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Original photo by yipengge/ iStock
6 Stimulating Facts About Coffee
Read Time: 5m
Article image
Original photo by yipengge/ iStock

Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and Americans are no exception. In 2020, the average American coffee drinker downed more than three cups per day, and Americans overall drank 517 million daily cups. First introduced to America in the mid-17th century, coffee grew in popularity after the Boston Tea Party of 1773, which encouraged patriots to swap over-taxed tea for coffee. In the time since, soldiers have relied on coffee to boost morale overseas, children of U.S. Presidents have founded their own coffee houses, and American coffee brands have expanded across the globe. Can’t get enough coffee? Discover six amazing facts you might not know about this beloved morning beverage.

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Coffee Beans Aren’t Actually Beans

A worker processing the coffee berries by putting them in a machine to be washed.
Credit: grandriver/ iStock

It turns out that the name you’re familiar with for those tiny pods that are ground and brewed for a fresh cup of joe is a misnomer. Coffee “beans” are actually the seeds found within coffee cherries, a reddish fruit harvested from coffee trees. Farmers remove the skin and flesh from the cherry, leaving only the seed inside to be washed and roasted.

Coffee farming is a major time investment: On average, a tree takes three or four years to produce its first crop of cherries. In most of the Coffee Belt — a band along the equator where most coffee is grown that includes the countries of Brazil, Ethiopia, and Indonesia — coffee cherries are harvested just once per year. In many countries, the cherries are picked by hand, a laborious process.

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Decaf Coffee Is Still a Tiny Bit Caffeinated

Black coffee on a black background with inscription decaf made with white chalk.
Credit: Alena A/ Shutterstock

Decaf coffee has helped coffee drinkers enjoy the taste of coffee without (much of) the jolting effects of caffeine, but its creation was entirely accidental. According to legend, around 1905 German coffee merchant Ludwig Roselius received a crate of coffee beans that had been drenched with seawater. Trying to salvage the beans, the salesman roasted them anyway, discovering that cups brewed with the beans retained their taste (with a little added salt) but didn’t have any jittery side effects. Today, the process for making decaf blends remains relatively similar: Beans are soaked in water or other solvents to remove the caffeine, then washed and roasted. However, no coffee is entirely free of caffeine. It’s estimated that 97% of caffeine is removed during preparation, but a cup of decaf has as little as 2 milligrams of caffeine — compared to regular coffee’s 95 milligrams.

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Bach Wrote an Opera About Coffee

Johann Sebastian, a German musician and composer playing the organ.
Credit: Rischgitz/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Johann Bach is remembered as one of the world’s greatest composers, known for orchestral compositions such as the Brandenburg Concertos. But one of Bach’s lesser-known works is Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (“Be Still, Stop Chattering”) — a humorous ode to coffee popularly known as the Coffee Cantata. Written sometime in the 1730s, Bach’s opera makes light of fears at the time that coffee was an immoral beverage entirely unfit for consumption. In the 18th century, coffee shops in Europe were known to be boisterous places of conversation, unchaperoned meeting places for young romantics, and the birthplaces of political plots. A reported lover of coffee, Bach wrote a 10-movement piece that pokes fun at the uproar over coffee. The opera tells the story of a father attempting to persuade his daughter to give up her coffee addiction so that she might get married, but in the end, she just becomes a coffee-imbibing bride.

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The First Webcam Was Invented For a Coffee Pot

Drinking coffee at breakfast.
Credit: yipengge/ iStock

We can credit coffee-craving inventors for creating the first webcam. In the early 1990s, computer scientists working at the University of Cambridge grew tired of trekking to the office kitchen for a cup of joe only to find the carafe in need of a refill. The solution? They devised a makeshift digital monitor — a camera that uploaded three pictures per minute of the coffee maker to a shared computer network — to guarantee a fresh pot of coffee was waiting the moment their mugs emptied. By November 1993, the in-house camera footage made its internet debut, and viewers from around the globe tuned in to watch the grainy, real-time recording. The world’s first webcam generated so much excitement that computer enthusiasts even traveled to the U.K. lab to see the setup in real life. In 2003, the coffee pot sold at auction for nearly $5,000.

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Coffee Was Frequently a Staple in the Oval Office

US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair confer over cups of coffee.
Credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

Coffee has a long political history in the U.S. — colonists who tossed heavily-taxed tea into the Boston Harbor switched to drinking the caffeinated brew as part of their rebellion. But even after the Revolutionary War’s end, American leaders held an enduring love for the beverage. George Washington grew coffee shrubs at his Mount Vernon estate (though because of climate, they likely never produced beans), while Thomas Jefferson loved coffee so much that he estimated using a pound per day at Monticello during retirement. Similarly, Theodore Roosevelt reportedly consumed an entire gallon of coffee each day, and George H.W. Bush was known for imbibing up to 10 daily cups.

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Your Genes Might Determine How Much Coffee You Drink

Aerial view of 3 cups of coffee.
Credit: Nathan Dumlao/ Unsplash

If you can’t get through the day without several cups of coffee, you may have your genes to blame. A 2018 study suggests inherited traits determine how sensitive humans are to bitter foods like caffeine and quinine (found in tonic water). Researchers found that people with genes that allow them to strongly taste bitter caffeine were more likely to be heavy coffee drinkers (defined as consuming four or more cups daily). It seems counterintuitive that people more perceptive to astringent tastes would drink more coffee than those with average sensitivity — after all, bitter-detecting taste buds likely developed as the body’s response to prevent poisoning. But some scientists think that human brains have learned to bypass this warning system in favor of caffeine’s energizing properties. The downside? Constant coffee consumers are at higher risk of developing caffeine addiction.