Caffeine is the best and most useful of our drugs because in every one of its forms it can answer that question precisely. It is a stimulant that blocks the action of adenosine, and comes in a multitude of guises, each with a ready-made story attached, a mixture of history and superstition and whimsy which infuses the daily ritual of adenosine blocking with meaning and purpose. Put caffeine in a red can and it becomes refreshing fun. Brew it in a teapot and it becomes romantic and decorous. Extract it from little brown beans and, magically, it is hardheaded and potent. “There was a little known Russian émigré, Trotsky by name, who during World War I was in the habit of playing chess in Vienna’s Café Central every evening,” Bealer and Weinberg write, in one of the book’s many fascinating café yarns:
A typical Russian refugee, who talked too much but seemed utterly harmless, indeed, a pathetic figure in the eyes of the Viennese. One day in 1917 an official of the Austrian Foreign Ministry rushed into the minister’s room, panting and excited, and told his chief, “Your excellency … Your excellency … Revolution has broken out in Russia.” The minister, less excitable and less credulous than his official, rejected such a wild claim and retorted calmly, “Go away … Russia is not a land where revolutions break out. Besides, who on earth would make a revolution in Russia? Perhaps Herr Trotsky from the Café Central?”
The minister should have known better. Give a man enough coffee and he’s capable of anything. From Malcolm Gladwell’s Java Man, 2001. Full text.