A Social Drug

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Who decides whether a certain drug is social or taboo, harmless or haram?

From the thermos lady with the plastic seats to the smokey hippy meet spots in the gentrified parts of town, this swirling cup of blackness is enjoyed by many from all walks of life. And if you believe the legend, it all started with a wild tropical berry that attracted the attention of a herd of goats.


Suppose you do indeed believe the 9th-century legend of Kaldi and his goats. In that case, we owe 860 million dollars worth of our country's exports to the ancestors of the animals you might now occasionally see eating banana peels and plastic—what a fall from grace. But as stories from that time weren't reliably put to paper, it is wise to take this story with a healthy “sini” of skepticism. According to scholars, the discovery of coffee is most likely attributed to the nomadic Oromo people of the time.


The real goats in this story are actually the Arabs, true businessmen who recognized a good product when they saw it. Only a few centuries later, it was being traded on the shores of Yemen, quickly spreading throughout the world, even popping up in the newly discovered Americas.


From lowering the risk of degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to improving cardiovascular health, coffee may also boost your baby-making abilities, according to some sources. A 2005 study found that men who drank more than six cups of coffee a day had more mobile and intuitively faster sperm, although these findings are yet to be repeated and properly validated. Not everything is without its catch, as excessive coffee consumption leads to anxiety, jitteriness, and insomnia. As one avid drinker admitted, “I'm not saying I drink too much coffee, but let’s just say my body will keep moving for four hours after my death." It can also be the result of heartburn and unsolicited bowel movements, although the latter can be useful if you time it right.


The legend continues that the discovery was solidified by priests and monks who had to endure long nights of prayer, and this new berry to them was literally godsent. It makes you wonder if they ever experimented with other performance-enhancing psychoactives.


At the end of the day, coffee is actually a drug in every sense of the word. It is a potent stimulant that has direct effects on our brain, with some addictive qualities, as some may profess. But society and cultural norms have been forgiving of this beverage, maybe due to its charming aroma, not even nearly as taboo as some of its contemporaries. So who decides whether a certain drug is social or taboo, harmless or haram? This seems like a great subject to discuss among friends, preferably over a cup of tea.

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