Consumed in the Muslim world from the 15th century and in Western and Christian Europe from the 17th century, coffee has always sparked debate, proving popular everywhere, while also being blamed for various ailments. Its power as a stimulant has undeniably played a major role in the popularity of this beverage. The Turks extolled its effects on digestion and on the ability to stay awake. Europeans also appreciated these qualities and attributed coffee with all sorts of medicinal virtues too, to the point of making it a panacea.
Some forty years after the first coffee houses opened in England, Samuel Price, a London coffee merchant, summed up the extraordinary health benefits of the drink in his advertisement, dated around 1690 (see illustration). He claimed that coffee refreshed the heart and vital functions, fortified the liver and stomach, purified blood and stimulated appetite. It was believed to combat apoplexy and tinnitus, and also to prevent miscarriages. However, some 17th and 18th century doctors thought consuming coffee had harmful effects. They claimed it attacked the brain, burnt the blood, led to dreadful weight loss, affected the nervous system and could even cause infertility and impotence.
Today, coffee is one of the world’s most popular drinks, after water and tea. The way it affects health is of particular interest to the medical field; the number of studies carried out on humans and animals, meta-analyses and developments have multiplied in recent decades. While some results have appeared contradictory, requiring a certain amount of caution when interpreting them, moderate consumption of coffee is no longer considered a health risk for the general public.