We submit that the entirety of Western Enlightenment, from the time of Thomas Aquinas, through Industrialism, all the way to the Age of Technology that permeates and permits you to read this webpage today is all thanks to coffee.
Indubitably a bold statement, and not just because we put it in bold above. Here we lay the case before you.
Slavery and its descendant serfdom were the primary economic drivers of civilizations of yore. From the time before time, peoples were obliged to build many a metropolis and its monuments. Look to the Egyptian pyramids, the expanse of the British Empire shouldered by the subjugates they colonized with their navy, or the Roman dominance where all roads leading to it were built by the very hands that raised white flags in surrender. The assumption is that all empires were built from military power, and while overwhelming strength of armies can cause a state to succumb to outside tyranny, sustained rule calls for a more potent and insidious weapon - booze.
The opiate of the masses.
Herein, we make the argument that ancient history and medieval times were characterized by the human reliance on alcohol.
[Firstly, it must be stated, we assure you we are great fans of alcohol and its virtues. Craft beers and fine whiskeys are dietary staples. We are only going to explain the role of common pilsners in the perpetuation of a society of idolatry and compliance - and also support coffee as the perfect counterpart and antidote that allows any bacchanal to survive and thrive without sacrificing your ability to meet for brunch the following morning.]
Long before the advent of currency and other symbols of worth - such as shells, paper money, or bitcoin - workers were paid in beer. The aforementioned pyramid-builders are no longer thought to have been slaves, but they were beholden to their pharaohs for taxes, and were paid in jars of the sudsy stuff. Similarly, throughout the rest of written history, people living in populated areas were precluded from drinking public water sources for fear of dysentery, cholera, and all manner of other water-borne diseases that would nearly certainly kill them. Consequently, throughout the ancient Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, people of all statuses sought potable thirst-quenching via alcohol. The act of fermentation ensured that dangerous microbes were excluded, and a safe source of hydration and nutrition was obtained.
As well as a bit of a buzz.
A perpetual buzz even.
This might have made for a heartier band of laborers, ones that weren't subjected to bouts of deadly stomach illnesses, but it also meant that for millennia humanity soldiered on in a perpetual fog of inebriation.
And then - coffee.
The Ethiopians discovered the invigorating effects first. But the Arabs commercialized its production and incorporated it into their way of life. It makes sense then that during the same era that is dubbed "The Dark Ages" in Europe, the Middle East was flourishing. They were specialists, reaching their knowledge into the many realms of discovery. From mathematics, to physics, to trade, to tapestries, to architecture, to philosophy, to medicine, and beyond - the Arab World advanced understanding by forsaking booze and instead hoarding and exulting their beloved coffee.
While beer and wine are depressants, slowing the mind and nullifying productivity, the stimulant effects of coffee sent the Middle East through a time of great economic and scientific expansion.
It wasn’t until trade opened with Europe and viable coffee plants were eventually smuggled to the Western World, that Europe was able to have its Renaissance, and Enlightenment, and Revolutions. Coffee had been unleashed upon the rest of the world and now cafes blossomed as centers of thought and Westerners could finally catch up and participate in the expansion of thinking that the Arab peninsula had been monopolizing.
Drawing this line outward, it is interesting how contemporary trends in British popular culture shifted attentions towards tea, at precisely the same time that American Revolution set itself against all things Empirical with abhorrence. This meant that tea had to go, so it was thrown overboard into a Boston harbor.
Without tea, the American Patriots needed a worthy substitute to help them focus while they manufactured Democracy - enter again, coffee.
Its initial virtue being solely that it was not tea, the American Revolutionaries took immediately to coffee. Roasters set up production in all the Colonial capitals and the soldiers boiled their grounds in the same manner that would inspire the cowboys in the following generations as they manifested destiny by claiming expansion towards the Pacific.
Once the other ocean had been reached and America stretched from one shining to the other, the industry of the United States applied assembly-line-efficiency to their daily cup o' joe and created instant coffee. This brought coffee into the home as a foodstuff and it was no longer viewed as a commodity, just an everyday commonplace component of the kitchen cupboard.
The ready availability of coffee-in-a-can served Leave-It-To-Beaver America well. It was dependable and simple.
As the 21st Century arose, however, consumerism thankfully gave way to an appreciation of craftsmanship, and again the perceptions surrounding coffee changed. The 1990s recognized coffee's historical import as an agent for social discussion - it had facilitated revolution in the salons of Enlightenment Europe, colonial Americas, and helped the world rebuild after rebuffing fascism. That then led to a deeper introspection and appreciation for coffee itself. Artisanship supplanted quantity, and the quality of the coffee began to be appreciated. People were beginning to see coffee as more than just a cheap caffeine fix, and became conscientious of its origin, roasting, and preparation.
The sophisticated coffee drinker is riding at the vanguard of this shift in thinking. In the same way that the craft beer movement has gained a groundswell of support, people are becoming knowledgeable enough to care about how their coffee is made and by whom. Individuals are understanding how growing conditions, the varietal of arabica, the roasting profile, and brew methods can all come together to create a cup that jives with their personal tastes.
This is an rousing development in coffee.
It brings a lot of passion to the industry, to be sure. It also reaps big benefits for everyone from farmer to coffee drinker. The farmers are given fairer pay for each kilo harvested that achieves the specialty grade, commercial methods that destroy forests’ ecosystems and lack sustainability are not supported, local cafes are able to establish footholds in communities and support their respective economies, and the consumer is able to enjoy better tasting coffee that is actually healthier for them because it roasted optimally and delivered fresh off-roast.
As exciting new frontiers in coffee are being explored - in cafes and kitchens, and on mountainsides and in rainforests, and in roasteries and brewlabs - it is clear the near future is ripe with possibility. But it will be up to you, dear reader, to venture off and make daily excursions into the recesses of your cup, to dive in and discover the deepest nuances, to geek out on the origins and altitudes, on the processing method and the roast profiles. It falls squarely on you to pull your friends into the enticing world of coffee, and spread the good word.
Here Be Dragons.