Coffee's merits have been debated for centuries. Force for evil, or nectar of the gods? The word is still out.


As a coffee junkie, I always secretly respect people who don't drink it and tacitly assume they're better people in other ways, as well. But I also someone assume this about people who are serious caffeine purists and will only quaff the finest fair-trade beans brewed in a Clover. In short, coffee is a loaded issue, even if one isn't deeply neurotic.

Says the Guardian in a piece that manages, appropriately enough, to work in the phrase "Grounds for Debate,"

Is it a pernicious brew that causes impotence, arterio-sclerosis, heart failure, indigestion, insomnia, premature old age, pancreatic cancer, birth defects and bad breath, as well as poverty among the farmers who grow it? Or is it an inky nectar that helps prevent Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, liver cancer, gallstones, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, improves motor skills and reaction times, promotes fair trade to the impoverished south and stimulates both intellectual acuity and social interaction? The answer is, according to a new book of essays about coffee and philosophy, quite possibly all of these.

The book — a part of the Philosophy for Everyone series — takes on all sides of the debate, historical and contemporary, over coffee's merits. It covers 17th Century attempts to ban the caffeinated vice, to Beats' obsession with a substance that ranked second only to Amphetamines in their diets, to claims that coffee drained virility (this by a temperence-esque group of caffeine-frowners who drafted a "Women's Petition Against Coffee.") Of the latter claim, the Guardian's Stuart Jeffries writes,

So what about impotence? That does seem to have been overstated. The Women's Petition Against Coffee prompted a broadside from men who argued that it "makes the erection more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, adds spiritualescency to the Sperm". Initially I wasn't sure what "spiritualescency" means, either, until I read in this book that caffeine increases sperm motility. That said, some say coffee may harm the sperm while speeding it on its way, which makes a kind of sense.

In short, it's a wash. Of course, for those who are hooked, we know its power — perceived or otherwise — and its negatives. The "Coffee Cantata" is a great piece. On the other hand, teeth whitening isn't cheap. As to the sex question, I'm just saying — Peggy Lee didn't sing about tea, so take that for what it's worth.

Can Coffee Wreck Your Marriage?
[Guardian]