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Caffeinated drinks date back to the 1400s

This is an excerpt from Caffeine for Sports Performance by Louise Burke, Ben Desbrow, and Lawrence Spriet.


Read about the history of coffee, tea, and cola drinks in
Caffeine for Sports Performance.

A Brief History of Caffeinated Drinks

Around the world, coffee and tea have become the major sources of caffeine intake. The preparation of coffee from roasted coffee beans apparently started in the Middle East in the 1400s before spreading to Europe around 1600 and then the Americas in the 1700s. The brewing of tea from tea leaves can be traced back to various Chinese dynasties from several centuries BC. However, globalization required the efforts of Marco Polo (1200s) and the Dutch East India Company (1600s), with tea drinking gaining popularity in Europe in the late 1600s and coffeehouses becoming fashionable from the 1600s onward. Although these establishments were primarily centers of social interaction, coffee and particularly tea were noted as tonics and used to treat a variety of ailments.

The evolution of the world’s third most popular caffeine source, cola drinks, is an interesting tale involving both health and sport. Mineral waters from natural springs had been popular as both baths and beverages for centuries because of beliefs about their health-promoting properties. The late 1700s was the era of campaigns to produce a human-made version of these tonics. The first such glass of carbonated water was created by an English scientist, Dr. Joseph Priestley, who was also credited with the discovery of oxygen and carbon monoxide. Other scientists also found ways to achieve this feat, but their outcomes were always on a small scale.

It took the combination of a jeweler named Johann Jacob Schweppe, an engineer, and a scientist to perfect the process of making artificial mineral waters on a large scale, with Schweppe moving the successful business to England. Patents were established there and in the United States for “means to mass manufacture imitation mineral waters.” One of these means was the soda fountain, and because mineral waters originated as a health tonic, the neighborhood pharmacy became the popular place to dispense sodas. Throughout the late 1800s, American pharmacists started to add medicinal or flavor-providing herbs to the unflavored drinks. This led to cola drinks, followed by the development of soda-producing companies with trademarked names and beverages, particularly Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. Table 1.1 summarizes the origins of the two cola giants along with their original ingredients and health claims. When launched, Coca-Cola’s two key ingredients were cocaine from the cocaleaf and caffeine from the kolanut, explaining its name. Shortly after the turn of the century, it moved to using “spent” coca leaves from which the cocaine had been extracted, leaving caffeine as the only stimulant. The rest, as they say, is history.

The original marketing of cola beverages focused solely on their claimed medicinal properties. Soon, however, companies realized that people enjoyed consuming these drinks, and to increase sales, they wanted to remove the stigma associated with taking medicine. The focus of advertisements moved away from the concept of medicinal elixir and more toward life enhancer. Additionally, promotion and sponsorship became the tools to market expansion. This included aligning products with sport celebrities and other high-profile members of society.

In 1909, automobile racing pioneer Barney Oldfield became the first Pepsi celebrity endorser when he appeared in newspaper advertisements describing Pepsi-Cola as “A bully drink . . . refreshing, invigorating, a fine bracer for a race” (www.pepsiusa.com/faqs.php?section=highlights). In 1928, 1,000 cases of Coke traveled with the U.S. Olympic team to the Amsterdam Olympics. Coca-Cola has continued its association with the Olympic Games to this day: It is the longest continuous corporate partner, and it is a member of The Olympic Partner (TOP) program, the top-level sponsorship awarded to a handful of sponsors with exclusive worldwide marketing rights to the Winter and Summer Olympic Games. Around the world, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola continue to sponsor a large range of regional and international sporting events and teams, seeing sport sponsorship as a natural fit.


Read more from Caffeine for Sports Performance by Louise Burke, Ben Desbrow, and Lawrence Spriet.



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