“One medium refill please, black.”

by ritualofoak

Hanson, Thor.  2015.  The Triumph of Seeds.  pg. 143-160.  Basic Books, New York, United States of America.


(Coffea arabica https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea#/media/File:Coffee_Flowers.JPG)

I really appreciate that every time I’ve picked up Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds I’ve been in the middle of consuming one of the seed product that he goes on to talk about in the reading. In this case, once again, it was my dear friend Coffea. A decaffeinated cup, as my roommate and I haven’t found the time to swing to the grocery to buy a new bag of the good stuff, but coffee nonetheless. The ritual suffices when the caffeine can’t make an appearance, and today I’ve learned that I have a name to thank, at least partially, for the prevalence of that ritual. When Gabriel-Mathieu de Clieu brought his little coffee shrub over the Atlantic to the Caribbean he brought with him the possibility of my daily cup of coffee. Which is another thing that I really appreciate.

Coffea developed a neat trick during it’s evolutionary history in the production of caffeine. Not necessarily a unique defense mechanism, but seemingly a fairly robust one. Like other alkaloid producing plants such as chili peppers this defense mechanism served an ultimate double purpose for the coffee plant. While many species were repelled by the caffeinated bean allowing for the propagation of Coffea in the wild, one species of particular import took notice of the plant.

It was us.

For many other species on Earth this ended up being a “bad move” on the part of evolutionary selection. Humans have had a nasty habit over the course of their dominant role at the top of the food chain of accidentally pushing species to the brink of extinction. On more than one occasion we’ve seen species right out the door. That being said some species have benefited greatly from human “intervention”. Coffee sits up there with corn and wheat in terms of its human facilitated spread over the globe. I have never once been to a town in North America where I couldn’t find a cup of the ubiquitous black nectar.