18 Pages

Caffeine, Alcohol, and Sweeteners

ByHans T. Beck

How can caffeine, alcohol, and sweeteners have anything in common? Besides being all sourced from plants, there is also a cultural connection that interweaves history, art, and music. Caffeine, for instance, the most taxonomically widespread alkaloid in the plant kingdom, can trace musical connections from Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Black Coffee,” to Dance Hall Crashers’ “Java Junkie.” Why should musicians from the Baroque period to modern punk rock focus on the attraction to caffeine? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the four most popular addictive substances-sugar, caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol-are all derived from plants. Caffeine is the mildest of the habit-forming drugs, and caffeine use has a side effect in what is called cross-addiction: heavy drinkers of coffee (seven plus cups a day) are often also heavy users of tobacco and alcohol. Picture in your mind’s eye, for example, Edward Hopper’s painting Night Hawks, and see the latenight party-goers retreating from alcoholic cocktails and seeking wakefulness from a cup of coffee spiked with sugar and smoking cigarettes. Or think about one typical post-theatre combination-a brandy, a cup of black coffee or tea, accompanied by a double chocolate torte or mousse.