Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate Changed Medicine

Chocolate candies, coffee, tea and dry roses

Coffee, tea, and chocolate are delicious and enjoyed by many Thelemites. They can provide a quick pick-me-up during the day, and a relaxing moment in the evening. Tea can help cope with cold symptoms like congestion and sore throat. Some physicians think that eating a little chocolate every day might be good for you. Centuries ago, however, coffee, tea, and chocolate threw the field of medicine for a loop.

In the past, medicine operated from a principle of humours dating back to Ancient Greece. The humours were blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. It was believed that each individual had his or her own humoural balance, and if this was disrupted that person would become ill. Doctors often treated illness with food, describing them as hot, cold, dry or moist, with correspondences in the body. If a person had a fever, the doctor would prescribe eating cold food, for example.

Commerce with realms outside of Europe challenged this mindset, forcing physicians to assign values to new (to them) plants and animals. Smithsonian tells us:

Sometimes physicians were more successful, particularly if the New World foods were similar enough to those already existing in Europe. Finding New World beans to be close enough to European beans, and turkeys to be not far off from familiar peacocks, Europeans assigned them the same humoral properties as their Old World counterparts.

But coffee, tea and especially chocolate proved more troublesome. All three were dietary chameleons, seeming to change in form and quality at will. “Some people say [chocolate] is fatty, therefore it’s hot and moist,” says Ken Albala, a professor of history at University of the Pacific and author of Eating Right in the Renaissance. “But other physicians say, if you don’t add sugar, it’s bitter and astringent, so it’s dry and good for phlegmatic disorders. How can something be both dry and moist or hot and cold?”

How Coffee, Chocolate and Tea Overturned a 1,500-Year-Old Medical Mindset.


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