A Short History of Caffeine

               Humans and caffeine have a relationship that stretches back thousands of years. While our current fascination with energy drinks and frothy coffee confections may seem like a relatively recent fixation, we’ve been chasing the dragon since mankind crawled out of caves. While caffeine and coffee both spring from the same Arabic word, qahweh, coffee is not the first or only form of caffeine used to increase our mental and physical performance.

               According to popular legend the Chinese emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered tea around 3000BCE when, while working in his garden, leaves from a nearby tree fell into a pot of boiling water. Finding the aroma of the resulting liquid pleasing the Emperor drank the resulting brew and found his mental and physical faculties restored. Tea consumption spread throughout China, India, and the rest of the Far East. It is important to understand that not only was tea used for a quick pick-me-up but it was also used for medical purposes.

               The kola nut is found in many West African countries and is chewed for its caffeine to stave off hunger and provide a boost when laboring. African warriors used the kola nut before battle because of its rumored ability to dispel fear and make men eager for battle. Kola nut is also the substance that a certain Georgian Pharmacist combined with cocaine, sugar, and water to make the most popular soft drink in the world. This drink still bears the name of its two original primary constituents, Coca-Cola, even though modern formulations contain neither Kola nor Cocaine.

               The ancient Maya used the cocoa bean in a similar way to how we use coffee today. The Maya ground the cocoa bean, added chili peppers and hot water and rapidly poured this concoction between two cups unit the final beverage was hot and frothy like a Kukulkán-icino. The Maya drank this daily, similar to how we drink coffee and used it in religious ceremonies as the drink was thought to alter the mind and open it to the spirit world. After the fall of the Mayan Empire and the rise of the Aztecs this beverage, called “Bitter Water”, was so prized by the Aztec priesthood and royalty it was only drunk from golden goblets which were discarded after only one use. Think of that the next time you debate whether or not to recycle your takeout coffee cup. Oh, and that “Bitter Water” so prized by the Maya and Aztec. Their word for it was Xocolatl, which is where we get our word Chocolate.

               Coffee is by far the most widely consumed caffeinated beverage in the west. The legend of coffee starts with a goat herder named Kaldi who was tending his flock in the highlands of Ethiopia. Kaldi noticed that when his goats ate a certain red berry they became excited and had more energy and stamina. Curious, Kaldi also tried the berry himself and had a similar experience. Kaldi then showed the fruit to a local priest who found it helpful in staying awake through evening prayers. Word of the miraculous berry spread through the monastery, and then through Northwest Africa and into the Arabian Peninsula.

               It wasn’t until the 13th century that the coffee bean was roasted and brewed as we do today. Dutch traders introduced coffee to Europe from the Arabian Peninsula in the 17th century. Up to then Europe, and especially England, had a love affair with tea. The Arabian tradition of the Coffee House followed the introduction of coffee to polite society. Before the coffee house the most common meeting place for the European masses were bars and taverns where copious amounts of beer and wine were consumed. Once coffee houses were introduced the previously alcohol addled minds of the populace were stimulated by the caffeine from the glorious coffee bean. Political and philosophical discussion and debate flourished in these establishments to the point they were called Penny Universities, owing the nickname to the one penny cost for a cup of coffee. Political discussion was so fervent and the ideas discussed so revolutionary that many coffee houses were targeted for investigation and eventual closure under suspicion of harboring and fostering seditious groups. Many of the ideas that birthed the American and French revolutions are thought to have been conceived in European coffee houses.

               After the founding of the country Americans put tea in its rightful place, in the harbor, and coffee became the hot caffeinated drink for the majority of Americans. Coffee consumption was further increased by the American Civil War and other conflicts due to the coffee bean’s portability and robust durability for soldiers traveling by foot. American president Theodor Roosevelt was an avid coffee drinker and is rumored to have created the Maxwell House tagline “Good to the last drop”.

               With the advent of commercialized soft drinks (pop, coke, soda, whatever your local term for the beverage is) in the late 1800s and early 1900s caffeine consumption in America settled into a stable pattern, Coffee for the adults and soda for the kiddies. Coffee was used by adults for a morning pick-me-up and to maintain energy through the work day, and soda was an occasional treat for kids.

               This all began to change in the 1970s with the founding of two companies, Starbucks Coffee and a little known Thai Company called T.C. Pharmaceutical run by Chaleo Yoovidhya who created a drink called Krating Daeng. Starbucks was founded in 1971 by three partners, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker. At first the store only sold whole roasted coffee beans and coffee related equipment. In 1987 the trio sold the business to former Starbucks store manager Howard Schultz, who is the current owner of the company. From there Starbucks became the market and cultural phenomena it is today, spawning such innovations as the Venti Half Caff Soy Milk Cappuccino with 4 Half Pumps of Caramel Syrup and the Unicorn Latte. Starbucks has its following but let’s be honest, with that much sugar and other additives, is it really coffee anymore?

               Chaleo Yoovidhya and the drink Krating Daeng may not be a household name, but the offshoot of Krating Daeng is. Krating Daeng was created in 1976 as a non-carbonated soft drink that became very popular with Thai laborers and truck drivers because it gave them a boost of energy to help them through their work day. Krating Daeng is Thai for Red Guar, and a Guar is a large bull like bovine found in South East Asia. I think you can see where this is going. In 1982 a German pharmaceutical marketer named Dietrich Mateschitz met with T.C. Pharmaceutical and was offered a Krating Daeng to help alleviate his jet lag. Mateschlitz worked with Yoovidhya to reformulate Krating Daeng to the western pallet and thus Red Bull, and the energy drink market as a whole, was born. Energy drinks started out as a simple combination of caffeine, sugar, and B-Vitamins but have expanded to include amino acids, nootropics, and all other forms of performance enhancers. For information on how Coffee can be used as a healthier alternative to energy drinks as a preworkout check out our post Coffee: Fueling Fighters since Forever.

Humans have been using caffeine indirectly or directly to boost cognitive and physical performance since leaves fell in a pot of water. We stand by our belief that the best way to consume caffeine is from high quality, organically raised, fairly harvested and specialty roasted coffee beans. That's why we stand by our commitment to a painstakingly detailed QC process. Regardless if you’re heading to the office, the gym, or out to find adventure Groundshark Coffee has the beans to fuel your mind, body, and soul.

This post is written by contributing author Scott Barker. Scott is a BJJ white belt who takes his coffee how he takes his whiskey: straight up. He supports his BJJ and coffee habits through his work as a program manager for a military manufacturer.

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