History of Coffee vs. History of Tea: Round 1 – FIGHT!

Hello my coffee and tea connoisseurs. As I stated in my prior post, I’m new to taking the whole coffee and tea thing seriously. Given that, I figured that the best place to start with trying to educate myself about these beverages is to start with their history.

It’s not difficult to learn about the history of coffee and tea. A simple search on Wikipedia will give you all the basics, and there are multiple sites which tackle the topic, so I will refrain from simply regurgitating the facts for you here. What I plan to do is to try and determine which has the more interesting history, the bean or the leaf.

Now, I warn you, both drinks are OLD, so there’s a lot of history to go through. This could get long, so I’m splitting it up into two posts.

I’m pitting both drinks against each other in 5 different categories: Age, Origin Myths, Controversies, Variety and Popularity. I’ll go over the first three categories today. You’ll have to come back next week to see how they finish up.

Of course, only one beverage can earn the right to call themselves the most interesting drink in the world! FIGHT!

Round 1: Date of Origin

The age of each drink is an obvious starting point for this one. Which came first, the bean or the leaf?

Coffee: The history of coffee dates back to the 13th century, though stories say it may have been discovered in the 9th century. That’s a long time for a beverage to last. Let’s go see how Tea can compare:

Tea: The consumption of tea has records that date back to the 10th century… BC. Legends date its discovery back to 2737 BC. There’s a tea tree that’s 3,200 years old!

Verdict: Yeah, in the age category, tea kicks coffee’s butt.

Winner Round 1: Tea

Round 2: Origin Myth

Myths are fun. A good story embellished to explain something that nobody quite understood leads to all sorts of wacky ideas and explanations. The myths surrounding the origin of coffee and tea are no exception, but which drink has the better tales woven around it?

Coffee: There’s a few myths regarding the origin of coffee. One states a visiting mystic to Ethiopia saw birds eating certain berries and being revitalized, so he ate them as well. Another says a sheik’s disciple was exiled, and to survive, tried eating the local berries, but found them bitter. He threw them in the fire, hoping cooking them would help, but they became hard. So he tried boiling them in water to soften them, and the water turned brown and smelled good, so he drank it and was sustained for days. He became a saint for sharing his discovery.

A third myth has a goatherd noticed his goats eating berries and becoming energetic, so after trying the same, he brought the berries to a local monk, who disapproved. He threw them into the fire, from whence wafted a wonderful aroma, causing the other monks to gather round. They rescued the beans from the fire, ground them up, dissolved them in water, and voila, coffee. Who knows if these are true, but they’re pretty fun stories.

Tea: The legend of tea goes that an emperor was outside, drinking his bowl of simple boiled water, when the wind blew and some leaves fell into the bowl, causing the colour to change, and giving it a pleasing taste and medicinal properties. Another legend says that Bodhidharma (the founder of Chan Buddhism) fell asleep after meditating for nine years, and being disgusted at his own weakness for sleeping, cut off his eyelids so his eyes couldn’t shut and betray him, and the eyelids took root and became the first tea bushes.

Verdict: Okay, so a common theme to coffee is eating the fruit of the coffee plant; either due to copying animals or starvation, and then determining that adding fire makes it better. Human ingenuity at its best. Tea is based on either an old dude deciding he could keep drinking his water after leaves fell into it, or drinking the result of growing eyelids. Boring or gruesome. As much as we appreciate gruesome here at Coffee Shop of Horrors, I’m going to have to say I prefer caffeinated goats, and give this one to coffee.

Winner Round 2: Coffee

Round 3: Controversies

I think we can all admit that a good controversy makes for good entertainment. People yelling at each other, making outlandish claims and, ultimately, fighting, is high on entertainment value. Of course, what brings about controversy better than something that’s new and scary? Both coffee and tea were brought to Europe and from there the rest of the world around the 16th century, so let’s look there, shall we?

Coffee: Coffee had rather humble beginnings, what with the whole goatherd and monk thing, and so it was the everyman’s drink imported and sold to the everyman. Of course, when everyone jumps on the latest, greatest thing, there has to be someone else who claims that thing is horrible. First off, it was argued whether coffee was appropriate for good Catholics to drink, and some people called for its ban until the Pope approved it. When coffee houses became popular in Europe, some of them banned women from the premises. It seems some of the women didn’t mind that, however, as in 1674 the “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” claimed “…the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE […] has […] Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent, as Age.” Seems a lot of people didn’t appreciate a good caffeine buzz.

Tea: Tea was the drink of emperors, and when it was imported, was the drink of royalty. The British East India Company had to run a marketing campaign to get more people to drink it. I suppose that if your social betters were already drinking the stuff, it couldn’t be all bad, because there’s not any protests against tea that I can find. Now, tea has been involved in several conflicts, like the Opium Wars, and the Boston Tea Party certainly involved tea, but really, tea was just something that the trade treaties and economic turmoil circled around. No one was against the tea itself. If anything, fighting happened because people wanted more tea.

Verdict: While tea has been involved in some wars, and a war is always good for getting people riled up, tea itself wasn’t really the focal point. The reasons for the wars were kind of boring. Coffee, on the other hand, had all sorts of great finger-pointing and hand-wringing and wild claims involved in its acceptance in society. That amuses me much more.

Winner Round 3: Coffee

Well folks, So far, coffee is up 2 to 1. It’s looking good for the dark nectar! Will it come out on top, or will tea pull a few tricks out of its sleeves and come back with a last minute victory?


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