I grew up drinking tea, not coffee. This will, no doubt, come as a shock to my kids or anyone who has known me only as an adult; unlike many of my peers, I didn’t begin drinking gallons of black coffee to stay awake to study in high school or even in college. I drank plenty of Lipton tea, but no coffee.
From the time I was about 11 or 12 years old, my dear sweet mother awakened me every morning by gently opening my bedroom door and softly calling “Tea Time” at which point, I would stumble to the breakfast table and down a couple of cups, hot, sweetened with sugar, and softened with cream. Like the English, my mother felt that whatever ailed you, tea was the best medicine. Headache? Cup of tea. Queasy stomach? Cup of tea. Cold or flu? Cup of tea. Broken heart? Cup of tea.
(I’ve gotta admit it’s by far more pleasant than my Great Aunt Nell’s remedy for everything, which was a dose of Milk of Magnesia. )
No, it wasn’t until I was a junior in med school–on my feet from early morning until late at night, no time to eat, up all night on call–that I learned to even tolerate coffee, much less like it. But I soon saw the lay of the land. Every ward desk/nurses’ station in a hospital has a coffee pot going 24/7/365. For a small donation to the coffee kitty–then a buck a week–one could imbibe limitless coffee all day and night. Where I trained, at least, tea could only be had down in the cafeteria (in the hospital basement and a long schlep away) at a cost of nearly a buck a cup. Coffee was hot, cheap, and available. I acquiesced at work; at home, I stuck to tea.
But then, something subtle and mysterious occurred. I found I actually liked coffee, that I actually looked forward to getting to the ward to get a cup of it. Bit by bit coffee drinking supplanted my tea habit and a true coffee junkie was born. Nowadays, I’m rarely seen without a cup of coffee in my hand.
The switch brought with it an unexpected benefit. From a habit developed in childhood, I heavily sweetened my tea. Back in the good ole days, the only artificial sweetener commercially available in cute little packets was saccharine, which I’ve never been able to get used to, so it was nothing but the full-strength white crystal for me. Since I prefer only cream in my coffee, switching saved me a ton of calories. Although, I made the change more as a matter of economics and convenience than taste, the swap from tea to coffee helped me tame the evil sugar fairy.
But then, history notes that I’m not the only one who adopted coffee out of economic necessity. The American colonies, which were founded by a bunch of tea drinking Englishmen, made the switch as a political statement against the excessive cost of tea. To counter the unfair taxes imposed on tea by King George, the Continental Congress declared coffee the national drink of the colonies and drinking it became a patriotic duty. Their political statement forever changed the way America wakes up–well that and a famous little shipboard tea party in the Boston Harbor, but that’s another tale.
At the time, coffee was fairly new to our shores, although there’s disagreement on exactly when and how it came. Some accounts claim Sir John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) introduced it upon his arrival circa 1600; other stories recount that in 1723 a Frenchman stole and transplanted one lone coffee plant into the fertile soil of Martinique, from which stock allegedly sprang an estimated 90% of the new world’s coffee trees. (Interested readers can find more interesting coffee factoids, as I did, by clickinghere and here.)
However it occurred, suffice it to say, that by some means, it got here and within a century or so, took the place by storm, which seems fast until you compare it to the rise of Starbucks and with it a love affair with coffee that has some folks worried. A large contingent of people (I am not among them) believes–or at least wants us to believe–that coffee is responsible for every imaginable human ill.
Such vilification is nothing new in the history of coffee drinking. In the 1600s, the Catholic pious sought to have coffee banned as being a ‘devil’s brew’, requiring papal intervention to save it; in 18th century Germany, women were forbidden to drink coffee because it was thought to render them sterile, in modern times it’s been fingered as a possible cause of everything from breast cysts to colon cancer. But times change, and when coffee has been examined under the bright light of reasoned scientific inquiry (not indicted from the shadowy realm of epidemiologic guilt by association) it has usually come away clean. The most recent research even points to pronounced health benefits from coffee drinking, namely reduction of risk for diabetes, colon, breast, and other cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent news article by Michael Granberry, entitled “Is there a health problem when your coffee cup runneth overtime?” beautifully lays out the pros and cons of our national fascination with Starbucks and the debate that rages over whether coffee drinking is a good thing or a bad thing. To read it in its entirety, clickhere.
Since my conversion, I have loved the stuff through thick and think, through bad press and (now) good. Perhaps, they had it right in the 15th Century, when Ottoman Turkish law decreed that a woman could legally divorce her husband for not providing a proper daily quota of coffee.
So fire up the machine, honey, and make mine a double, will ya’? I haven’t quite had my quota today.