Coffee-Drinking and Blindness

J.M. Holaday's 1888 article is an absolute corker

I hope you’ve had a good week.

This is edition #002 of Three Quarters Coffee - your favourite coffee-related weekly newsletter. When I say weekly, I do of course mean weekly-except-for-the-last-two-weeks when I did not publish a newsletter. I’m sorry about that.

I’m also sorry that this week’s edition does not include a case study about Ethiopian coffee as I promised before, it wasn’t ready last week and it isn’t ready this week. It will be ready in time for next week’s edition, though.

Last time out, someone forwarded this newsletter, which was nice of them. You should forward it too. And then whoever you forwarded it to can press the button below to subscribe.


Coffee Drinking and Blindness

“I am satisfied that defective vision and blindness will pretty soon be a prominent characteristic among the American people … I make this assertion without having seen any statistics whatever on the subject of blindness. I found out long ago that a cup of coffee leaves a night-shade on the brain which continues longer than an eclipse of the sun.”

In 1888, The North American Review published an article entitled ‘Coffee-Drinking and Blindness’ by J.M. Holaday. Holaday uses four pages, not to detail any scientific theory or evidence for the effect of regular coffee-drinking on sight but instead, to reel off some observations of the effects of drinking coffee regularly on himself and others around him. The article contains a colourful array of complaints from Holaday, ranging from temporary blindness to other ‘deleterious effects’ on humans.

It’s generally a very fun article and I would recommend giving it a read yourself if you have a minute. However, I sense Holaday didn’t write it with comedy in mind and so I’d like to call out a few of his points specifically:

  1. Children that are allowed to partake freely of coffee will become restless, fussy and noisy, half wild with mischief” - While Holaday has here described four inate characteristics of basically all children at all times, I guess it’s fair to say that children and coffee aren’t a dream match it’s certainly not going to help matters. Perhaps decaf for them, until they reach working age?

  2. Coffee has a magical effect on the heart and circulatory system, and for a while produces the intoxication which approaches that of opium or cocaine. It cause a swift growth and a swift decay” - Yes, fair point. The 2pm crash after a morning of drinking coffee is nothing new in 2020, but perhaps it was in 1888. Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, the bestselling authors of Make Time, offer some solutions: (a) recaffeinate before you crash (b) take a caffeine nap - have a little more coffee, nap immediately and wake up with a clearer brain (c) maintain altitude with tea - complement your heavy morning caffeine doses with lighter afternoon caffeine doses.

And finally, Holaday’s big hitter:

  1. The coffee drinker, however robust he may be, will put on a pair of spectacles at a comparatively early period of his life” - These are fighting words for a man with no actual references to back up his argument. In 2020, unsubstantiated claims such as Holaday’s would be ripe for publication as fact in any one of the UK’s tabloids - literally take your pick. In 2012, the NHS debunked the Daily Mail’s framing of a study into that looked at the association between caffeine consumption and exfoliation glaucoma. The study ultimately did not directly or conclusively show that caffeinated coffee causes vision loss.

So, that was a fun read. I have had a look and I can’t find any other articles by J.M. Holaday, so I’m going to tell myself that he just had a bad experience after a cup of coffee and decided to submit a four page article to a major journal about it and then never speak of it again. Or maybe his coffee consumption was entirely liqueur-based, in which case, the blindness becomes more understandable.

Has coffee ever left you BLIND? Leave a comment!

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The Fourth Quarter

The idea of The Fourth Quarter is to pad the newsletter out with either something non-coffee related or something coffee-related that I wish I was talented enough to write. This section also helps to make the overall title of this newsletter make sense - i.e. this newsletter is made up of: three-quarters coffee, one-quarter something non-coffee related or something coffee-related that I wish I was talented enough to write/create.

This week, I’ve chosen something non-coffee related.

The Observer Effect: Seeing is Changing, an article from Farnam Street

I’ve been reading a lot about The Observer Effect and the power of being accountable to someone. This article from Farnam Street encapsulated the concept perfectly.

The Observer Effect is broadly the idea that something changes when it is seen or observed. This is particularly applicable to human behaviour. That said, while most people are quite aware that their behaviour changes when someone is watching, the idea is two-fold. What we observe is “filtered through our own biases, assumptions and preconceptions”. This is made even more complex by ‘actor-observer bias’ in which we tend to perceive an action taken by someone else differently from the same action taken ourselves.

All in all, I liked this article for it’s brief run-down of the Observer Effect and it’s helping me to be more conscious of the effect of observation - both of others and of myself. I’ve found the power of observation at it’s most positive when trying to build new habits, such as waking up at 5am which is basically impossible unless you have someone else who knows about this goal and stands ready to shame you out of bed.

Do leave a comment if you have any strong opinions on the Observer Effect or on this section being included. Also, if you’ve read any interesting things, drop a link in the comments too!

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What I’m drinking

I’m lucky to live just down the road from Allpress Espresso’s beautiful Dalston roastery. It’s one of my favourite places in London to drink coffee and even with the social distancing measures, it’s a great space to just sit and enjoy - whether it’s indoors with a view through perspex into the roastery itself or outside in the garden.

The other advantage of living so close to Allpress is the ability to drop in and pick up a bag of very freshly roasted coffee. This week, I’ve been drinking their Good Brew roast - a versatile coffee drawn from Brazil, Ethiopia and Guatemala.

It’s a delicious all-rounder. Do buy some or better still, go and visit an Allpress roastery.


That’s all for this week. Thanks again for reading and thanks to those of you who sent me some feedback after the last issue. It’s hugely appreciated.

Next Sunday, I will present you with my highly anticipated case study on coffee from Ethiopia. Have a great week!

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