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Coffee (Coffea robusta[note 1] and C. arabica)[1] is native to Ethiopia and Yemen. It was domesticated relatively late in human history, with the first definitive evidence of domestication in the 15th century CE.[2]:3 Most of the coffee in the world today is produced in Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia.

Menace or panacea?[edit]

"The Vertue of the Coffee Drink"… a broadsheet advertisement from 1652
Whereas it is most apparent, that the Multitude of Coffee-Houses of late years set up and kept within the Kingdom, the Dominion of Wales, and the Town of Berwick on Tweed, and the great resort of Idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many Tradesmen and others, do therein mis-spend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise by imployed in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs; but also, for that in such houses, and by occasion of the meetings of such persons therein, diverse False, Malitious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majesties Government, and to the Disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm…
—King Charles II, 1675[3]

Prior to the era of modern medical science, no-one could definitively say whether coffee consumption was unhealthy, healthy, or neutral. Nonetheless, arguments about its healthiness (and other social effects) started early, shortly after its arrival in Mecca.[4]:49

Attempts at banning coffee have happened several times in history: Mecca (1511 and 1526 CE), Cairo, Egypt (1539 and 1544), Italy (16th century), Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (1623, 1675), Sweden (1746), Prussia (1777), and in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (at some point before the 18th century).[3][4][5]:49-53 Possible ill-health from coffee drinking was considered in the first assessment of whether there should be a ban in 1511.[4]:50[6] In Sweden, King Gustav III (reigned 1771 to 1792) viewed coffee as a threat to public health and may have ordered the conducting of a crude prospective epidemiology study, Gustav III of Sweden's coffee experiment.Wikipedia[7]

Coffee houses are one of the more humorous examples of an early moral panic in 18th century Germany and Austria. The belief was that, since coffee houses were places where men and women of culture could casually gather and mingle, it would tempt the women to violate their marriage vows, or even defile themselves before marriage. The moral panic was so ridiculous that it inspired J.S. Bach, one of the greatest classical composers of all time, to write a short cantata satirizing it.[8] The cantata involves a father trying to end his daughter's coffee dependency, and the latter provides us with the immortal line:

Father, don't be so sharp! If I couldn't, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.[9]

A 1674 London advertising broadsheet characterised coffee as a panacea:[10][11]

First sent amongst us this All-healing-Berry,
At once to make us both Sober and Merry.
Arabian Coffee, a Rich Cordial
To Purse and Person Beneficial,
Which of so many Vertues doth partake,…

COFFEE arrives, that Grave and wholesome Liquor,
That heals the Stomack, makes the Genius quicker,
Relieve, the Memory, Revives the Sad,
And chears the Spirits, without making Mad;
For being of a Cleansing QUALITY,
By NATURE warm, Attenuating and Dry,
Its constant Use the sullenest Griefs will Rout,
Removes the Dropsie, gives ease to the Gout,
And soon dispatcheth wheresoever it finds
Scorbutick [scurvy] Humours, Hypochondriack winds,
Rheums, Ptisicks, Palsies, Jaundise, Coughs, Catarrhs,
And whatsoe're with Nature leavyeth Warrs;
It helps Digestion, want of Appetite,
And quickly sets Consumptive Bodies Right;…

Do but this Rare ARABIAN Cordial Use,
And thou may'st all the Doctors Slops Refuse.
Hush then, dull QUACKS, your Mountebanking cease,
COFFEE's a speedier Cure for each Disease;…

Given that it came to the West from the Middle East, coffee obviously represents a sinful foreign abomination which undermines the very fabric of Our Civilization. Just like minarets. Or the hijab. Or Arabic numerals. Or Abrahamic religions.

The anti-caffeine crusade[edit]

C. W. Post, circa 1914
Kellogg, supreme strainer of soups

The discovery of caffeine as the active ingredient of coffee in 1819 by chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge[12] eventually led to a new avenue of approach for food scares.

One of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen G. White (1827–1915), advised Adventists to avoid caffeine and declared that consumption of tea and coffee "is a sin, an injurious indulgence", arguing that caffeinated beverages caused "headaches, wakefulness, palpitation of the heart, indigestion, trembling, and many other evils" and wore away "life forces" and were poisonous.[13][14][note 2]

John Harvey KelloggWikipedia (1852–1943), a Seventh-day Adventist and a protegé of White, was also a rather quacky medical doctor. Kellogg opposed both tea and coffee because they contained caffeine, regarding anything with caffeine as poisonous.[15] Kellogg and his brother also invented the corn flakes breakfast cereal. This invention, and his views on caffeine, inspired one of his patients, C. W. PostWikipedia (1854–1914).[note 3]

Post, previously a real-estate developer, was once treated for a mental breakdown at Kellogg's sanitorium,Wikipedia was afterward inspired to found his own food company, Postum Cereal Co. The company's first product, called Postum,Wikipedia was meant to be a caffeine-free (implicit) coffee substitute. Post made an enormous fortune from the company by using massive amounts of advertising[16] that included both vague, ("There's a Reason") plausible but unsubstantiated ("Mr. Coffee Nerves"[17]) and wildly unsupported attacks against coffee:[16]:95

  • "Lost Eyesight through Coffee Drinking" (wait, this sounds familiar…)
  • "It is safe to say that one person in every three among coffee drinkers has some incipient or advanced form of disease." (as opposed to what percentage in non-drinkers?)
  • Coffee contains "a poisonous drug — caffeine, which belongs in the same class of alkaloids with cocaine, morphine, nicotine, and strychnine." (Clutch those pearls!)
  • "Does it reduce your work time, kill your energy, push you into the big crowd of mongrels, deaden what thorough-bred blood you may have and neutralize all your efforts to make money and fame?" — a direct appeal to racism
  • "Sooner or later the steady drugging will tear down the strong man or woman, and the stomach, bowels, heart, kidneys, nerves, brain or some other organ connected with the nervous system, will be attacked."

Post's attacks against coffee had a substantial negative impact on coffee sales, and led to the pursuit of decaffeinated coffee, a process that Meyer, Roselius and Wimmer first patented in 1906.[4]:209-210[18] Rather than ending the attacks, decaf has generated its own health scares due to the decaffeination solvents.[4]:209-211

Naturopaths have also thought that coffee contained poisons and have decried coffee-drinking as an evil habit.[19] People who dislike bitter tastes might feel inclined to agree.

Coffee and health meet science[edit]

Scientific studies on the health effects of coffee drinking started at least as early as the 1940s. It wasn't until much later after many studies and the advent of large-scale prospective epidemiological studies that a clearer view has begun to take place.

More than 1000 chemicals have been found in coffee, and of the 30 that have been tested for carcinogenicity in rodents, 21 were carcinogenic at high doses.[20] However, that is not the whole story: high dose studies in rodents of individual chemicals do not mean that moderate consumption of a food or beverage containing them (in small amounts) is carcinogenic to humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) initially evaluated coffee as being in group 2B ("possibly carcinogenic to the human urinary bladder") in 1991, a weak evaluation supported only by limited evidence.[21] After more evidence became available, IARC reevaluated coffee in 2016 as being in Group 3 ("not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans", the level of least concern).[22] It is important to note that IARC only evaluates potential carcinogenicity of substances, not anti-carcinogenicity.

An umbrella study of 112 meta-analyses of observational studies looked at 59 unique health outcomes, and tried to resolve discrepancies among the studies.[23] The study found probable evidence that coffee decreased the "risks of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, Parkinson's disease, and type-2 diabetes", and that caffeine also decreased the "risks of Parkinson's disease and type-2 diabetes."[23] There was also a probable "increased risk of pregnancy loss" from caffeine consumption,[23] so caffeine is not recommended for pregnant people.[24] There was also weaker evidence that coffee decreased the risk of several other diseases.[23]

The umbrella study did not examine every possible outcome, and there is good evidence for coffee's positive effects on other health outcomes:

  • Lifespan: In a large study (reported in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine) of 402,260 participants, unlikely to be superseded by another coffee study anytime soon, it was found that people who drank more than 2 cups of coffee per day were 10-16% less likely to have died than nondrinkers during a 13.6-year period.[25] A separate study in 2022 of 171,000 people in the UK found similar results on longevity.[26][27]
  • Suicide and depression reduction[28][29]

A caveat[edit]

Although coffee drinking has many benefits, drinking unfiltered coffee such as espresso exposes one to the chemical cafestol and to other diterpenes.[30] Consumption of these diterpenes has the effect of raising one's blood LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which could be bad if one has high cholesterol or is prone to high cholesterol.[30][31]

California's Proposition 65[edit]

Despite this largely positive evidence for the health benefits of coffee, dozens of coffee companies were sued regarding the carcinogenicity in animals of acrylamide in high-dose experiments under California's Proposition 65;Wikipedia acrylamide occurs naturally in coffee as well as other foods such as fried potatoes.[32][33] The judge in the case had tentatively ruled in 2018 against the coffee companies, meaning that the coffee companies would have to post warning signs as well as possibly face fines of up to $2500 per person exposed since 2002.[32] Proposition 65 requires that all businesses that sell products that expose customers to products that contain a chemical on a list of known carcinogens or teratogens post a warning sign on their premises to avoid a lawsuit.[34] Eventually, the coffee companies won their case on appeal in 2022 and were not required to post Proposition 65 warnings.[35][36]

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Coffee.


  1. The scientific name is Coffea canephora, or sometimes Coffea canephora var. robusta.
  2. Seventh-day Adventists are also discouraged, by some means or other, from consuming alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
  3. Post may not have been an Adventist himself.


  1. The difference between C. arabica and C. robusta Coffee Research Institute.
  2. The World of Caffeine by Bennett Alan Weinberg & Bonnie K. Bealer (2001) Routledge. ISBN 0415927234.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The King bans Coffee. The Olde Foodie.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild (2004) W. W. Norton. ISBN 0393060713.
  5. 5 historical attempts to ban coffee (October 2, 2012) The Week.
  6. "The Early History of Ethiopia's Coffee Trade and the Rise of Shawa" by Merid W. Aregay (1988) The Journal of African History 29(1):19-20. doi:10.1017/s0021853700035969. JSTOR 182236.
  7. Coffee – rat poison or miracle medicine? (2007) Linné on line.
  8. Schweigt Stille, Plaudert Nicht, BWV 211, International Music Score Library Project.
  9. Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211 by Johann Sebastian Bach, Genius.
  10. Eighteenth-Century Coffee-House Culture by Markman Ellis (2006). Routledge. ISBN 1851968296.
  11. A brief description of the excellent vertues of that sober and wholesome drink, called coffee, And its incomparable effects in preventing or curing most diseases incident to humane bodies London, Printed for Paul Greenwood, and are to be sold at the sign of the Coffee-Mill and Tobacco-Roll in Cloath-fair near West-Smithfield, who selleth the best Arabian Coffee-Powder and Chocolate, made in Cake or in Roll, after the Spanish Fashion, &c. 1674.
  12. Neueste phytochemische Entdeckungen zur Begründung einer wissenschaftlichen Phytochemie by FF Runge (1820) Berlin: G. Reimer. pp. 144–159.
  13. Messenger of the Lord: Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White by Herbert E. Douglass (1998). Pacific Press Publishing Association. ISBN 0816316228.
  14. Not-So-Perfect Cup of Coffee. News commentary: We should not forget that it's the same vindicated source of information that protected us from tobacco use that advises against caffeine. by Elizabeth Ostring (February 22, 2015) Adventist Review.
  15. New Dietetics: A Guide to Scientific Feeding in Health and Disease by John Harvey Kellogg (1923) The Modern Medicine Publishing Co.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast (2010) Basic Books; Revised edition. ISBN 046501836X.
  17. You, Ya Jittery Bitch Mwah! The Adventures of Mr Coffee Nerves by James Lileks (2011) (archived from February 8, 2012).
  18. US897840A: Preparation of Coffee Espacenet.
  19. Universal Naturopathic Encyclopedia, Directory and Buyers' Guide: Year Book of Drugless Therapy for 1918-19 by Benedict Lust (editor and publisher) page 25.
  20. Misconceptions About the Causes of Cancer by Lois Swirsky Gold et al. (2002) In: Human and Environmental Risk Assessment: Theory and Practice, edited by D. Paustenbach. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 1415-1460.
  21. Coffee, Tea, Mate, Methylxanthines and Methylglyoxal IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 51 (1991) International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  22. IARC Monographs evaluate drinking coffee, maté, and very hot beverages Press release No. 244 (15 June 2016) International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Coffee, Caffeine, and Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review by Giuseppe Grosso et al. (2017) Annual Review of Nutrition 37:131-156.
  24. A large analysis shows coffee is mostly good for you, though maybe not if you're pregnant by Kendall Powell (February 4, 2018) The Washington Post.
  25. Coffee gives jolt to life span: Java consumption linked to slightly increased longevity by Nathan Seppa (May 16, 2012 at 5:13 pm) Science News.
  26. Association of Sugar-Sweetened, Artificially Sweetened, and Unsweetened Coffee Consumption With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Large Prospective Cohort Study by Dan Liu et al. (31 May 2022) Annals of Internal Medicine doi:10.7326/M21-2977.
  27. Coffee drinkers may be at lower risk of early death, study suggests: Even people who take sugar seem at lower risk, say experts, but results may be due to coffee drinkers being more affluent by Nicola Davis (30 May 2022 17.00 EDT) The Guardian.
  28. Drinking Coffee Reduces Suicide Risk By 50%: 2 To 4 Cups A Day Is Effective Antidepressant by Samantha Olson (Jul 26, 2013 01:00 PM) Medical Daily.
  29. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of completed suicide: results from three prospective cohorts of American adults by M. Lucas et al. (2014) World J. Biol. Psychiatry. 15(5):377-86. doi:10.3109/15622975.2013.795243.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Cholesterol-raising diterpenes in types of coffee commonly consumed in Singapore, Indonesia and India and associations with blood lipids: A survey and cross sectional study by Nasheen Naidoo et al. (2011) Nutrition Journal 10:48. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-48.
  31. Coffee Consumption and Serum Lipids: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials by Sun Ha Jee et al. (2001) American Journal of Epidemiology 153(4):353–362,
  32. 32.0 32.1 Starbucks, other coffee companies must have cancer warning label, California judge rules by Eli Rosenberg (March 29, 2018 at 10:25 PM) The Washington Post.
  33. California Coffee Shops May Be Required to Post Cancer Warnings by Chris Jennewein (March 29, 2018) Times of San Diego.
  34. The Proposition 65 List Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
  35. Coffee Defendants Victorious in Proposition 65 Appeal by Ann Grimaldi (February 27, 2023) Grimaldi Law Offices.
  36. Coffee and Proposition 65: Frequently Asked Questions Proposition 65 Warnings, State of California.