The Coffee Chronicles: Articles about the Java

Was Coffee the Secret to Voltaire’s Genius?

This painting by Jean Huber, "Voltaire's Breakfast," depicts Voltaire enjoying a cup of morning coffee.

I enjoy little more than a cup of coffee and good literature. When the two are combined, I become quite the happy camper.

On a guest post at Daily Shot of Coffee, Jim Strutzin, a copywriter for Drinkware Company, wrote about the connection between famous 18th century writer Francois-Maries Voltaire and coffee.

This article was so good because, despite my many literature classes and the many works of Voltaire that I have read, I did not know that he was such an avid coffee drinker.

The story is conversational and effortlessly educational. It assumes that the reader already knows who Voltaire is, and does not waste words giving a needless biography of the man.

It focuses not only on Voltaire’s obvious obsession with coffee (up to 50 cups a day!), but also on the community surrounding coffee and coffeehouses in the 18th century.

Knowing Voltaire’s penchant for working in cafés it’s easy to understand why his beliefs influenced revolutionary thought throughout Europe and all the way to the Americas. Not only did Parisian cafés house many other enlightenment philosophers expounding on the rights of man, such as Rousseau, but Le Procope was frequented by the leaders of the American Revolution, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, during the decades Voltaire indulged his dozens-of-cups-a-day coffee habit.

As an avid coffee drinker myself, I find it refreshing that coffee is being associated with genius and unique thought, rather than health problems and addiction. In addition to learning about Voltaire, I learned that coffeehouses were a social hub, a genius’s escape from the real world into one of intellect and good conversation. It’s very interesting to see how much coffee houses have changed—they’re still intellectual hubs, but more internet-based than conversation-based. And the sterotype of the starving writing taping away at his laptop at a Starbucks is still alive and well. Did it originate from Voltaire’s time? Possibly.

Of course, I wish I had known this information before delving into Voltaire’s literature. It would have been nice to know that source of his literary inspirations.

Grab Your Coffee, I Think This Paper May Depress You

Finally: an article about all the articles. This column by physiologist Scicurious is a well-written, skeptical article about a recent study that attributes caffeine to less depression in women. While such an outcome would be just great, I also had doubts. Scicurious is an avid coffee drinker as well, and her scientific knowledge and added evidence allow me to better trust her judgment on the matter, as she has no ulterior motive to support or not support this study. Its publication in Scientific American also lends to the article’s credibility. She writes:

If it was good for you, you would feel all the more justified, right? That’s really the only reason I can think of as to why so many recent studies have come out on whether caffeine is “good” for you or not. Just keeping you awake and alert apparently isn’t enough of a benefit, now it’s gotta cure your cancer. Or in this case, your depression.

I appreciated her article because, while it was an entertaining and easy read, it also included backup support for her opinion, and she lists out the faults she found with the study in her article. She reaches a logical conclusion from skeptical analysis. She takes a thorough, analytic approach to each step of the study, from the subjects to those gathering information, to encourage her reader to doubt this obviously bias study.

She reminded me to be skeptical of every bit of information the media provides me by looking for other sources and opinions from the other side of the debate.

A Competitive Cup of Coffee: Peru

I enjoyed this article because it was written in the first person. It was written from the author’s, Beth Ann Caspersen’s, personal experience at the Concurso Nacional de Cafes de Calidad, an annual coffee-cupping competition in Lima, Peru. Caspersen is Quality Control Manager for Equal Exchange,  a Fair trade worker-owned co-op in Massachusetts. It specializes in organic coffees, teas, sugar and cocoa.

The details in the article are ones that a reader can get no where else because the point-of-view is from inside of and partaking in the competition.

Day two was much more intense; we cupped all 40 coffees in one day to understand the panorama of what the competition had to offer and by the end of the day I was singing the praises of 4 or 5 coffees that had caught my attention.

Caspersen cups coffee in Lima, Peru (blog.equalexchange.coop)

Caspersen writes about her nervousness, her excitement and the everyday events that surround the competition and preparation for it. These details are only privy to someone who is there in person and participating, not a casual observer or reporter.

The article is written less like an essay or a news piece, but like a verbal story, one with suspense (who will win?), exhaustion and excitement, in addition to educating readers about exactly what goes on at a Peruvian coffee competition.

About bouchat

I am a blogger specializing in investigative reporting and editorial commentary. Currently a junior at the University of Oregon, I am majoring in journalism and Japanese.
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