The wild one

In the lead-up to Monday's election, coffee and coffee houses were rarely mentioned, if at all. Although it's highly doubtful those that ran consider coffee and coffee houses a threat to the status quo and society at large, at various times in history the two have given the powers that be cause for concern: either as breeding grounds for lax morals and sedition, or reviled as a stimulus for rebellion, as well as the go-go juice of the devil.

Coffee is basically the Rolling Stones of non-alcoholic beverages. But it's such a beloved beverage, those who have tried to suppress it have lost; sometimes at great cost.

One of the most famous cautionary tales involves Emir Khair Bey Mimar, a former governor of Mecca in 1511. Physicians are said to have biased the then new governor against coffee, declaring it intoxicating (which, to be fair, it is, but not in the way they meant). The ill-advised (and, so it is said, corrupt) governor heeded his physicians, who had gone so far as to deem coffee a poison, and ordered all of its provisions to be destroyed and anyone caught drinking coffee to be severely punished. The move effectively shut down coffee trade in Constantinople and provoked merchants there to embark on a week-long 'reign of terror'. The sultan of Cairo noticed this. But his doctors and scholars were of a different opinion, and he promptly declared coffee sacred. He also ordered the execution of the governor of Mecca.

The 1500s were a difficult time for coffee lovers in the region, however. These times were known as the "coffee persecutions". Nevertheless, people still drank in private despite the occasional decree not to.

According to "All about Coffee" by William Harrison Ukers: "One of the most interesting facts in the history of the coffee drink is that wherever it has been introduced it has spelled revolution. It has been the world's most radical drink in that its function has always been to make people think. And when the people began to think, they became dangerous to tyrants and to foes of liberty of thought and action."

Is it the coffee though, is it really?

According to various scientific studies, coffee is more likely to cause an addiction to coffee than anything else, and even has a pacifying effect. Caffeine mimics a naturally occurring chemical called adenosine that our brains produce, monitored by our nervous systems through receptors, which adenosine binds to. Like melatonin, adenosine helps to determine our sleep schedule by building up over the course of the day to make us feel sleepy by day's end. But because our nerve cells can't tell caffeine apart from adenosine due to their structural similarities, caffeine is able to plug up receptors adenosine would normally bind to and block its ability to make us feel drowsy. Our brains produce more adenosine receptors in response, thus more caffeine is required to block the greater number of receptors the brain has grown - this is why coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to caffeine and why it takes more and more caffeine to produce the illusion of alertness: the slowing of the adenosine reaction.

Paradoxically, coffee makes us sleepier in the long run, but its effects are quite potent in the moment and have led many throughout time to over-caffeinate and reflect on its measure with great excitement. Strangely enough, lifestyle guru and ex-con Martha Stewart might have something here in regards to the deeper thrall of coffee. Looking back on her five months in jail for obstructing a federal securities investigation, she said:

"We’d asked the [prison] guards every day for cappuccino. You know, just as a joke. And they’d come in with their cups of coffee and stuff. And so I get here and I have a spot for a cappuccino machine, and it didn’t work. So I don’t have any cappuccino … I didn’t miss the cappuccino, I missed the idea of cappuccino."

An idea Martha Stewart, who opened her own cafe in New York City earlier this year, is no longer forbidden: "Martha's Blend" anyone?


Lisa Peryman
Lisa Peryman


Lisa Peryman has worked with Greenpeace Australia and The Wilderness Society (Australia). She studied journalism in New Zealand and book and magazine publishing in Canada. Her background includes reporting and editing for daily newspapers and trade magazines, as well as creative copywriting for broadcast. Lisa is continuing her studies in Canada and currently works with Probe International as an editor and writer. Earnings from Green Beanery operations support the work of Probe International, a Canadian charity that works with citizens' groups around the world to protect their lands and their livelihoods. Probe International is a Canadian trust.