Where I come from, people are mostly drinkers of coffee, rather than tea. Coffee is for just about anyone–from blue-collar workers who need a zing to start their day, to yuppies who hang out at cafÃ©s, and of course us writers who need to stay up through nights just to meet deadlines and jack up creativity.
Tea, meanwhile, is for health buffs, and for those who have been influenced by other cultures into adopting tea drinking as a habit, instead of the good ol’ coffee. Or at least that’s the prevailing belief.
There are those that warn of the evils of coffee drinking. It’s bad for you, they say–the caffeine, the acidity, the addiction. But studies have proven that they’re the same banana (or drink, rather?). Coffee and tea are both stimulants and both are caffeine-based. They can both kill you, if you take in too much. But then again both have health benefits, when taken in moderation.
Reading up on the topic, I’ve come across an enjoyable read from Malcolm Gladwell about the cultural implications of coffee: Java Man. The article is a bit long, but it would interest you if you’re into world history, and how seemingly mundane objects can influence the turn of events.
One of the things that have always made drugs so powerful is their cultural adaptability, their way of acquiring meanings beyond their pharmacology. We think of marijuana, for example, as a drug of lethargy, of disaffection. But in Colombia, the historian David T. Courtwright points out in “Forces of Habit” (Harvard; $24.95), “peasants boast that cannabis helps them to quita el cansancio or reduce fatigue; increase their fuerza and Ã¡nimo, force and spirit; and become incansable, tireless.”
[A]s Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer remind us in their marvellous new book “The World of Caffeine” (Routledge; $27.50), there is no drug quite as effortlessly adaptable as caffeine, the Zelig of chemical stimulants.
At one moment, in one form, it is the drug of choice of cafÃ© intellectuals and artists; in another, of housewives; in another, of Zen monks; and, in yet another, of children enthralled by a fat man who slides down chimneys.
Hey, apparently, coffee is not only enjoyed for its taste, and for its stimulating factor, but it might have even helped spark wars, overthrows, and other major historical events our world has known.
Caffeine is the best and most useful of our drugs because in every one of its forms it can answer that question precisely. It is a stimulant that blocks the action of adenosine, and comes in a multitude of guises, each with a ready-made story attached, a mixture of history and superstition and whimsy which infuses the daily ritual of adenosine blocking with meaning and purpose. Put caffeine in a red can and it becomes refreshing fun. Brew it in a teapot and it becomes romantic and decorous. Extract it from little brown beans and, magically, it is hardheaded and potent. “There was a little known Russian Ã©migrÃ©, Trotsky by name, who during World War I was in the habit of playing chess in Vienna’s CafÃ© Central every evening,” Bealer and Weinberg write, in one of the book’s many fascinating cafÃ© yarns:
A typical Russian refugee, who talked too much but seemed utterly harmless, indeed, a pathetic figure in the eyes of the Viennese. One day in 1917 an official of the Austrian Foreign Ministry rushed into the minister’s room, panting and excited, and told his chief, “Your excellency . . . Your excellency . . . Revolution has broken out in Russia.” The minister, less excitable and less credulous than his official, rejected such a wild claim and retorted calmly, “Go away . . . Russia is not a land where revolutions break out. Besides, who on earth would make a revolution in Russia? Perhaps Herr Trotsky from the CafÃ© Central?”
The minister should have known better. Give a man enough coffee and he’s capable of anything.
So are you a coffee drinker, or a tea drinker? Or perhaps you prefer something else? Whatever your favorites are, keep in mind that there might be a deep history behind that particular item (beverage, food, or whatever), and that the world might not be the same today without it.