Coffee History and Healthiness

Revision 10
© 2012-2018 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.

Its arrival in Europe and the New World

The exact circumstances of the discovery of the coffee bush (or shrub) are lost to time. Lacking precise details, people have always credited its discovery to a shepherd boy in 8th century Ethiopia who it is said noticed that his goats were especially energic after eating coffee berries.

Coffee had arrived early in Turkey because of the Ottoman Empire and trade with Egypt which was a major coffee market.

Coffee first arrived in Europe in the 1650's. In fact, coffee, tea, and cocoa all arrived in Western Europe at roughly the same time, give or take 10 years.

In London, coffee had been consumed since at least year 1652.

Many cafés in Paris sprung up to sell coffee drinks and food. Names included Café Laurant, English Café, Café de la Paix, Café Durand, Café Guerbois, Café Madrid, and le Chat Noir.

Coffee arrived soon after in the Thirteen Colonies that preceded the United States.

In the colonies, one of the first known licenses to sell coffee went to a woman named Dorothy Jones in Boston in the Massachusetts Colony in the year 1670.

The Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam located at present-day Manhattan probably received tea before they got coffee.

After the English took over Manhattan and named it New York City coffee was being drunk as early as the year 1668.

William Penn, whose settlement became Pennsylvania was recorded to have bought coffee in New York in the year 1683.

Early politics of coffee

Coffee's early history was plagued with prohibitions. Coffee drinkers gained the reputation for having political discussions when they met up at coffee houses. Coffee-fueled debates become fashionable wherever coffee arrived.

Before the spread of democracy, leaders were paranoid of such public debates, in the way that the rich are paranoid about the Internet today. Topics like freedom, oppression and the distribution of wealth have always made autocrats far more jittery than caffeine ever could.

In contrast to coffee, beer was encouraged by the powerful, because drunk people in theory and in practice endeavor to drink away their worries, rather than debate them or seek out political solutions.

The French Revolution unofficially began when an activist stood on a table at Café de Foy in Paris and gave a speech that, two days later, led to the storming of the Bastille.

Coffee bush varieties

There are two main species of coffee bush that are harvested:

Coffea arabica:
Good flavor but pricey. Common in Americas, Europe and Middle East.
Coffea canephora robusta:
poor flavor but cheaper. Predominant in Asia where coffee is not popular.

Plant diseases

Coffea arabica is susceptible to two fungi that robusta is largely immune to:

  • Hemileia vastatrix
  • Colletotrichum coffeanum

However both arabica and robusta are affected by the coffee berry borer beetle Hypothenemus hampei.

Some coffee species, such as Coffea kapakata, are resistant to the berry borer.

Because of these vulnerabilities, coffee is a very pesticide-laden product unless prepared using organic farming methods.

Caffeine health effects

Different people react differenly to caffeine. Some react differently to coffee than to tea.


The acidity of coffee attacks the teeth, which if you have gum recession can be very harmful. It also upsets the stomach and can increase acid reflux, which harms the esophagus and may increase the risk of esophageal cancer.


Caffeine is the main reason to drink coffee, other than flavor and antioxidants, but caffeine is an ototoxic chemical, meaning it harms the hearing system. The damage that it does will usually manifest itself as temporary ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

Other common drugs that are ototoxic include ibuprofen, tylenol and aspirin. Alcohol can cause tinnitus as well.

Bladder irritation

Caffeine, like alcohol, irritates the bladder and can therefore worsen a urinary tract infection.

Blood circulation in the brain

One aspect of morning caffeine withdrawal is that the user can experience an inability to think before they get their fix. FMRI scans of caffeine users' brains show that this is due to reduced blood flow within the brain before they get their fix. Consuming caffeine, or giving up caffeine entirely, increases blood flow.

The long-term effects of periodically reducing brain blood flow may be brain damage, although it seems that ceasing caffeine intake puts you on the road to recovery. This is according to Dr Daniel G. Amen of the University of California Irvine.


Everyone experiences fluid loss. Caffeine disrupts ADH, or anti-diuertic hormone, and as a result it makes you need to pee. Excessive caffeine use can cause a dry mouth. Dehydration from caffeine can itself cause headaches.


Caffeine disrupts a neurotransmitter that normally makes you sleepy, thereby waking you up.

Lack of caffeine causes withrawal symptoms such as increased sleepiness, and a quick temper or emotional swings.

Some people, when they consume small amounts of caffeine, actually become more sleepy.


Tendonitis is worsened and prolonged by caffeine consumption.

Joint inflammation

Caffeine can cause a small inflammation of the body's joints, resulting in their not moving as well, including the jaw.

Blindness risk

Long-term consumption of 3 cups of coffee per day has been shown to be correlated with exfoliation glaucoma, which can cause blindness.

Reasons to avoid coffeehouses