If coffee, tee, mate, guarana, cocoa and a few other plants did not have alkaloids (‘caffeine’, ‘theine’ and others), nature would have to allow the evolution of an alternative system to protect them from the destructive insects in their environment. Needless to say, if it were not there to protect them, it would not be here to stimulate us.
In his informative, beautiful and fascinating book about the global importance of five plants and how they changed the way we live, Henry Hobhouse makes a statement about the popularity of hot drinks.
“The Portuguese were probably the earliest tea drinkers in Europe, since they brought it to Lisbon from about 1580 onward. They may also have been keen consumers of the Arab mint tea, which was a well-known infusion before the arrival of tea itself. Today there are offered chamomile, linden flowers, comfrey, and many other herbal teas, yet there is no evidence that any of them, including mint tea, was ever widely drunk. Mint was only used in Moslem countries, where alcohol was not permissible, or by people who had acquired the habit from Arabs. So why did tea become so popular in Europe”
“The reason must be that all successful hot nonalcoholic drinks contain socially acceptable stimulating drugs. Without them, they are not more effective than hot water. In the nineteenth century organic chemists finally identified the alkaloid of tea, theine, as being the same as that of coffee, caffeine. To be fair, theine is less effective.”
Without the caffeine in coffee, tea and cocoa, these are not more effective than hot water?
With all due and deserved respect to Henry Hobhouse, it most definitely cannot be accepted, it cannot be rationalized that the successes of coffee, tea and cocoa were and are only based on their alkaloid contents, neither can it be truly believed that, over time, various societies have chosen these drinks over water, only based on their stimulance. Coffee and its aroma, its bitterness and its taste, earthy and nutty, all contribute clearly to the reasons why we love and need coffee. When it comes to tea, a classical loved combination is earl grey, a realm of fine taste notes, but also the simplest high-quality green or black or white teas will give you an array for the palate that no other drink can. And for this rainbow of tastes we appreciate and need these hot drinks, not only for their ability to stimulate.
Heat gives a further, necessary component to the advantages of hot drinks over sodas, alcohol and even fruit juices. Warmth is not just temperature, but a feeling as well, and as such, the closest thing to love. A significant sign of enjoying life, a drink and the time of day, is drinking the choice of a hot drink out of a small bowl, being held by softly pressing the palms of the hands, as opposed to the strenuous proper holding of a cup with two fingers.
Alcohol will numb the mind and the body. Sodas are usually seen as thirst quenchers. Juices are with certainty the liquids tightly connected with health conscious ones, but are usually not considered for the pleasure and socializing. And nobody invites for the evening to a glass of milk.
Hot drinks are a necessity because they invite us to dwell, while providing comfort and coziness. They are there for the pleasure of the soul. Thus, when combining the temperature and the taste, the satisfaction might be even greater than stimulation through caffeine.
So why did tea and coffee become so popular in Europe and later all over the world? Because of the uniqueness in their tastes. Because they continue to be the best liquids to drink hot (or warm), and because they temper and enlighten us. Caffeine is just an extra.