Today, the coffeehouse is an innocent commonplace establishment, but when roasting began in the 15th century, the dark brew was sinful imbibing seen as an alternative to beer, and an addictively good one. "Why this Satan's drink is so delicious," exclaimed Pope Clement VII upon his first sip. By the 17th century, public coffeehouses, or "penny universities" as they were known in Britain, became popular meeting places for activists planning the French Revolution and the Boston Tea Party -- Voltaire, Johann Sebastian Bach and Sartre, among them, says Mark Pendergrast in his essay, "Black Puddle Water or Panacea." Our days' ambitions may seem paltry in comparison but many of us won't tackle morning emails without a shot.
The nerd fodder continues into modern commerce with essays entitled "More than 27 Cents a Day: The Direct Trade (R)evolution," which examines fair-trade operations, and "Is Starbucks Really Better Than Brand X?" Here, you'll learn barista jargon, the meaning behind acidity, body and viscosity, and how the robusta bean differs from the arabica. "Third wave" drinkers -- that is, Stumptown Coffee-goers -- will also be happy to see coverage of counter coffee culture.
As for health, coffee has been linked positively -- as a possible prevention of Parkinson's, liver cancer and type 2 diabetes (maybe not-so-much with an extra dollop of sweet crema) -- and negatively -- as a possible cause of indigestion, premature old age, and impotence. Yes, virility from coffee is debatable, though it may work wonders for the mind. But The Guardian reporter Stuart Jeffries says impotence may be "overstated."
There was a Women's Petition Against Coffee in 1674, cites Jeffries, that prompted men to argue for the benefits of the drink, saying it "makes the erection more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, adds spiritualescency to the Sperme." Meaning, it "increases sperm motility," notes Jeffries. But like all good vices, there's much ground for debate.