Recently I’ve been reading some of Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker essays. One of them that I particularly enjoyed is this one, Java Man, a review of the book The World of Caffeine, by Weinberg & Bealer. I’m totally going to read this now.
“It is not extravagant to claim that it was in these gathering spots [coffeehouses] that the art of conversation became the basis of a new literary style and that a new ideal of general education in letters was born,” Weinberg and Bealer write…
…nicotine… moderates mood and extends attention, and, more important, it doubles the rate of caffeine metabolism: it allows you to drink twice as much coffee as you could otherwise. In other words, the original coffeehouse was a place where men of all types could sit all day; the tobacco they smoked made it possible to drink coffee all day; and the coffee they drank inspired them to talk all day. Out of this came the Enlightenment. (The next time we so perfectly married pharmacology and place, we got Joan Baez.)
And not only did caffeine apparently cause the Enlightenment and the development of liberal arts education, it also caused the industrial revolution:
One way to explain the industrial revolution is as the inevitable consequence of a world where people suddenly preferred being jittery to being drunk.
On that note, Gladwell includes this rather revolting recipe for beer soup:
Heat the beer in a saucepan; in a separate small pot beat a couple of eggs. Add a chunk of butter to the hot beer. Stir in some cool beer to cool it, then pour over the eggs. Add a bit of salt, and finally mix all the ingredients together, whisking it well to keep it from curdling.
The modern personality is, in this sense, a synthetic creation: skillfully regulated and medicated and dosed with caffeine…
Guilty as charged.