Everything Old is New Again?

Ad from the Publick Adviser (London circa 1657)

So I just tweeted yet another news story about the “newly” discovered health benefits of coffee. This one is from the Seattle Times and is a report declaring that drinking coffee will help you live longer. You can read the story here.

This comes on the heels of numerous other health and coffee stories that have recently been in the news. We have stories about coffee helping ward off Alzheimer’s and other brain/memory loss diseases. And we have stories about coffee helping prevent diabetes. Here’s yet another story about coffee fighting another typical health issue, high blood pressure. And here coffee fights that bete noir of modern life, weight gain (or rather green coffee extract is an effective weight loss tool.)

No doubt as coffee professionals, we love all these studies and reports, since we know that simply enjoying a cup of carefully crafted coffee can be heavenly and rewarding in itself, the idea that you could actually get health benefits from it is simply fat-free icing on the sweet but gluten-free cake.

But here’s the thing that really gets me thinking: Check out the ad at the top of the post. It’s from a newspaper published in London, England around 1657. It’s one of the first printed ads for coffee that we still have a copy of, and look at how it’s selling coffee. In fact, when coffee was introduced to Europe, it was sold almost exclusively as a medicinal tonic. You didn’t buy it from a café, you bought from an apothecary, or what we might call a pharmacy. And look at the number of ills it was said to cure!

I’ve used this ad in my presentation about the history of coffee advertising (and what it teaches us about marketing specialty coffee today) – shameless plug: I’ll be giving the presentation again at Barista Nation Vancouver next month. And mostly the reaction, including from myself, is one of gentle mockery at making such outlandish claims or at the types of diseases they claim coffee cures Dropsie or the King’s Evil for example.

And yet, here we are in 2012, and the reality is that coffee really does seem to have an amazing number of disease fighting agents! And that, in fact, whether or not they had rigorous scientific studies to back it up, the early marketers of our favorite brew really were onto something, and perhaps it’s something that specialty coffee can learn from. Not only can we change the world through paying fair prices for coffee. Not only can we change our experience of coffee by carefully picking, processing, roasting, and preparing it to highlight new flavor profiles. But we (and our customers) can actually change our very health through regular consumption of coffee.

Isn’t that something we ought to be talking about more?

About the Author

Ken

Kenneth R. Olson is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Washington Huskies. Go Blazers! Go Dawgs!