There is a theory in Human Evolution that claims that coffee had a direct impact on the mental development of early man. While we may never know if that’s true or not, we do know that coffee has had a very serious and clear impact on human civilization time and time again. One of the earliest coffee houses in London, called Lloyd’s of London, was located just near the docks. Merchant marines, ship owners, and purchasers would loiter here, drinking coffee and playing games while they waited for their ships to come in.
The owners of the coffee house started taking bets on which ships would return and which ones wouldn’t. Over time, the owners of the ships got smart and started betting that their ships wouldn’t return, making them some money either way. Thus, the world's first and largest insurance firm was born, and Lloyd’s of London stopped slinging coffee to focus on the betting game.
Lloyd’s of London is just one example of the transformative effect that coffee has had over the course of history. When tracing the path that coffee has taken throughout Europe, one can see great accomplishments in the arts, sciences, and political spheres, especially in dense, urban populations.
Today, a lot of us take the affects of coffee for granted. It has simply become a necessity to start the day. However, there was a time when it was new and novel. Imagine trying coffee for the first time when you are 30 or 40 years old, feeling the fog lift from your brain that you didn’t know was even there once the coffee takes hold. This sensation catapulted people into deeper thinking and talking in ways they never had before, generating new ideas and innovations. They would gather in a coffee house, get “coffee drunk”, and work out problems. Whether you gather with coffee at home or at coffee house, the caffeinated beverage has become a central component to socializing in many parts of the world.
In Chicago, we have the privilege of witnessing a coffee renaissance. The joy that people get from this simple seed continues to spark scrutiny and innovation. As science advances, so does coffee as farming and harvesting continues to improve, as well as new developments in roasting techniques and extraction theory. Baristas geek out about these new ideas, such as the cultivation of an Ethiopia genetic in Guatemala soil or the various levels of Honey processing. In the end though, we all just want to make a great cup of coffee.
Beyond all the stories, science, myths and methods, the great equalizer is the feeling you get when you take that first sip of a great cup of coffee. It takes care, a spirit of giving and sharing, as well as openness for inspiration.