In Defence of Coffee: A Reply to Schomski
Tex Rex “T-Rex” Cobb
Professor of American History
University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Dear Sirs, this is the most entertaining beverage-triggered to-do since Brazil and Argentina teamed up to pound the ever-lovin’ tar out of Paraguay over yerba mate. The discussion on the British side is signally a-historical, however, and doubtless intentionally so, for I would remind all readers that tea is and traditionally always has been the drink of empire. Starting as a tool of economic conquest wielded with Fu Manchuesque sneakiness by the Chinese emperors, its use was taken up by their less adept Hanoverian epigones, and I would remind all readers that it is primarily coffee and not tea that is cultivated in many of the New World nations that have escaped the heavy yoke of Perfidious Albion. (And of Portugal. There’s a reason the Brits drink port, and it’s not for the taste. Rather, it is to surreptitiously celebrate the two nations’ joint history of imperial oppression.)
As I pointed out in my book Wie Freiheit Schmeckt der Coffee Süße: The Drink of Eternal Republican Vigilance, coffee was the liquid upon which so many of the newly free nations of the Americas launched their ships of state, and its rises and falls were the tide of fortune upon which they floated or foundered. As just one example among many, the coffee industry became important in Brazil only after freedom from Portugal in 1822—and, significantly, it soon stalled under the rule of the Imperial House of Brazil until the ouster of Dom Pedro II in 1889, and only with the sudden accession of republicanism did the Brazilian coffee industry take second flight. Similarly, when the price of coffee plunged in 1899, civil war followed in Colombia, though the cunning of history worked its clever caffeinated way towards continued human progress by allowing the construction thereby of the Panama Canal, which allowed the coffee trade to grow despite the best, or should I say worst, efforts of the British to retain the profitability of their empire of tea—a fall in prices due, as I have shown in detail in several unpublished monographs, to an alliance between ultra-conservative Czarist agents and British agents provocateurs that was originally arranged through the sinister machinations of the 1st Earl of Kimberley in order to encourage the tea trade between Britain and Japan under the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation.
For yes, just as on the individual scale coffee perks up the tired soul and encourages industry, creativity, and productivity, so on the national scale coffee supports individual freedom and republican virtue. As I pointed out in my unpublished monograph, “Bright-Eyed Athena in the Court and the Café: The Place of Coffee within the Intellectual History of the 19th Century,” in addition to the debates over whether Protestantism encouraged industry and progress, there was a less heralded debate over the role of coffee versus tea that raged throughout the highest intellectual circles of the July Monarchy, and which finally convinced Guizot and several other French thinkers of that milieu that it was not Protestantism per se that was the important factor, but rather the fact that such historically Protestant nations as the United States and the Netherlands were also historical leaders in the spread of the world coffee industry. While Marxists have gotten far too much mileage out of mocking Guizot’s precept “Enrichissez-vous,” what is forgotten is what he actually said, “Enrichissez-vous: Buvez du café.”
In addition to the political and social effects of coffee and tea culture, let us note the many clinical studies suggesting that coffee has beneficial neurological effects, tea not. Flinthy & Vinder (2004), for example, found that the degree of aphasia in 73 patients was closely correlated (R2=0.87) with the amount of tea daily consumed, while Fussbottom, Girdlesnipe & Humplefrump (2007) found that the maximum fluent speech rate (syllabic nuclei per second) of 64 public speaking champions was strongly correlated (R2=0.78) with the amount of coffee daily consumed. Similarly, Fensterwascher (2006) showed that heavy tea consumption is almost universal among serial killers, very common among mass murderers, and far more common than the population mean among diagnosed psychopaths and sociopaths. Cardigan, Cardinal, Cardamom & Corduroywala (2001) had already made waves in the literary world by pointing out the close association between heavy tea consumption and the speech deficits characteristic of such upper-class twits as Lord Peter Wimsey and much of the English royal family, while coffee is closely associated with Gallic verbal virtuosity and American accents lacking the characteristic deficits of upper-class English speech. Following up on the diagnostic features collected in this study, Battle, Biddle & Beadle (2005) showed a close correlation (R2=0.91) between degree of r-dropping and amount of tea consumed in 17 speech communities. In a follow-up study, Battle, Biddle, Beadle, Flinthy & Vinder (2008) showed that consumption of tea is a major diagnostic feature for atrophy of the glossopharyngeal nerve, which had been observed as early as 1883, an anatomical effect that in turn destroys the ability of speakers to produce rhotics.
While ethical concerns have hindered research on the toxic effects of tea, the sociolinguistic effects of coffee and tea consumption discovered by Cardigan, Cardinal, Cardamom & Corduroywala (2001) have been extensively studied. In 2003, Cardigan & Cardamom showed that in all languages surveyed the word for tea is a loanword (not counting Chinese, of course), while the use of calques for coffee is somewhat common; Cheyenne mo’kôhtávêhohpe ‘black medicine water’ is a typical example that several linguistic clinicians, neurologists, anthropologists, and ethnobotanists have studied. Moreover, Corduroywala (2004) showed that the borrowing of a word for tea is strongly correlated with language death (R2=0.84), while a calque for coffee is a sure sign of successful language revitalisation (R2=0.92). After much research and debate, the consensus is that the sociolinguistic effects of tea and coffee culture are due to a combination of (1) tea toxicity and coffee healthfulness, (2) the close association between tea drinking and rent-seeking, politically monarchist upper classes on the one hand, and coffee drinking and entrepreneurial, politically republican middle classes on the other, and (3) the peculiarly destructive effects of tea cultivation on native cultures (see such surveys as Filly, Colt & Gelding-Trott (2012) and Gazar (2013)). (This effect remains even after removing from consideration the peculiar statistical characteristics of English tea consumption, which were shown in Cardinal & Cardamom (2010) to be closely correlated with percentage of haemophilia (R2=0.79) and degree of cousin intermarriage (R2=0.57) in each generational cohort of 435 English lineages.)
On the cultural level, it is not only symbolic but directly indicative of the merits of the two drinks that coffee culture can boast J.S. Bach’s Coffee Cantata, while the best that tea culture offers is “Tea for Two,” a paean to domestic mediocrity, and “I’m a little tea pot, short and stout,” the clearest-eyed statement of the British political system that has ever been committed to music (and thus by definition a paean to foreign mediocrity as well as domestic). On the political level, it is symbolic that the same man who gave us the Monroe Doctrine, which protected the fledgling free coffee states of the Americas from blood-stained and tea-soaked European reconquest, also presided over the Era of Good Feeling, so named because that is the essence of coffee drinking—republican good feeling and cheer. And so, as an American and a lover of freedom, I proudly proclaim that I love the smell of coffee in the morning. It smells like freedom. And if any British readers dislike this, I refer them once again to the Monroe Doctrine and ask: What are you going to do about it, sink another battleship? Good luck with that.
Hadley Battle, Henry Biddle & Heath Beadle (2005). “Not an r-ful cuppa: Tea consumption and r-dropping in 17 Anglophone speech communities.” Northern Marianas College Studies in World Englishes 2(1):21-116.
Hadley Battle, Henry Biddle, Heath Beadle, Sarah Flinthy & Antonina Vinder (2008). “Selective atrophy of the glossopharyngeal nerve in heavy tea drinkers.” Speculative Neurologist 62(6):27-96.
Carter Cardigan & Carswell Cardamom (2003). “Imported tea and homegrown coffee: The linguistic effects of caffeine culture.” Speculative Sociolinguist 161(7):42-84.
Carter Cardigan, Karen Cardinal, Carswell Cardamom & Karunashankar Corduroywala (2001). “Tea and circuses: Literary and sociolinguistic correlates of tea and coffee consumption in 43 nations.” Speculative Tanninologist 6(3):2-247.
Karen Cardinal & Carswell Cardamom (2010). “Weak blood and strong tea among the English: A statistical study of tea consumption and genetic disorders associated with degree of inbreeding.” Speculative Tanninologist 15(1):14-53.
Karunashankar Corduroywala (2004). “The cup of life or the chalice of death: The comparative effects of coffee and tea cultures on indigenous languages.” Speculative Sociolinguist 162(4):61-178.
Fletcher Fensterwascher (2006). “Tea and empathy: Tea consumption among serial killers, mass murderers, and less harmful psychopaths and sociopaths.” Speculative Tanninologist 11(2):12-75.
Falabella Filly, Brumby Colt & Norman Cob Gelding-Trott. (2012). “The Universal Solvent: A Review of Recent Research on Tea Culture and Social Collapse.” The Wyoming Economic Sociolinguistics Quarterly 12(2):67-143.
Sarah Flinthy & Antonina Vinder (2004). “Aphasia and tea consumption: A statistical study.” Speculative Neurologist 62(6):27-96.
Snedley Fussbottom, Vernon Girdlesnipe & Godfrey Humplefrump (2007). “Coffee as the lubricant of the tongue: Coffee consumption and speech rate in hyper-fluent speakers.” Speculative Rhetorician 47(4):18-46.
B. Zasakh Gazar (2013). The Siren Song of the Samovar: Socioeconomic Effects of Tea Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism. Kalamazoo, MI: Para-Academic Press.