some 25 million people around the world now grow it, and roughly 27 million acres are given over to farm it.
Coffee is consumed by the richest countries in the world and made by the poorest. The average Guatemalan coffee picker makes less than $2 a day while there are some that will pay up to a $1000 for a special brew delivered straight from the anus of a wild Sumatran cat. It is the world’s most popular and socially sanctioned psychoactive drug.
But the story of coffee is also the story of modern civilisation, politics and culture.
Coffee owes its popularity directly to the rise of Islam.
Back in the 16th century, as the Ottoman spread throughout the globe so too did their drink of choice - coffee - especially, given alcohol was a no-no. In fact the word coffee is actually derived from an old Arabic word for wine.
By the end of the 17th century, Europe was also hooked. London alone had 2,000 coffeehouses. So much so that the King of England Charles the 2nd tried to ban them arguing that coffee houses were where people met to conspire against him.
An early feminist group also demanded the coffee houses be shut down, saying that the drink was causing their husbands to become snotty, “Frenchified” fellows who had lost all interest in sex. Clearly it didn’t work.
Coffee was too perfect a product for every wannabe colonial power looking to exert their economic might. It was non-perishable, addictive, and conveniently made in places filled with slaves.
The relationship between coffee and slavery are unmistakable. By 1791 half the entire world’s coffee was being made by African slaves working on an island in the Caribbean. The conditions for slaves were so brutal; they burnt the plantations down and declared independence. Today we call that country Haiti.
High-powered politics and coffee have always gone together. (And we are not just talking about how George Washington invented instant coffee. He did, but that's not US President George Washington it is actually a Belgian man who was living in Guatemala at the time.) We're actually talking about the cold war.
Coffee was at the centre of the cold war. The US would use their huge buying power to poor Latin American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador just to make sure they wouldn’t align with soviets.
But why? What is the hold that this humble drink has had over us?
Well the key is these two the adenosine and adenosine receptors in your brain. They want to be together, but when you have caffeine in your system it pushes them apart. Your pituitary gland assumes there’s some kind of crisis on and tells the body to produce adrenaline which in turn boosts your dopamine levels and hello caffeine high.
A high that has given rise to empires, nations, corporations and to helping you get out of bed every morning. Because that is the power of coffee.
Graphics by Dan Holohan, Gabriel Virata, and Miller Marshall.