Coffee from holy drink, to the devil’s drink and back again.

Pope Clement VIII blessed coffee and declared it a drink so good that infidels shouldn’t be the only ones to enjoy it. It had been enshrouded in legend and controversy for centuries as we’ll explore.

Pope Clement VIII

Coffee is believed to be native to Ethiopia. There are numerous stories of how it spread from there. According to one legend, Sufis (a sect of Islam) watched birds that consumed caffeine-containing red berries and exhibited significant vitality. They then tried them finding it extended them vitality as well. There is a legend that Omar, exiled from his Sufi community, tried the liquid from the berries after boiling them and found it helped him to stave off hunger during his exile. Lastly, there is legend that a goat-herder watched his goats dancing after chewing on berries and tried them and spread awareness of their existence.

Suleiman I or Suleiman the Magnificent

Regardless of the legend, coffee found its way from Ethiopia to Yemen via traders. It was used by Sufis to maintain nighttime devotions and increase concentration in prayer. By the 1400s it spread through North Africa and into Asia minor. It was banned in 1511 by conservative imams due to its stimulating properties but the ban was repealed in 1524 by Sultan Suleiman I. A similar ban was instituted in Cairo in the 16th century.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church banned the drink by the 1700s but softened its stance against the drink as the Coptic (an ancient Christian sect) priest Abuna Matewos did much to dispel the idea that it was a Muslim drink.

Coffee spread to Europe and the Americas. It reached Europe via enslaved and captured Turkish Muslims as well as the Dutch/British East Indian Companies and became a staple among well-off Europeans. Coffee was used to enhance religious thought in Christian circles and physicians touted its health benefits.

From Coffee’s first introduction to Italy, leaders in the Catholic Church strongly opposed it. However, Pope Clement VIII after trying the drink gave it his blessing.

During the American revolution (in part due to the Tea Act), it was touted as a replacement for tea. Coffee would go on to spread worldwide without significant controversy. Today coffee is used for its health and productivity benefits.

The Science of Caffeine Tolerance and Withdrawal

Exercise and your body’s normal metabolism uses energy. ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) is energy currency — if you will — used by the body to carry out those functions. Adenosine is a byproduct that signals to the body that energy is being depleted and it would probably be a good idea to rest and wind down. It signals this to the brain via adenosine receptors A1 — more directly associated with fatigue and A2a — more associated with the mood related to fatigue). Caffeine stops adenosine from telling the brain you’re tired when it blocks A1, and A2a blockade causes a release of dopamine which makes you feel good.

These effects are really pronounced in someone who drinks coffee rarely or who has just begun to drink coffee. They are diminished over time when someone drinks coffee regularly. This is because to combat the effect of caffeine blocking the A1 and A2a receptors, the brain produces more of both. This is called upregulation. Because the same amount of caffeine can only block the same amount of receptors, adenosine can signal tiredness more effectively. This is why coffee drinkers find they may need to drink more to get the same effect. This is called tolerance.

**Fun fact, caffeine causes vasoconstriction — the tightening of blood vessels. When one stops drinking coffee, their blood vessels vaso-dilate or widen. It is believed vasodilation of the blood vessels in the brain are responsible for headaches.