Balzac is one of many authors* who have cited coffee as a boost to creativity (or at least productivity). See this article, for example.

My question is whether anyone has argued that coffee or caffeine was a factor in the rapid advancement of science beginning in 1600 or so. Coffee houses such as The Grecian were frequented by the likes of Sir Isaac Newton. True or not, it seems unlikely no one has thought to connect caffeine consumption and its gift of marginally-increased clarity** to the revolution in science and humanities in Europe.

If someone could point to articles on this topic or has a feel for the history involved that would be great.

*Rényi said, "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems." We wouldn't credit coffee for his success but there is a probably a grain (or bean) of truth there.

**As measured, say, by performance on tests.

  • This would be almost impossible to prove. Just looking for thoughtful arguments if there are any to be found.
    – daniel
    Jul 31 '15 at 11:32
  • 2
    I'd err on treating anecdotal answers with some skepticism, but I think you've left enough room here for pretty good 'crumbs' that if combined might help point to a pretty good answer. On the one hand, you're asking for solid research, on the other some (perhaps) useful context in interpreting it. While kind of unconventional, I'm okay with this.
    – Tim Post
    Jul 31 '15 at 17:27
  • 3
    Well one argument could be that people gathered in coffee houses to discuss science politics etc. over a cup of coffee. They might have made interaction between brilliant people more likely to happen - Newton, for example, wasn't a very social fellow otherwise. Coffee houses were even called Schools of the Wise according to some google-ing here and here. That can be a starting point for a literature search :)
    – schvaba
    Aug 3 '15 at 13:43
  • This is a very good question! Aug 13 '15 at 0:35
  • 1
    Correlation vs. causation? Perhaps it was heightened perception and reasoning that made people seek out coffee!
    – fredley
    Aug 14 '15 at 14:11

What to keep in mind is, that during the middle ages, alcoholic drinks were pretty much the main beverage.

Before public sanitation, cholera and other water-transmitted diseases were a significant cause of death. Because the process of brewing any beer from malt involves mashing and boiling which effectively pasteurizes the wort, and the fermentation and hops protect against infection, drinking small beer instead of water was one way to escape infection. It was not uncommon for workers (including sailors) who engaged in heavy physical labor to drink more than 10 Imperial pints (5.7 liters) of small beer during a workday to slake their thirst.

(Wikipedia on "Small Beer", a lightly alcoholic beverage)

To quote from an article by Malcom Gladwell

What this flood of caffeine did, according to Weinberg and Bealer, was to abet the process of industrialization–to help “large numbers of people to coordinate their work schedules by giving them the energy to start work at a given time and continue it as long as necessary.” Until the eighteenth century, it must be remembered, many Westerners drank beer almost continuously, even beginning their day with something called “beer soup.” (Bealer and Weinberg helpfully provide the following eighteenth-century German recipe: “Heat the beer in a saucepan; in a separate small pot beat a couple of eggs. Add a chunk of butter to the hot beer. Stir in some cool beer to cool it, then pour over the eggs. Add a bit of salt, and finally mix all the ingredients together, whisking it well to keep it from curdling.”) Now they began each day with a strong cup of coffee. One way to explain the industrial revolution is as the inevitable consequence of a world where people suddenly preferred being jittery to being drunk. In the modern world, there was no other way to keep up. That’s what Edison meant when he said that genius was ninety-nine per cent perspiration and one per cent inspiration. In the old paradigm, working with your mind had been associated with leisure. It was only the poor who worked hard. (The quintessential pre-industrial narrative of inspiration belonged to Archimedes, who made his discovery, let’s not forget, while taking a bath.) But Edison was saying that the old class distinctions no longer held true–that in the industrialized world there was as much toil associated with the life of the mind as there had once been with the travails of the body.

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