The popularity of tea in the 17th century, I read this week, was a crucial factor in the expansion of the slave trade. This made me feel guilty about my early-morning ritual - properly brewed tea sipped in bed while reading the newspaper and picking nits from my partner's hair.
In truth, I shouldn't feel too bad because I don't take sugar. The sugar, you understand, was the problem; the popularity of tea brought a surge in demand for a sweetener, which created the need for vastly expanded sugar plantations, which in turn led to a boom in the slave trade.
Coffee, meanwhile, is said to have had a much more noble impact on history. I remember a book from a few years ago in which the writer Tom Standage argued that coffee led to the Enlightenment.
Here's his theory: once coffee arrived in Europe, coffee shops started taking over from pubs as the place where people would meet and talk which meant people were no longer completely pissed when they tried to strike up a conversation. All over Europe, people suddenly started making sense instead of just sounding like your Uncle Terry midway through lunch on Christmas Day. Sober for the first time in six centuries, they rapidly came up with the idea of rational thought.
It's a tough comparison for those of us who prefer a nice cup of tea: on one hand you have Jean-Jacques Rousseau knocking back an espresso while inventing universal education; on the other, a bunch of tea-desperate Poms waving off a fleet of miasmic slave hulks in order to summon up their next sugary hit.I'm not sure what the reference to nits in his wife's hair is in there for, though. Ignore that, and the rest is very witty.