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Booker T. Washington dining with Teddy Roosevelt.

A Deadly Passion for Coffee: How Did this Addictive Drink Fuel the History of the World?

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If you cannot imagine a day without a warm cup or mug of coffee, you are not alone. Many of the most famous stories of the world are related to people who loved coffee. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was addicted to this drink? Have you heard that Mozart, Bach, Balzac, and Napoleon all couldn't live without it either? Let me tell you the story about their addiction and love for the aromatic brown beans.

A warm, brown, delicious liquid that smells like heaven. Millions of people around the world cannot live without this “drink of the gods” created by the reaction of water and coffee beans. It is believed that the first people who used coffee were the Oromo ethnic group - the ancestors of Ethiopians. People have been enjoying the benefits of a drink that they believe gives them more power since at least the 10th century. Nowadays, scientists have confirmed that drinking coffee brings many advantages, but overdosing on caffeine may still cause tragic consequences. The history of famous people drinking coffee started centuries ago and continues today.

Music with the Flavor of Coffee

At least two of the most famous classical composers of the 18th-century couldn't start their work without this fashionable and luxurious drink. Johannes Sebastian Bach loved coffee so much that he wrote an opera about it. He created the Coffee Cantata in 1732. The piece described the role of this drink in daily life. The opera revolved around the story of a father and his daughter. Addicted to coffee, the daughter had to give up on her love of the flavorful drink to get married. However, instead of becoming coffee-free, she decided to search for a man who was as addicted to coffee as herself. The cantata ends with a scene of both characters singing a song describing how fantastic it is to drink coffee.

Café Zimmermann, Leipzig, where the Collegium Musicum performed.

Café Zimmermann, Leipzig, where the Collegium Musicum performed. (Public Domain)

Similarly, Ludwig van Beethoven also had an enormous interest in coffee. According to his biographer, his preferred drink was made with 60 beans.

Napoleon’s Addiction to Coffee

Napoleon Bonaparte had many unusual habits. The ruler of France couldn't live without politics, war, beautiful women, or coffee. This aromatic drink was his last meal. One of the most famous stories related to Napoleon's weakness for coffee is linked to his last days. According to the website St Helena Coffee:

''A few days before the end, Marechal Bertrand recorded that Napoleon kept begging for coffee and that his new 'doctor', Antommarchi (he was, in fact, a dissecting room assistant), allowed him a few spoonful’s. Then, as the Emperor declined further, Bertrand writes:

That morning, he had asked twenty times if he could be allowed some coffee. 'No, Sire', 'Might the doctors allow me just a spoonful?' 'No, Sire, not at the moment, your stomach is too irritated, you would vomit a little earlier, perhaps.' He had already vomited perhaps nine times during the day. What a great change had overtaken him! Tears came to my eyes, seeing this formidable man, who had commanded with such authority, in a manner so absolute, beg for a spoonful of coffee, seek permission, obedient as a child, asking again and again for permission and not obtaining it, without ever losing his temper. At other times during his illness, he would have thrown his doctors out, flouted their advice and done as he wanted. Now he was as docile as a child. So, here is the great Napoleon: pitiful, humble.''

Napoleon on His Death Bed, by Horace Vernet, 1826.

Napoleon on His Death Bed, by Horace Vernet, 1826. (Public Domain)

Napoleon died without the power he loved so much, however, during the last painful days of his life, the bitterness of loss was sweetened by the luxurious flavor of his favorite drink. However, his weakness for coffee also connected him to the monarchy that he had hated so much. King Louis XV, who ruled until 1774, adored the smell and taste of coffee so much that he created a coffee bean plantation in Versailles Palace near Paris.

The Short and Caffeinated Life of Honoré Balzac – Coffee Addict

Balzac is one of the most famous writers in the history of France. He lived and worked during the 19th century in Paris. He wrote over 100 books during his 51 years of life. Loved by women and always in debt, he worked a lot and had to be a sociable spirit to fulfill his needs. Balzac believed that coffee brought him the inspiration he sought. His lifestyle was more than unhealthy. Since he attended so many activities, he used to write between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m.; then he took a nap. To avoid sleep during the night, he drank coffee.

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850).

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). (Public Domain)

According to one of his dearest friends, the famous writer Victor Hugo, Honoré could drink up to 30 cups of coffee per day. Sadly, one day his body was so poisoned by caffeine, that he died. The rich story of his life could have been so much longer, but his love and need for coffee cruelly shortened it – stamping out his ability to create more works as well.

Earlier, another famous French writer, philosopher, and historian, Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), who lived between 1694 – 1778, was known as a person who drank 40-50 cups of coffee per day. He mixed coffee beans with chocolate. According to his doctor, this energizing drink was also his cause of death.

François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778).

François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778). (Public Domain)

America’s Leaders and their Coffee

If Benjamin Franklin lived today, he would probably have been a huge fan of modern coffee shops. During his stay in London, he was a frequent visitor to these places and he enjoyed them a lot. The 26th President of the USA, Theodore Roosevelt, drank a gallon of coffee per day. According to Thomas Jefferson, coffee was the drink of the civilized world. As time passed, Americans became one of the leaders in coffee consumption. It started as a symbol of wealth and fashion and with time pop culture created a new image for coffee. It became one of the most famous symbols for modern and successful people.

Booker T. Washington dining with Teddy Roosevelt.

Booker T. Washington dining with Teddy Roosevelt. (Spydersden)

The Never-Ending List of Coffee Drinkers

The number of influential individuals who adored coffee is impressive and there are too many remarkable stories related to this drink to describe them all. However, it is worth mentioning in close that even today many people see coffee as something more than just a drink, for them it is almost a mystical celebration that they believe brings them power, inspiration, and creativity.

Top image: Coffee, Cup, Still Life, 3d, Blender. (Public Domain)

By Natalia Klimczak


Anthony Wild, Coffee: A dark history, 2003.

Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K. Bealer, The world of caffeine, 2001. Stefan Zweig, Balzac,2008

13 Ultra Famous People Who Were Sick Coffee Addicts, available at:

Napoleon and St Helena Coffee, available at:



Repeatedly calling coffee addictive! If it is addictive at all, it would probably take 20 or more years to get addicted, a pretty weak addictive!
Also we do not adore coffee!! We like but we do not worship it!!
I've been drinking for over 60+ years, and I can still take it or leave it with no fuss! The morning I have to take my blood test, when I get back home I don't drink it, I wait till dinner time for a single cup!


Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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