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Food of the Gods: Chocolate, Coffee (mirrored from:

Food of the Gods: Coffee

The eleventh-century Persian polymath Avicenna, who in 1037 became history's first recorded death from opium overdose, was one of the first to write about coffee, though it had been in use for some time in Ethiopia and Arabia, where the source plant occurred wild. On the Arabian peninsula it has long been known that coffee was a plant of marvelous properties. There is even an apocryphal story that when the Prophet lay ill he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who offered him coffee to restore him to health. Because of the plant's long association with the Arabs, Linnaeus, the great Danish naturalist and the inventor of modern scientific taxonomy, named the plant Coffea arabica.

When coffee was first introduced to Europe, it was used as a food or medicine; the oil-rich berries were pulverized and mixed with fat. Later ground coffee was mixed into wine and cooked to provide what must have been a quite stimulating and intense refreshment. Coffee was not brewed as a drink until around 1100 in Europe, and only in the thirteenth century did the modern practice of roasting coffee beans begin in Syria.

Though coffee was an Old World plant and was used in some circles a long time before tea, nevertheless tea cleared the way for the popularity of coffee. Their stimulant properties made caffeine in coffee and its close cousin theobromine in tea the ideal drugs for the Industrial Revolution: they provided an energy lift, enabling people to keep working at repetitious tasks that demanded concentration. Indeed, the tea and coffee break is the only drug ritual that has never been criticized by those who profit from the modern industrial state. Nevertheless, it is well established that coffee is addictive, causes stomach ulcers, can aggravate heart conditions, and can cause irritability and insomnia and, in excessive doses, even tremors and convulsions.


Coffee has not been without its detractors, but they have always been in the minority. Coffee was widely blamed for the death of the French minister Colbert, who died of stomach cancer. Goethe blamed his habitual Gaffe latte for his chronic melancholia and his attacks of anxiety. Coffee has also been blamed for causing what Lewin called "an excessive state of brain-excitation which becomes manifest by a remarkable loquaciousness sometimes accompanied by accelerated association of ideas. It may also be observed in coffee house politicians who drink cup after cup of black coffee and by this abuse are inspired to profound wisdom on all earthly events."

The tendency to excessive raving after coffee drinking apparently lay behind several edicts against coffee issued in Europe in 1511. The prince of Waldeck pioneered an early version of the drug-snitch program when he offered a reward of ten thalers to anyone who would report a coffee drinker to the authorities. Even servants were rewarded if they informed on employers who had sold them coffee. By 1777, however; authorities in continental Europe recognized the suitability of coffee for use by the pillars of dominator society: the clergy and the aristocracy. Punishment for a coffee offense by members of less privileged classes was usually a public caning followed by fines.

And, of course, coffee was once widely suspected of causing impotence: It has frequently been stated that the drinking of coffee diminishes sexual excitability and gives rise to sterility. Though this is a mere fable, it was believed in former times. Olearius says in the account of his travels that the Persians drink "the hot, black water Chawae" whose property it is "to sterilize nature and extinguish carnal desires." A sultan was so greatly attracted by coffee that he became tired of his wife. The latter one day saw a stallion being castrated and declared that it would be better to give the animal coffee, and then it would be in the same state as her husband. The Princess Palatine Elizabeth Charlotte of Orleans, the mother of the dissipated Regent Philip II, wrote to her sister: "Coffee is not so necessary for Protestant ministers as for Catholic priests, who are not allowed to marry and must remain chaste .... I am surprised that so many people like coffee, for it has a bitter and a bad taste. I think it tastes exactly like foul breath.""

The physician-explorer Rauwolf of Augsburg, who later became the discoverer of the first tranquilizer, the plant extract rauwolfia, found coffee apparently long established and widely traded in Asia Minor and Persia when he visited the area in the mid-1570s. Accounts such as Rauwolf's soon made coffee a fad. Coffee was introduced in Paris in 1643, and within thirty years there were over 250 coffee houses in the city. In the years immediately preceding the French Revolution there were nearly 2,000 coffee establishments operating. If wild talk is the mother of revolution, then certainly coffee and coffee houses must be its midwife.

Food of the Gods: Chocolate

The introduction of chocolate into Europe is almost no more than a coda to the craze for caffeine stimulation that began with the Industrial Revolution. Chocolate, made from the ground beans of a native Amazonian tree, Theobroma cacao, contains only small amounts of caffeine but is rich in caffeine's near-relative theobromine. Both are chemicals with close relatives that occur endogenously in normal human metabolism. Like caffeine, theobromine is a stimulant, and the addictive potential of chocolate is significant. "

Cacao trees had been introduced into central Mexico from tropical South America centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. There they had a major sacramental role in Maya and Aztec religion. The Maya also used cacao beans as the equivalent of money. The Aztec ruler Montezuma was said to be seriously addicted to ground cacao; he drank his chocolate unsweetened in a cold water infusion. A mixture of ground chocolate and psilocybin containing mushrooms was served to the guests at the coronation feast of Montezuma II in 1502.

Cortes was informed of the existence of cacao by his mistress, a Native American woman named Dona Marina, who had been given to Cortes as one of nineteen young women offered in tribute by Montezuma. Assured by Dona Marina that cacao was a powerful aphrodisiac, Cortes was eager to begin cultivation of the plant; he wrote to the emperor Charles V: "On the lands of one farm two thousand trees have been planted; the fruits are similar to almonds and are sold in a powdered state."'

Shortly thereafter, chocolate was imported into Spain, where it was soon extremely popular. Nevertheless the spread of chocolate was slow, perhaps because so many new stimulants were then vying for European attention. Chocolate did not appear in Italy or the Law Countries until 1606; it reached France and England only in the 1650s. Except for a brief period during the reign of Frederick II, when it became the favorite vehicle for poisons used by professional poisoners, chocolate has steadily increased in popularity and annual tonnage produced.

It is extraordinary that in the relatively short span of two centuries four stimulants-sugar, tea, coffee, and chocolate-could have emerged out of local obscurity and become a basis for vast mercantile empires, defended by the greatest military powers ever known to that time and supported by the newly reintroduced practice of slavery. Such is the power of "the cup that cheers, but not inebriates."

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Bot's analysis of: "The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse" the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Demand Reduction Section, May 2014
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