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What gave rise to the widespread popularity of coffee?

What gave rise to the widespread popularity of coffee?

What gave rise to the widespread popularity of coffee? For example, was it a marketing effort by countries with colonies that were suitable for growing coffee? Were there supposed health benefits that made it popular? Was it popularized specifically for its caffeine content?

This is kind of a broad question, but I think you should examine what people said about coffee in the early history of the beverage.

"… it drove away fatigue and lethargy, and brought to the body a certain sprightliness and vigour."

--Abd al-Qadir al-Jaziri, 1587, quoted in The World of Caffeine by Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K. Bealer.

"A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach."

-Léonard Rauwolf, Reise in die Morgenländer, 1583, quoted in Wikipedia.

"That which makes for its coldnesse is its stipticknesse. In summer it is by experience found to conduce to the drying of rheumes, and flegmatick coughes and distillations, and the opening of obstructions, and the provocation of urin. It is now known by the name of Kohwah. When it is dried and thoroughly boyled, it allayes the ebullition of the blood, is good against the small poxe and measles, the bloudy pimples; yet causeth vertiginous headheach, and maketh lean much, occasioneth waking, and the Emrods, and asswageth lust, and sometimes breeds melancholly."

--Dr. Edward Pocoke, The Nature of the Drink Kauhi, or Coffee, and the Berry of which it is Made, Described by an Arabian Phisitian, 1659. Quoted in All About Coffee by William H. Ukers, 1922.

The following are also quoted in All About Coffee:

"this drinke they take every morning fasting in their chambers, out of an earthen pot, being verie hote, as we doe here drinke aquacomposita[49] in the morning: and they say that it strengtheneth and maketh them warme, breaketh wind, and openeth any stopping."

-- Bernard Ten Broeke Paludanus, 1590s

"… Drinking a certaine liquor, which they do call Coffe, which is made of seede much like mustard seede, which will soone intoxicate the braine like our Metheglin."

-- William Parry, 1601

Oh, what the heck, here's a collection of the claims made about coffee around that time, from All About Coffee:

  • "Good for the head and stomache."
  • "It causeth good concoction, and driveth away drowsinesse."
  • "… helpeth, as they say, digestion, and procureth alacrity… "
  • "… It is very good to help Digestion, to quicken the Spirits and to cleanse the Blood."
  • "… Comforteth the brain and heart, and helpeth digestion."
  • "… Wholesome, they say, if hot, for it expels melancholy."
  • "… dryeth ill Humours in the stomach, comforteth the Brain, never causeth Drunkenness or any other Surfeit, and is a harmless entertainment of good Fellowship."

So the point here is that you had a lot of people spreading the word about coffee -- suggesting that it drives away fatigue, but also that it had medical benefits. It's a stimulant, and people tend to like stimulants, and this one has a fairly pleasant smell when prepared -- I think word of mouth was probably enough to expand its popularity.


I found the following moment interesting regarding the coffee adoption. The coffee could have been excommunicated from Catholicism but was saved by Pope Clement VIII (1535-1605) and declared as a truly Christian beverage. (Click the quote to see the context of the citation)

"Why, this Satan's drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it, and making it a truly Christian beverage."

by Ukers, William H. (William Harrison), All About Coffee, Gutenberg Edition

I think it's more a question of biology than history. Coffee:

  • Has effects that are almost entirely positive in moderate doses
  • Has effects that can generally be seen as positive for society. (I.e. makes people work harder.)
  • Has no obvious negative effects
  • Is addictive

A substance with those features seems destined for popularity.

The History of Insurance

If risk is like a smoldering coal that may spark a fire at any moment, insurance is civilization's fire extinguisher. The main concept of insurance—that of spreading risk among many—is as old as human existence. Whether it was hunting giant elk in a group to spread the risk of being the one gored to death or shipping cargo in several different caravans to avoid losing the whole shipment to a marauding tribe, people have always been wary of risk. Countries and their citizens need to spread risk among large numbers of people and to move risk to entities that can handle it. This is how insurance emerged.

Key Takeaways

  • What some consider the first written insurance policy was found on an ancient Babylonian monument.
  • In Medieval Europe, the guild system emerged, with members paying into a pool that covered their losses.
  • In 1600s, ships sailing to the New World would secure multiple investors to spread the risk around.
  • The horrific Great Fire of London in 1666 gave rise to fire insurance.
  • Life insurance became more widespread and affordable after the invention of mortality tables, which helped predict longevity.

Coffee and the Civil War

Coffee has had a long and prosperous history with widespread origins, but its consumption during the Civil War, and alternatively, the unique substitutes for the lack of coffee in the Confederacy, were brought to astounding heights. In the United States, coffee wasn’t widely accepted until the American Revolution, when Great Britain implemented taxes and tariffs on imported tea. These tariffs infuriated American colonists, ultimately triggering the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773. As a result, patriots were persuaded to enjoy coffee instead, as tea remained unpatriotic. In a letter to his wife, John Adams declared that he wished for honestly smuggled tea, but when refused and offered coffee instead at an inn in Falmouth, Massachusetts, he stated: “I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced. I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better.” Other patriots followed suit, and as unpalatable as coffee may have once seemed, it became the preferred drink after the Revolution.

“Boston Tea Party” by W.W. Cooper. Engraving in The History of North America, 1789. Library of Congress

In October of 1832, a change in army rations added to the climbing rate of coffee importation: President Andrew Jackson substituted coffee and sugar for a soldier’s daily rations of rum and brandy, citing complaints from military officers of insubordination and accidental injuries from overindulgence. With this modification, the importation of coffee into the US rose from 12 million pounds per year to over 38 million pounds. Coffee became the alternative to alcohol consumption, helping soldiers refuel, stay focused, and push through difficult situations. At the same time, the change in military rations further popularized coffee with the American public, and by 1840, New Orleans had become the second largest importer of coffee in the United States, thanks to its relative location to Brazil. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the United States imported over 182 million pounds of coffee, with New Orleans distributing beans both throughout the Southern states and in to New England.

This large-scale importation of coffee into New Orleans changed as Southern states seceded from the Union in April of 1861. In an attempt to prevent war and bring the rebellious states back into the Union quickly, President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade to all Confederate states one week after secession. The proclamation prevented the trade or purchase of goods, supplies, and weapons into or out of twelve ports throughout the Confederacy. Additionally, any ships, along with any items contained within the vessels, found conducting business with any of the eleven insurgent states would be forfeited to the United States government.

President Abraham Lincoln orders the blockade of the South, 1861. Previously of the Raab Collection

Union general Winfield Scott further expanded on Lincoln’s proclamation of blockading the ports by proposing the Anaconda Plan, not only cutting off trade into the southern ports, but aiming to stop any trade up or down the Mississippi River. Prior to the war, ferrying items up and down the river from New Orleans remained one of the quickest ways to transport and distribute goods into the Southern states. In creating this blockade down the Mississippi River, General Scott’s hope was to not only cut off trade, separating the states from each other but to avoid all-out war and bloodshed as much as possible. The importation and easy movement of coffee, along with sugar, iron, steel, and molasses, came to a halt.

Cartoon illustrating Gen. Winfield Scott’s ‘Anaconda Plan,’1861, by J.B. Elliot. Library of Congress

This double blockade of over 4,000 miles of Southern coast and riverfront up the Mississippi did not have the intended effect General Scott had hoped of ending the war before it officially started, but did apply pressure for the Confederate states to alter their course of action. By negotiating with European contractors and privateers, the Confederacy was able to successfully outrun the Union Navy for a period of time: the large expanse of territory was near impossible for the Union to efficiently patrol, and focusing their efforts on the largest port cities was problematic. In August of 1861, Union Navy officer Lewis H. West complained while on duty in Alexandria that Confederate privateers “could come and go as they please,” successfully navigating the Union blockade and depositing goods to much needed troops. One year later, Lewis hadn’t changed his mind: while serving in Charleston, South Carolina, he wrote in a letter to home: “The blockade is much the same as it always was. There has not been a night for the last two weeks that steamers have not run in and out, not one of which have been captured and so it will probably go to the end.”

Confederate Blockade Runner, Harper’s Weekly, September 3, 1864. Library of Congress

If privateers made it through the blockade, transporting and distributing goods throughout the Southern countryside without being caught became the next task. In 1863, one soldier marching through Shelby, Tennessee, commented, ‘General Wheeler captured and burned three [Confederate] transports on the Cumberland laden with provisions. One of them was loaded with coffee entirely. They cannot depend on getting supplies in this part of the country, for we have nearly consumed nearly all that can be found.’ Despite the Union’s limitations, the blockade had its intended effect as the war progressed, with fewer and fewer supplies making it through to the Confederate troops. As a result, coffee, a staple for many in the South prior to the war, became a luxury for both the troops and for those still on the home front.

How the Potato Changed the World

When potato plants bloom, they send up five-lobed flowers that spangle fields like fat purple stars. By some accounts, Marie Antoinette liked the blossoms so much that she put them in her hair. Her husband, Louis XVI, put one in his buttonhole, inspiring a brief vogue in which the French aristocracy swanned around with potato plants on their clothes. The flowers were part of an attempt to persuade French farmers to plant and French diners to eat this strange new species.

From This Story

Video: Unearthing the History of the Potato

Andean peoples apparently learned to add clay to wild potatoes to neutralize the tubers' natural toxins later they developed nontoxic varieties. (Martin Mejia / AP Images) Marie Antoinette was said to have worn potato blossoms in her hair. (Dagli Orti / Musée du Château de Versailles / Art Archive) Although the potato is now associated with industrial-scale monoculture, the International Potato Center in Peru has preserved almost 5,000 varieties. (Martin Mejia / AP Images) Spanish explorers imitated potato-eaters in South America, often reluctantly. (Mary Evans Picture Library / Everett Collection) Antoine-Augustin Parmentier promoted the potato in France to stop bread riots. (Mary Evans Picture Library / Everett Collection) Ireland's population has yet to recover from the potato blight of 1845-52. (The Granger Collection, New York / The Granger Collection) The bug known as the Colorado potato beetle did not devour potatoes—at first. (Jose B. Ruiz / naturepl.com) When a pigment was found to kill the beetle, the insecticide industry was born. (Theodore Gray) In 40 years, Peru mined about 13 million tons of guano from the Chincha Islands. (Alexander Gardner / NYPL) Chuño—a form of potato frozen, thawed, squeezed and dried—fueled Inca armies. (Eitan Abramovich / AFP / Getty Images)

Photo Gallery

Today the potato is the fifth most important crop worldwide, after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane. But in the 18th century the tuber was a startling novelty, frightening to some, bewildering to others—part of a global ecological convulsion set off by Christopher Columbus.

About 250 million years ago, the world consisted of a single giant landmass now known as Pangaea. Geological forces broke Pangaea apart, creating the continents and hemispheres familiar today. Over the eons, the separate corners of the earth developed wildly different suites of plants and animals. Columbus’ voyages reknit the seams of Pangaea, to borrow a phrase from Alfred W. Crosby, the historian who first described this process. In what Crosby called the Columbian Exchange, the world’s long-separate ecosystems abruptly collided and mixed in a biological bedlam that underlies much of the history we learn in school. The potato flower in Louis XVI’s buttonhole, a species that had crossed the Atlantic from Peru, was both an emblem of the Columbian Exchange and one of its most important aspects.

Compared with grains, tubers are inherently more productive. If the head of a wheat or rice plant grows too big, the plant will fall over, with fatal results. Growing underground, tubers are not limited by the rest of the plant. In 2008 a Lebanese farmer dug up a potato that weighed nearly 25 pounds. It was bigger than his head.

Many researchers believe that the potato’s arrival in northern Europe spelled an end to famine there. (Corn, another American crop, played a similar but smaller role in southern Europe.) More than that, as the historian William H. McNeill has argued, the potato led to empire: “By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.” The potato, in other words, fueled the rise of the West.

Equally important, the European and North American adoption of the potato set the template for modern agriculture—the so-called agro-industrial complex. Not only did the Columbian Exchange carry the potato across the Atlantic, it also brought the world’s first intensive fertilizer: Peruvian guano. And when potatoes fell to the attack of another import, the Colorado potato beetle, panicked farmers turned to the first artificial pesticide: a form of arsenic. Competition to produce ever-more-potent arsenic blends launched the modern pesticide industry. In the 1940s and 1950s, improved crops, high-intensity fertilizers and chemical pesticides created the Green Revolution, the explosion of agricultural productivity that transformed farms from Illinois to Indonesia—and set off a political argument about the food supply that grows more intense by the day.

In 1853 an Alsatian sculptor named Andreas Friederich erected a statue of Sir Francis Drake in Offenburg, in southwest Germany. It portrayed the English explorer staring into the horizon in familiar visionary fashion. His right hand rested on the hilt of his sword. His left gripped a potato plant. “Sir Francis Drake,” the base proclaimed,

disseminator of the potato in Europe
in the Year of Our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
who cultivate the earth
bless his immortal memory.

The statue was pulled down by Nazis in early 1939, in the wave of anti-Semitic and anti-foreign measures that followed the violent frenzy known as Kristallnacht. Destroying the statue was a crime against art, not history: Drake almost certainly did not introduce the potato to Europe. And even if he had, most of the credit for the potato surely belongs to the Andean peoples who domesticated it.

Geographically, the Andes are an unlikely birthplace for a major staple crop. The longest mountain range on the planet, it forms an icy barrier on the Pacific Coast of South America 5,500 miles long and in many places more than 22,000 feet high. Active volcanoes scattered along its length are linked by geologic faults, which push against one another and trigger earthquakes, floods and landslides. Even when the land is seismically quiet, the Andean climate is active. Temperatures in the highlands can fluctuate from 75 degrees Fahrenheit to below freezing in a few hours—the air is too thin to hold the heat.

From this unpromising terrain sprang one of the world’s great cultural traditions. Even as Egyptians built the pyramids, Andeans were erecting their own monumental temples and ceremonial plazas. For millennia, contentious peoples jostled for power from Ecuador to northern Chile. Most famous today are the Inca, who seized much of the Andes in a violent flash, built great highways and cities splendid with gold, then fell to Spanish disease and Spanish soldiers. The mountain cultures differed strikingly from one another, but all were nourished by tuber and root crops, the potato most important.

Wild potatoes are laced with solanine and tomatine, toxic compounds believed to defend the plants against attacks from dangerous organisms like fungi, bacteria and human beings. Cooking often breaks down such chemical defenses, but solanine and tomatine are unaffected by heat. In the mountains, guanaco and vicuña (wild relatives of the llama) lick clay before eating poisonous plants. The toxins stick—more technically, “adsorb”—to the fine clay particles in the animals’ stomachs, passing through the digestive system without affecting it. Mimicking this process, mountain peoples apparently learned to dunk wild potatoes in a “gravy” made of clay and water. Eventually they bred less-toxic potatoes, though some of the old, poisonous varieties remain, favored for their resistance to frost. Clay dust is still sold in Peruvian and Bolivian markets to accompany them.

Edible clay by no means exhausted the region’s culinary creativity. To be sure, Andean Indians ate potatoes boiled, baked and mashed, as Europeans do now. But potatoes were also boiled, peeled, chopped and dried to make papas secas fermented in stagnant water to create sticky, odoriferous toqosh and ground to pulp, soaked in a jug and filtered to produce almidón de papa (potato starch). Most ubiquitous was chuño, which is made by spreading potatoes outside to freeze on cold nights, then thawing them in the morning sun. Repeated freeze-thaw cycles transform the spuds into soft, juicy blobs. Farmers squeeze out the water to produce chuño: stiff, styrofoam-like nodules much smaller and lighter than the original tubers. Cooked into a spicy Andean stew, they resemble gnocchi, the potato-flour dumplings in central Italy. Chuño can be kept for years without refrigeration—insurance against bad harvests. It was the food that sustained Inca armies.

Even today, some Andean villagers celebrate the potato harvest much as their ancestors did in centuries past. Immediately after pulling potatoes from the ground, families in the fields pile soil into earthen, igloo-shaped ovens 18 inches tall. Into the ovens go the stalks, as well as straw, brush, scraps of wood and cow dung. When the ovens turn white with heat, cooks place fresh potatoes on the ashes for baking. Steam curls up from hot food into the clear, cold air. People dip their potatoes in coarse salt and edible clay. Night winds carry the smell of roasting potatoes for what seems like miles.

The potato Andeans roasted before contact with Europeans was not the modern spud they cultivated different varieties at different altitudes. Most people in a village planted a few basic types, but most everyone also planted others to have a variety of tastes. (Andean farmers today produce modern, Idaho-style breeds for the market, but describe them as bland—for yahoos in cities.) The result was chaotic diversity. Potatoes in one village at one altitude could look wildly unlike those a few miles away in another village at another altitude.

In 1995, a Peruvian-American research team found that families in one mountain valley in central Peru grew an average of 10.6 traditional varieties—landraces, as they are called, each with its own name. In adjacent villages Karl Zimmerer, an environmental scientist now at Pennsylvania State University, visited fields with up to 20 landraces. The International Potato Center in Peru has preserved almost 5,000 varieties. The range of potatoes in a single Andean field, Zimmerer observed, “exceeds the diversity of nine-tenths of the potato crop of the entire United States.” As a result, the Andean potato is less a single identifiable species than a bubbling stew of related genetic entities. Sorting it out has given taxonomists headaches for decades.

The first Spaniards in the region—the band led by Francisco Pizarro, who landed in 1532—noticed Indians eating these strange, round objects and emulated them, often reluctantly. News of the new food spread rapidly. Within three decades, Spanish farmers as far away as the Canary Islands were exporting potatoes to France and the Netherlands (which were then part of the Spanish empire). The first scientific descrip­tion of the potato appeared in 1596, when the Swiss naturalist Gaspard Bauhin awarded it the name Solanum tuberosum esculentum (later simplified to Solanum tuberosum).

Unlike any previous European crop, potatoes are grown not from seed but from little chunks of tuber—the misnamed “seed potatoes.” Continental farmers regarded this alien food with fascinated suspicion some believed it an aphrodisiac, others a cause of fever or leprosy. The philosopher-critic Denis Diderot took a middle stance in his Encyclopedia (1751-65), Europe’s first general compendium of Enlightenment thought. “No matter how you prepare it, the root is tasteless and starchy,” he wrote. “It cannot be regarded as an enjoyable food, but it provides abundant, reasonably healthy food for men who want nothing but sustenance.” Diderot viewed the potato as “windy.” (It caused gas.) Still, he gave it the thumbs up. “What is windiness,” he asked, “to the strong bodies of peasants and laborers?”

With such halfhearted endorsements, the potato spread slowly. When Prussia was hit by famine in 1744, King Frederick the Great, a potato enthusiast, had to order the peasantry to eat the tubers. In England, 18th-century farmers denounced S. tuberosum as an advance scout for hated Roman Catholicism. “No Potatoes, No Popery!” was an election slogan in 1765. France was especially slow to adopt the spud. Into the fray stepped Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the potato’s Johnny Appleseed.

Trained as a pharmacist, Parmentier served in the army during the Seven Years’ War and was captured by the Prussians—five times. During his multiple prison stints he ate little but potatoes, a diet that kept him in good health. His surprise at this outcome led Parmentier to become a pioneering nutritional chemist after the war ended, in 1763 he devoted the rest of his life to promulgating S. tuberosum.

Parmentier’s timing was good. After Louis XVI was crowned in 1775, he lifted price controls on grain. Bread prices shot up, sparking what became known as the Flour War: more than 300 civil disturbances in 82 towns. Parmentier tirelessly proclaimed that France would stop fighting over bread if only her citizens would eat potatoes. Meanwhile, he set up one publicity stunt after another: presenting an all-potato dinner to high-society guests (the story goes that Thomas Jefferson, one of the guests, was so delighted he introduced French fries to America) supposedly persuading the king and queen to wear potato blossoms and planting 40 acres of potatoes at the edge of Paris, knowing that famished commoners would steal them.

In exalting the potato, Parmentier unwittingly changed it. All of Europe’s potatoes descended from a few tubers sent across the ocean by curious Spaniards. When farmers plant pieces of tuber, rather than seeds, the resultant sprouts are clones. By urging potato cultivation on a massive scale, Parmentier was unknowingly promoting the notion of planting huge areas with clones—a true monoculture.

The effects of this transformation were so striking that any general history of Europe without an entry in its index for S. tuberosum should be ignored. Hunger was a familiar presence in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. Cities were provisioned reasonably well in most years, their granaries carefully monitored, but country people teetered on a precipice. France, the historian Fernand Braudel once calculated, had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800, more than one per decade. This appalling figure is an underestimate, he wrote, “because it omits the hundreds and hundreds of local famines.” France was not exceptional England had 17 national and big regional famines between 1523 and 1623. The continent simply could not reliably feed itself.

The potato changed all that. Every year, many farmers left fallow as much as half of their grain land, to rest the soil and fight weeds (which were plowed under in summer). Now smallholders could grow potatoes on the fallow land, controlling weeds by hoeing. Because potatoes were so productive, the effective result, in terms of calories, was to double Europe’s food supply.

“For the first time in the history of western Europe, a definitive solution had been found to the food problem,” the Belgian historian Christian Vandenbroeke concluded in the 1970s. By the end of the 18th century, potatoes had become in much of Europe what they were in the Andes—a staple. Roughly 40 percent of the Irish ate no solid food other than potatoes the figure was between 10 percent and 30 percent in the Netherlands, Belgium, Prussia and perhaps Poland. Routine famine almost disappeared in potato country, a 2,000-mile band that stretched from Ireland in the west to Russia’s Ural Mountains in the east. At long last, the continent could produce its own dinner.

It was said that the Chincha Islands gave off a stench so intense they were difficult to approach. The Chinchas are a clutch of three dry, granitic islands 13 miles off the southern coast of Peru. Almost nothing grows on them. Their sole distinction is a population of seabirds, especially the Peruvian booby, the Peruvian pelican and the Peruvian cormorant. Attracted by the vast schools of fish along the coast, the birds have nested on the Chincha Islands for millennia. Over time they covered the islands with a layer of guano up to 150 feet thick.

Guano, the dried remains of birds’ semisolid urine, makes excellent fertilizer—a mechanism for giving plants nitrogen, which they need to make chlorophyll, the green molecule that absorbs the sun’s energy for photosynthesis. Although most of the atmosphere consists of nitrogen, the gas is made from two nitrogen atoms bonded so tightly to each other that plants cannot split them apart for use. As a result, plants seek usable nitrogen-containing compounds like ammonia and nitrates from the soil. Alas, soil bacteria constantly digest these substances, so they are always in lesser supply than farmers would like.

In 1840, the organic chemist Justus von Liebig published a pioneering treatise that explained how plants depend on nitrogen. Along the way, he extolled guano as an excellent source of it. Sophisticated farmers, many of them big landowners, raced to buy the stuff. Their yields doubled, even tripled. Fertility in a bag! Prosperity that could be bought in a store!

Guano mania took hold. In 40 years, Peru exported about 13 million tons of it, the great majority dug under ghastly working conditions by slaves from China. Journalists decried the exploitation, but the public’s outrage instead was largely focused on Peru’s guano monopoly. The British Farmer’s Magazine laid out the problem in 1854: “We do not get anything like the quantity we require we want a great deal more but at the same time, we want it at a lower price.” If Peru insisted on getting a lot of money for a valuable product, the only solution was invasion. Seize the guano islands! Spurred by public fury, the U.S. Congress passed the Guano Islands Act in 1856, authorizing Americans to seize any guano deposits they discovered. Over the next half-century, U.S. merchants claimed 94 islands, cays, coral heads and atolls.

From today’s perspective, the outrage—threats of legal action, whispers of war, editorials on the Guano Question—is hard to understand. But agriculture was then “the central economic activity of every nation,” as the environmental historian Shawn William Miller has pointed out. “A nation’s fertility, which was set by the soil’s natural bounds, inevitably shaped national economic success.” In just a few years, agriculture in Europe and the United States had become as dependent on high-intensity fertilizer as transportation is today on petroleum—a dependency it has not shaken since.

Guano set the template for modern agriculture. Ever since von Liebig, farmers have treated the land as a medium into which they dump bags of chemical nutrients brought in from far away so they can harvest high volumes for shipment to distant markets. To maximize crop yields, farmers plant ever-larger fields with a single crop—industrial monoculture, as it is called.

Before the potato (and corn), before intensive fertilization, European living standards were roughly equivalent to those in Cameroon and Bangladesh today. On average, European peasants ate less per day than hunting-and-gathering societies in Africa or the Amazon. Industrial monoculture allowed billions of people—in Europe first, and then in much of the rest of the world—to escape poverty. The revolution begun by potatoes, corn and guano has allowed living standards to double or triple worldwide even as human numbers climbed from fewer than one billion in 1700 to some seven billion today.

The name Phytophthora infestans means, more or less, “vexing plant destroyer.” P. infestans is an oomycete, one of 700 or so species sometimes known as water molds. It sends out tiny bags of 6 to 12 spores that are carried on the wind, usually for no more than 20 feet, occasionally for half a mile or more. When the bag lands on a susceptible plant, it breaks open, releasing what are technically known as zoospores. If the day is warm and wet enough, the zoospores germinate, sending threadlike filaments into the leaf. The first obvious symptoms—purple-black or purple-brown spots on the leaves—are visible in about five days. By then it is often too late for the plant to survive.

P. infestans preys on species in the nightshade family, especially potatoes and tomatoes. Scientists believe that it originated in Peru. Large-scale traffic between Peru and northern Europe began with the guano rush. Proof will never be found, but it is widely believed that the guano ships carried P. infestans. Probably taken to Antwerp, P. infestans first broke out in early summer 1845, in the West Flanders town of Kortrijk, six miles from the French border.

The blight hopscotched to Paris by that August. Weeks later, it was destroying potatoes in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and England. Governments panicked. It was reported in Ireland on September 13, 1845. Cormac O Grada, an economist and blight historian at University College, Dublin, has estimated that Irish farmers planted about 2.1 million acres of potatoes that year. In two months P. infestans wiped out the equivalent of one-half to three-quarters of a million acres. The next year was worse, as was the year after that. The attack did not wind down until 1852. A million or more Irish people died—one of the deadliest famines in history, in the percentage of population lost. A similar famine in the United States today would kill almost 40 million people.

Within a decade, two million more had fled Ireland, almost three-quarters of them to the United States. Many more would follow. As late as the 1960s, Ireland’s population was half what it had been in 1840. Today the nation has the melancholy distinction of being the only country in Europe, and perhaps the world, to have fewer people within the same boundaries than it did more than 150 years ago.

Despite its ghastly outcome, P. infestans may be less important in the long run than another imported species: Leptinotarsa decemlineata, the Colorado potato beetle. Its name notwithstanding, this orange-and-black creature is not from Colorado. Nor did it have much interest in potatoes in its original habitat, in south-central Mexico its diet centered on buffalo bur, a weedy, spiny, knee-high potato relative. Biologists believe that buffalo bur was confined to Mexico until Spaniards, agents of the Columbian Exchange, carried horses and cows to the Americas. Quickly realizing the usefulness of these animals, Indians stole as many as they could, sending them north for their families to ride and eat. Buffalo bur apparently came along, tangled in horse manes, cow tails and native saddlebags. The beetle followed. In the early 1860s it encountered the cultivated potato around the Missouri River and liked what it tasted.

For millennia the potato beetle had made do with the buffalo bur scattered through the Mexican hills. By comparison, an Iowa farm, its fields solid with potatoes, was an ocean of breakfast. Because growers planted just a few varieties of a single species, pests like the beetle and the blight had a narrower range of natural defenses to overcome. If they could adapt to potatoes in one place, they could jump from one identical food pool to the next—a task made easier than ever thanks to inventions like railroads, steamships and refrigeration. Beetles spread in such numbers that by the time they reached the Atlantic Coast, their glittering orange bodies carpeted beaches and made railway tracks so slippery as to be impassable.

Desperate farmers tried everything they could to rid themselves of the invaders. Eventually one man apparently threw some leftover green paint on his infested plants. It worked. The emerald pigment in the paint was Paris green, made largely from arsenic and copper. Developed in the late 18th century, it was common in paints, fabrics and wallpaper. Farmers diluted it with flour and dusted it on their potatoes or mixed it with water and sprayed.

To potato farmers, Paris green was a godsend. To chemists, it was something that could be tinkered with. If arsenic killed potato beetles, why not try it on other pests? If Paris green worked, why not try other chemicals for other agricultural problems? In the mid-1880s a French researcher discovered that spraying a solution of copper sulfate and lime would kill P. infestans. Spraying potatoes with Paris green, then copper sulfate would take care of both the beetle and the blight. The modern pesticide industry had begun.

As early as 1912 beetles began showing signs of immunity to Paris green. Farmers didn’t notice, though, because the pesticide industry kept coming up with new arsenic compounds that kept killing potato beetles. By the 1940s growers on Long Island found they had to use ever-greater quantities of the newest variant, calcium arsenate. After World War II an entirely new type of pesticide came into wide use: DDT. Farmers bought DDT and exulted as insects vanished from their fields. The celebration lasted about seven years. The beetle adapted. Potato growers demanded new chemicals. The industry provided dieldrin. It lasted about three years. By the mid-1980s, a new pesticide in the eastern United States was good for about a single planting.

In what critics call the “toxic treadmill,” potato farmers now treat their crops a dozen or more times a season with an ever-changing cavalcade of deadly substances. Nonetheless, the pests keep coming back. Researchers were dismayed in the 1980s to discover that new types of P. infestans had found their way to Europe and America. They were more virulent—and more resistant to metalaxyl, the chief current anti-blight treatment. No good substitute has yet appeared.

In 2009, potato blight wiped out most of the tomatoes and potatoes on the East Coast of the United States. Driven by an unusually wet summer, it turned gardens into slime. It destroyed the few tomatoes in my New England garden that hadn’t been drowned by rain. Accurately or not, one of my farming neighbors blamed the attack on the Columbian Exchange. More specifically, he said blight had arrived on tomato seedlings sold in big-box stores. “Those tomatoes,” he said direly, “come from China.”

Adapted with permission from 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann. Copyright © 2011 Charles C. Mann.

Charles C. Mann has written five previous books, including 1491, plus articles for Science, Wired and other magazines.

Rise of the Automobile

U.S. history textbooks typically relate early automobile use from the perspective of three distinct narratives. One focuses on Henry Ford, the inventor of the Model T and founder of Ford Motor Company. Ford was a hands-on mechanic who enjoyed tinkering with automobiles. He formed his own firm in 1903 to create a reliable, low-cost, easy-to-operate and easier-to-fix device for the masses. While ultimately successful, it took Ford five years and several failed product lines to produce the Model T. Affectionately called the "Tin Lizzie" or "flivver" (so-called because its bouncy ride was supposedly good "for the liver"), the car remained in production for over 20 years. The second story locates the car within the economic transformation of the 1920s. Ford's mass production techniques increased worker productivity and throughput. This allowed Ford to make more cars and sell them for less money. But these methods remained hard on laborers, many of whom were required to perform routine repetitive tasks for hours on end (made famous by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times). In order to retain trained workers, Ford paid higher hourly wages and lowered the work shift from 12 to eight hours per day.

The combination of a good product, productive assembly methods, and consumer desire produced amazing economic results. Ford sold more than 15 million cars by 1927, more than all other brands combined. The demand for products used to build and operate automobiles, such as steel, rubber, oil, gasoline, and glass multiplied as well. In this way, Ford Motor Company serves as the perfect symbol of the modern integrated industrial economy. Third, the automobile reflected a new cultural outlook in America. Behavior beyond the workplace soon took precedence in the minds of many who preferred to "work to live" rather than "live to work." The new technology allowed for more flexible and individual mobility. People moved to the suburbs, took extended vacations, used the car to free themselves from the bounds of the home, and generally consumed their free time in ways never before imagined. These activities—like the heightened demand for steel and glass—multiplied across the American economy to produce travel-related services such as roadside restaurants, service stations, and motels. The car also obliterated the need for some existing industries, particularly fixed-rail commuter service and animal-powered transit.

Some textbooks address the implications of these changes. As a powerful symbol of modernity, the automobile represented individual freedom, mobility, and independence. The car also linked the profound economic changes (especially the rise of big business) to the pursuit of personal happiness through consumption. Increasingly, Americans defined a happy life by one that offered personal and immediate gratification, even if this meant rising debt and a loss of local community. Those unable to meet the economic threshold required to sustain the "goods life" soon found themselves excluded from consideration. The social costs of individual automobile use remained hidden. Tax dollars once applied to public mass transit shifted to user fees (gas taxes) that paid for road improvements or liability insurance. Rising incidents of automotive crime, auto accidents, and sexual promiscuity earned the condemnation of isolated agencies (and the sorrow of their victims), but did little to stem the rising tide of change.

While textbooks do a fine job framing these three issues, they too often neglect several other key considerations. For example, the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine remained only one option (see Primary Source Internal Combustion Engine [1909]). Steam and electric cars were both functional and productive options in 1910. They were discarded because of the relative low cost and availability of gasoline. Ford's business model, too, significantly changed the relationship workers developed with their employers and their careers. Perfectly suited to the new consumer ethos of America, increasingly workers defined their lives through the goods they consumed rather than the jobs they held. Finally, automobiles profoundly influenced youth culture and women's lives. Freed from the constraints of the home, young people found their leisure beyond the watchful eyes of their parents and other relations. While we today, a product of these changes, may look favorably upon these individualistic freedoms, others might reasonably counter that community standards and a sense of belonging were lost as Americans hit the gas pedal.

Historians today generally examine the car within the boundaries of these material and cultural changes. The automobile proved to be a harbinger of modern, liberating technologies that provided individuals extensive new freedoms, but with a price tag. Like complex cell phones and high-speed internet today, consumer technologies such as the automobile freed those able to afford the gas, hotel bills, ticket prices, and especially the time needed for leisure. The social, economic, and, increasingly obvious today, environmental costs of these individual liberties rarely entered the public debate. One exception proved the rising toll of auto-related fatalities, especially those produced by intoxicated or otherwise reckless drivers. While the market responded to poor driving through rising liability insurance premiums, by the mid-20th century most states instituted formal licensing procedures. States also began to require minimal safety standards for all cars and criminal codes for habitually reckless drivers.

While most textbooks are limited by space and state standards, they too frequently ignore the costs associated with the type of economic and cultural change brought by the automobile. Mass production lowered consumer costs, to be sure, but just as certainly they made it increasingly difficult for new innovators (the next Henry Ford) to enter the market. Widespread auto use also enjoyed state support—in the form of road improvements, the interstate highway system, and a lack of regulation—that the railroads and light-rail did not share. Finally, textbooks too often minimize the ways that modern consumerism saddled Americans with a culture of debt and rising material expectations that promised individual "satisfaction" while delivering an unquenchable desire for something new. These remain complex and intriguing aspects of America's car culture.

Coffee History / 1850-1900

1859 - A new coffee brewing machine called the Raparlier vacuum coffee pot is developed and includes an upper glass bowl that shows how much coffee has been brewed. A hemp filter placed between the compartments is inexpensive and disposed of between uses.

1860 - Cafe Central opens in Vienna and becomes a gathering place for the country's intellectual elite including Adolf Loos, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Anton Kuh.

Until 1938 it was often called the Chess School since so many people played the game there including Russian revolutionary Leo Trotzky. Today the cafe remains popular, having been refurbished in 1986.

1861 - Isabella Beeton writes, “It is true, says Liebeg, that thousands have lived without a knowledge of tea and coffee and daily experience teaches us that, under certain circumstances, they may be dispensed with without disadvantage to the merely animal functions, but it is an error, certainly, to conclude from this that they may be altogether dispensed with in reference to their effects.”

Beeton adds that, “It is a question whether, if we had no tea and no coffee, the popular instinct would not seek for and discover the means of replacing them.”

1863 - Cafe Slavia opens in Prague, and today it remains a landmark and popular restaurant and cafe. Cafe Slavia is located opposite the National Theatre and frequented by the capital city's acting community.

In the past it was the often visited by such renown writers as Rainier Maria Wilke, Jaroslav Seifert (1984 Nobel Prize winner), and Franz Kafka. Dvorak and Smetana are among the renown composers who have frequented Cafe Slavia.

1864 - The Burns coffee roaster is patented by New York's Jabez Burns and is the first machine that doesn't need to be moved away from the fire to discharge the beans after roasting. This was the beginning of modern roasting machines and Burns is considered the grandfather of roasting.

1865 - James H. Mason patents the coffee percolator in the United States.

1869 - A coffee plant disease known as coffee leaf rust first shows up on the coffee plants in Ceylon and proceeds to ruin most India coffee plantions and does widespread damage in Asia over the next decade.

1869 - In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain writes that “Of all the unchristian beverages that ever passed my lips, Turkish coffee is the worst. The cup is small, it is smeared with grounds the coffee is black, thick, unsavory of smell, and execrable in taste.”

The story goes on to say, “The bottom of the cup has a muddy sediment in it half an inch deep. This goes down your throat, and portions of it lodge by the way, and produce a tickling aggravation that keeps you barking and coughing for an hour.”

1871 - Innovator John Arbuckle and his assistants invent a machine to fill, weigh, seal, and label paper packages of coffee. Arbuckle markets his Arbuckle Ariosa coffee from his New York factory, and the coffee is the first mass produced coffee product to be sold country wide.

Arbuckle would become the world's largest coffee importer as well as America's largest shipper, owning every South American merchant ship.

1872 - Selling bulk-roasted coffee to grocery stores in drums and sacks, James Folger founds J.A. Folger Coffee & Company after buying out his partners in Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills Company.

After James passes away in 1889 the company is run by his son James A. Folger II and continues to grow rapidly. (See 1963.)

1879 - In The Moral Instructor, Jesse Torrey writes, “Coffee, though a useful medicine, if drunk constantly will at length induce a decay of health, and hectic fever.”

1880s - The first caffeinated soft drinks are created.

1880 - Australia's first coffee plantation is developed, encompassing five hundred acres between Cooktown and New South Wales.

1880s - Ethiopia's Kingdom of Kaffa where the coffee plant originated produces about 55,000 kilograms of coffee beans.

1880s - The coffee industry in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii suffers a severe setback due to the Reciprocity Treaty that took effect in 1876. Almost no coffee is exported.

1880-1886 - Coffee consumption spreads widely in Ethiopia in part due to Emperor Menilek appreciating the beverage and also to Abuna Matewos, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, who helped convince the clergy that it was not a Muslim drink.

1880 - Mark Twain writes in A Tramp Abroad, “After a few months' acquaintance with European ‘coffee' one's mind weakens, and his faith with it, and he begins to wonder if the rich beverage of home, with it's clotted layer of yellow cream on top of it, is not a mere dream after all, and a thing which never existed.”

1881 - In The Appledore Cookbook, Maria Parloa writes, “Persons drinking coffee, as a general rule, east less, though coffee, and also tea, have little direct food value but they retard the waste of the tissues, and so take the place of food.”

1882 - The New York Coffee Exchange is established.

1883 - The Buckeye Cookbook states that, “Physicians say that coffee without cream is more wholesome, particularly for persons of weak digestion. There seems to be some element in the coffee which combined with the milk, forms a leathery coating on the stomach, and impairs digestion.”

1885 - The coffee roasting method of using natural gas to produce hot air becomes common.

1887 - Coffee first arrives in Tonkin, Indo-China.

1886 - Joel Cheek, a former grocer, names the coffee blend called “Maxwell House” after the Nashville, Tennessee hotel where it the popular blend.

1890 - World coffee prices rise steeply. In the Kona region on the Big Island of Hawaii this leads to significant new investments in the coffee industry by European and American investors.

1890 - Cafe de Flore opens in Paris in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres district. The coffee house becomes a renowned meeting place of intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers of the day including Giacometti, Picasso, Apollinaire, and Hemingway, and this is where Simone de Beauvoir discussed the philosophy of existentialism with Jean-Paul Sartre. The cafe is still open today.

1890s - The French Press coffee maker, then known as the plunger filter, is invented. A filter compartment is lowered into the hot water and then pulled up when the coffee has been properly brewed and before it can become too bitter. Some accounts say the French Press was not invented until the Italian Calimani developed it in 1933.

1891 - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., a physician and writer, opines in Over the Teacups that, “The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.”

1893 - Coffee plants from Brazil are brought to Tanzania (Tanganyika) and Kenya where they are cultivated. This marked the end of the coffee plant's journey around the globe with a new varietal now being planted near its Ethiopian origins.

1894 - Budapest's first coffee house opens and is called Cafe New York - by the turn of the century there would be more than 500 coffee houses in Budapest. Though it was destroyed in World War II, Cafe New York reopened in 2006 with a wonderful effort to restore its former glory including frescos on the ceiling, ball lamps, and a gallery.

1896 - Coffee takes hold in Queensland, Australia.

1899 - There is an oversupply in the world coffee market causing coffee prices to plummet. Within one year, in the Kona Coffee growing region of the Big Island of Hawaii all of the large plantations fail and the coffee industry nearly disappears.

The plantations are split up into small parcels of around ten acres and leased to coffee farmers, many of whom are Japanese immigrants (about four out of five Kona coffee farmers) who had initially come to the Islands to work on sugarcane plantations.

This begins a new era of small farms in the Kona coffee industry. A typical lease required the farmers to give pay about $30 per hear plus part of the coffee crop. Some leases required the farmers to pay with half of their crop.

The World’s Top Drink

We came to Brazil to find coffee and learn about the future of one of the world’s top commodities, especially in the midst of a changing climate and rising population. A legacy farmer in Santos, the small port city that exports more than three-quarters of Brazil’s coffee, called it humanity’s favorite drink.

But is it? We did some digging. The world’s most consumed beverage—not counting water, which has no equal—is actually a dark horse, the kind you don’t suspect. It’s not coffee, as Brazilian kids learn at early age, nor Coca Cola, as I grew up hearing in America. It’s surprisingly not even beer.

Disclaimer: I’m a tea guy, unapologetically. It’s nothing against coffee, other than that I get jittery and still can’t stand the taste without making a face. When data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that the world drinks about six billion cups of tea a day, four of them are mine.

Tea beats coffee in a lot of ways. It predates coffee by about 3,000 years, and is thought to have first been harvested in 2700 B.C. by the emperor Shen Nung who was known as “the divine healer.” Coffee didn’t come until the tenth century at the earliest, first discovered in what is now Yemen. These days most coffee is produced in Brazil and Central America it wasn’t brought to the western hemisphere until around 1720, first in the Caribbean and then eventually south into Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. The bean wouldn’t grow in the more volatile climate of North America (except in Hawaii), so South America dominated.

Tea, meanwhile, came far earlier likely because (one imagines) it’s simpler to stumble on dried leaves brewed with warm water. Accoutrements like milk, honey, and sugar came later. Although tea’s greatest asset is the thing I love most: its overarching simplicity.

So why is tea more popular? It’s hard to nail down people’s tastes, but it’s probably a combination of shipping weight and culture. Americans—who drink the most coffee—can find a Starbucks every few blocks, but tea is the national drink of China and India, each of which have more than a billion people. It’s generally cheaper to buy, and packed with more antioxidants. Whether tea is healthier than coffee is a complicated question. I just report, you decide.

Tea aside, we’ll be learning lots about coffee over the next few weeks and reporting it here. While in Brazil, I’m also taking a tea hiatus, because when in Rome… (Spencer has agreed to catch me when I crash). We’d love to hear your thoughts about coffee, tea, or your favorite beverage. Tell us your stories about how drinks play into your culture, or how Diet Coke once saved your life. Leave word in the comments below.

In WWI Trenches, Instant Coffee Gave Troops A Much-Needed Boost

American servicemen enjoy a hot cup of coffee at a Salvation Army hut in New York, circa 1918. During World War I, instant coffee was a key provision for soldiers on the front. They called it a "cup of George." FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

American servicemen enjoy a hot cup of coffee at a Salvation Army hut in New York, circa 1918. During World War I, instant coffee was a key provision for soldiers on the front. They called it a "cup of George."

FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany and formally entered World War I. By late June, American infantry troops began arriving in Europe. One thing they couldn't do without? Coffee.

"Coffee was as important as beef and bread," a high-ranking Army official concluded after the war. A postwar review of the military's coffee supply concurred, stating that it "restored courage and strength" and "kept up the morale."

In fact, U.S. troops had long looked toward coffee as a small source of salvation amid the hell of war. During the Civil War, Union soldiers received around 36 pounds of coffee a year, according to Jon Grinspan, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

"Some Union soldiers got rifles with a mechanical grinder with a hand crank built into the buttstock," he told NPR. "They'd fill a hollowed space within the carbine's stock with coffee beans, grind it up, dump it out and cook coffee that way."

The Salt

If War Is Hell, Then Coffee Has Offered U.S. Soldiers Some Salvation

In World War I, the U.S. War Department took things further, establishing local roasting and grinding plants in France to ensure fresh coffee for the troops. (Even if it was brewed in the worst possible of manners, with the grounds left in the pots for a number of successive meals.)

The military also began offering coffee of a different type: instant.

In 1901, a Japanese chemist working in Chicago named Satori Kato developed a successful way to make a soluble coffee powder, or dried coffee extract. At that year's Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., the Kato Coffee Co. served hot samples in the Manufacturers Building, giving the brew its public debut. Two years later Sato received a patent for "Coffee concentrate and process of making same."

A pre-World War I advertisement in 1914 introduced George Washington's Coffee to the public. The New York Times hide caption

A pre-World War I advertisement in 1914 introduced George Washington's Coffee to the public.

But it was another immigrant in America, an Anglo-Belgian inventor named George Washington, who first successfully mass-produced instant coffee. (Washington's presidential namesake was not only a coffee drinker but perhaps even an importer.) Established in 1910, the G. Washington Coffee Refining Co., with production facilities in Brooklyn, N.Y., initially sold as "Red E Coffee."

While the name suggested convenience, marketing soon highlighted other benefits of the "perfectly digestible coffee." "Now you can drink all the COFFEE you wish!" an early 1914 ad in the New York Times promised. "No more do you have to risk indigestion when you drink coffee," thanks to a "wonderful process that removes the disturbing acids and oils (always present in ordinary coffee)."

Competing products were hitting the market when demand for soluble coffee skyrocketed with the American entry into the Great War in 1917. The U.S. military snapped up all the instant coffee it could. By October 1918, just before the war's end, Uncle Sam was trying to get 37,000 pounds a day of the powder — far above the entire national daily output of 6,000 pounds, according to Mark Pendergrast's coffee history, Uncommon Grounds.

"After trying to put it up in sticks, tablets, capsules and other forms," noted William Ukers in his authoritative All About Coffee, "it was determined that the best method was to pack it in envelopes." Each held a quarter ounce.

Soluble coffee was notably used on the front lines. Soldiers stirred it into hot water, gulped from tin mugs, and called it "a cup of George," after the company's founder — whose name was apparently familiar to at least some of them. In a letter from the front that Pendergrast quotes, a soldier wrote: "There is one gentlemen I am going to look up first after I get through helping whip the Kaiser, and that is George Washington, of Brooklyn, the soldiers' friend."

The U.S. War Department's E.F. Holbrook, head of the coffee branch of the Subsistence Department, considered instant coffee instrumental in the face of chemical weapons : "The use of mustard gas by the Germans made it one of the most important articles of subsistence used by the army," he explained to the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal in 1919. The "extensive use of mustard gas made it impossible to brew coffee by the ordinary methods in the rolling kitchens," he said.

Equally important was coffee's effect on morale in the trenches. It was hot, familiar and offered a hint of home's comforts. And it had caffeine, which helped energize the troops.

For java addicts like Mexican-American doughboy José de la Luz Sáenz, who served with the 360th Infantry Expeditionary Forces in France and Occupied Germany, that jolt also kept at bay "the headaches caused by the lack of coffee in the morning," he wrote in his journal on Sept. 26, 1918, after a sleepless night and gas attack on the Western Front.

Rather than using his "condiment can" to carry food, he filled one of its compartments with sugar and the other with instant coffee. Managing to get a small alcohol stove to heat water, he prepared cups in the trenches. "The hot coffee with our reliable 'hardtack' biscuits hit the spot and revived exhausted, hungry, and drowsy soldiers," noted Sáenz, a teacher (and future civil rights activist) from South Texas.

Sometimes Sáenz and his fellow soldiers had to do without heat — or even water — for their coffee. "On occasions when the morning finds us on our feet, I am glad to be able to chew on a spoonful of coffee with a bit of sugar."

After the first world war ended, Washington's company relaunched "prepared coffee" for the household. "Went to war! Home again," read an advertisement with a saluting coffee can. The focus this time was on convenience: "Fresh coffee whenever you want it — as strong as you want it."

After World War I, the coffee was reintroduced to the public with the slogan "Went to War! Home Again." Advertisement from the New York Tribune, June 22, 1919. New York Tribune/Library of Congress hide caption

While Washington's company continued to sell coffee, its Swiss competitor, Nestlé, managed to develop a better technique for producing instant coffee. In 1938 it launched Nescafé, which soon dominated the global instant coffee market.

In 1943, just before his death, Washington sold the company. (In 1961, the George Washington coffee brand was discontinued.) By then, World War II was raging, and American GIs were calling their coffee by a different name: Joe.

GIs enjoy a cup of coffee during World War II. "The American soldier became so closely identified with his coffee that G.I. Joe gave his name to the brew," according to coffee historian Mark Pendergrast. Bettmann Archives/Getty Images hide caption

GIs enjoy a cup of coffee during World War II. "The American soldier became so closely identified with his coffee that G.I. Joe gave his name to the brew," according to coffee historian Mark Pendergrast.

Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

One legend behind the origins of the new moniker is that it referred to Josephus Daniels, secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1921 under Woodrow Wilson, who banned alcohol onboard ships, making coffee the strongest drink in the mess. Snopes, though, fact-checked that claim and called it false.

Yet "Joe" very likely does originate in the military. "The American soldier became so closely identified with his coffee that G.I. Joe gave his name to the brew," according to Pendergrast.

"Nobody can soldier without coffee," a Union cavalryman wrote in his diary at the end of the Civil War. Many servicemen and women who have fought since then would agree. Even when the coffee was instant and called George.

Jeff Koehler's Darjeeling won the 2016 IACP Award for literary food writing. Where the Wild Coffee Grows will be published in autumn. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Invention of the Lobotomy

Moniz and Freemen are usually credited with inventing the lobotomy in the 1930s, though in truth their work was based on many other people's research going back to the mid-19th century. They had read about the work of a European doctor named Gottlieb Burckhardt, who in the 1880s performed some of the first psychosurgeries on patients' frontal lobes, as well as other parts of their brains.

Though Burckhardt was derided by his colleagues, some of whom thought his work was barbarous, Moniz and Freeman were intrigued by the idea that the frontal lobe could be somehow separated from the rest of the brain. This would leave incurably schizophrenic patients relieved of their emotional distress, they believed. In experiments with dogs, they determined that cutting nerves between the brain and its frontal lobe -- the so-called "seat of reason" -- left the animals quiet.

And so Moniz, later joined by Freeman, began experimenting on patients. Their first surgery, on a mentally ill woman, involved drilling two holes in her skull and pumping alcohol into her frontal cortex. Later surgeries involved "coring" several regions in the frontal cortex with hollow needles -- literally sucking out parts of the brain to sever neural connections. All these surgeries were done blind, which is to say they rarely opened up a person's skull to see where they were cutting. Moniz and Freeman just drilled into skull and guesstimated where they should core or cut.

they published articles about their work in prestigious scientific journals, reporting that patients who had been horrific burdens on their families, violent or suicidal, were calmed down immeasurably by the surgery.

In a 1942 presentation at the New York Academy of Medicine, the scientists reported that after lobotomy, patients did sometimes become "indolent" or "outspoken." They were like "children," and loving families could simply dismiss their lack of social graces because now they were so much happier.

Moniz, in a 1937 article on the procedure, describes curing a woman from Lisbon whose husband took her to the Congo, where she was unhappy and became "incapable of running her household." So her husband forced her to go back to Lisbon alone, against her wishes, and she gradually became deeply upset because she was always "expecting horrible events" and believed people were out to kill her.

In retrospect, it seems clear why she might have felt that way, but Moniz reports that after a frontal lobotomy she was cured, "though possibly a little reticent." Though many of Moniz and Freeman's patients became essentially catatonic, while others were unaffected, enough seemed "cured" that the lobotomy became standard practice in mental institutions in the 1940s and early 50s.

US Coffee Statistics

1. In 2019, 64% of Americans aged 18 and over drank coffee every day. (NCA)

2. Americans rank 25th for coffee consumption per capita, with an average consumption of 4.2 kg per person per year. (World Atlas)

3. The USA ranks 11th among the countries with the highest caffeine consumption, with a rate of 200 mg per person per day. (Caffeine Informer)

4. The average U.S. coffee drinker consumes 2.7 cups per day, with the average size of a coffee cup measuring 9 ounces. (The Motley Fool)

5. More than 150 million Americans drink about 400 million cups of coffee per day or more than 140 billion cups per year. (The Motley Fool)

6. Coffee consumption in the U.S. in millions of 60-kg bags (Statista):

11. 9 out of 10 older Americans drink coffee at breakfast. 7 out of 10 young Americans drink coffee at dinner—twice as many as in the older generation. (National Coffee Association)

12. In the National Coffee Association’s 2018 report, 79% of Americans surveyed had enjoyed a cup of coffee at home the day before, while 36% had enjoyed a cup of coffee outside the home the day before (Reuters). This means that 15% of respondents had drunk a coffee both at home and outside the home the day before the survey and that 64% of respondents drank coffee exclusively at home.

13. Almost 50% of Americans who buy coffee outside the home do so at a drive-through. (National Coffee Association)

14. 60% of American coffee drinkers visited a branded coffee shop chain at least once a month in 2018. (Beverage Daily)

15. The most popular methods of making coffee in the USA (Statista):

16. The use of drip coffee makers has decreased by 24% over the past 5 years, while the use of single-cup brewers has increased by 50% since 2015. (National Coffee Association)

17. The most searched coffee drinks in the USA (WorkWise):

  1. Caramel Macchiato
  2. Flat White
  3. Cappuccino
  4. Cold Brew
  5. Latte Macchiato

18. Consumption of espresso-based drinks continues to grow. Here are the most popular espresso-based coffee drinks (as a percentage of people who consumed them last year). (National Coffee Association):

  • Cappuccino (33%)
  • Latte (33%)
  • Cold brew (28%)
  • Espresso (26%)
  • Mocha (23%)
  • Macchiato (18%)
  • Americano (18%)
  • Flat white (8%)

19. 4% of Americans add alternative dairy products to their coffee, while 40% of Americans add milk or sweeteners to their coffee. (National Coffee Association)

20. The number of people adding only milk to coffee has grown by 66% since 2015. (National Coffee Association)

21. Consumption of gourmet/premium coffee increased by 25% between 2015 and 2019. (National Coffee Association)

22. 53% of US coffee lovers prefer to buy coffee that is environmentally friendly or that supports farmers, while 47% of Americans do not pay attention to these matters. (National Coffee Association)

23. Coffee consumption by occupation (Early Bird):

25. Millennial coffee preferences (National Coffee Association Blog):

  • 70% of the coffee consumed by millennials is in the form of gourmet beverages.
  • 32% of millennials consume an espresso-based beverage every day, which is higher than among any other demographic.
  • 14% of millennials drink a non-espresso-based beverage every day.
  • About 65% of millennials are aware of single-cup brewers, which is significantly lower than among older age groups.

26. People employed in coffee production in the USA (IBISWorld):

28. Average annual spending at coffee shops by profession, per year (Early Bird):

30. Cost of coffee at home vs at coffee shops (Lazy Man and Money):

33. Coffee imports to the USA (Statista):

35. Most popular coffee shops in the USA (World Coffee Portal):

36. Number of coffee shops in the USA per chain: (World Coffee Portal)

  • Starbucks – 14,875 stores
  • Dunkin’ Donuts – 9,570 stores
  • Caribou Coffee – 4,700 stores

37. Average price of coffee in the most popular coffee chains in the USA: (MyFriendsCoffee)

38. 78% of coffee shops in the USA are part of the Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Caribou Coffee chains. (World coffee portal)

39. Number of baristas per state (MyFriendsCoffee):

42. The average size of a cup of coffee in the USA (Shutterfly):

Mug TypeMug Size
Espresso2-3 oz
Cappuccino5-6 oz
Classic8-15 oz
Latte11-15 oz
Oversized Mug20-25 oz
Oversized Latte20-25 oz
Travel Tumbler15-20 oz
Travel Mug15-20 oz

Watch the video: Coffee Explained. What Coffee Is, Where Coffee Comes From, Coffee Processing. Real Chris Baca (January 2022).