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We kick off today's episode of Scatterbrained with a timeline of how coffee gets grown and produced. Then, John Green tests coffee life hacks from the Internet, involving everything from coffee ice cubes to a recipe for creamer. We learn some history with the origins of coffee drink names and the old coffeehouses of England. Finally, a scientific study about caffeine shows us the best way to study seahorse pictures.

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Hi, Welcome to Mental Floss Video.

Today we're going to talk about something I hated as a child, but love today, beer, wait no, apparently not beer, romantic comedies, nope, apparently, coffee. Yes, coffee.

Scatterbrained Intro

There are so many coffee beverages, which you may know from all the times your dad ordered a grande, no foam, no whip, no room, unsweetened, medium roast.

Dad, that's just a coffee, but all those drinks which comprise the coffee panoply have some pretty interesting name origins and meanings.

The first known English use of the word espresso was in 1945; according to Merriam-Webster, its full name, "Caffè Espresso," literally means "coffee made on the spot at the customer's request."

Though other sources will tell you it means "pressed out," and by the way, the official pronunciation is espresso, even though expresso is popular, and hey, don't let anyone boss you around about it.


The Italian word macchiato translates to spotted, so your macchiato is coffee with a spot of milk. Latte is a shortened version of an Italian word that means coffee and milk.

In Latin, "Lac" means milk which was where the Italians got latte, and the English speakers get lactose and lactate.

Speaking of which, the French word milk is lait, so "Cafe Au Lait" means the coffee with milk. The drink name came into existence around the 18th century.

Mocha is a coffee-exporting port city in Yemen; it was founded in the 14th century, and by the 15th century, its chief export was coffee to Europe and the Middle East.

So, back then, "Mocha Coffee" just described coffee from that town. It's somewhere around the 19th century, the chocolate and coffee beverage got the name Mocha, possibly in America.

Frappé is French; the name is derived from a French word meaning to hit, Frappé.

But when the French are talking about drinks, Frappé means either iced or cold. Ordering a Frappé or Frapp in different parts of the world will have different results

Maybe you are familiar with the Starbucks Frappuccino,

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it's a recipe and a term they got from a Boston chain they acquired, the Coffee Connection.

Because of the location, the store may have been using the New England definition of Frapp, a milkshake, and probably the "ccino" from a cappuccino. I'm from Boston, I can confirm this is the case.

On that subject, cappuccino has interesting beginnings, in 16th century Italy a new order of friars was founded, soon they became officially known as the Cappuccini, they wore brown tunics with long hoods called cappuccio.

The brown color was much like the color or Capuchin monkeys and cappuccinos, which how both of those thing got their names.

In Italian "ristretto" means restricted, that explains why the drink is a short shot of espresso. A "lungo" is the opposite, a tall shot, it means long.

And let's finish with just "coffee", which has origins in the dutch word "koffie". That came from a Turkish term originating from an Arabic one. The English word has been in use since the late 16th century. 

[John]: The internet has many coffee life-hacks to offer, and I'd like to test a few because, for one thing, I am very tired. As the parent of young children, I am always very tired. But so first, apparently you can make an individual cup of coffee using only a funnel, a coffee filter, and grounds.

I mean, to be fair, this is how drip coffee is made essentially. But we're gonna give it a try here. Oh, you do need hot water. And then you pour it through the funnel. And you gotta let it drip. Let me give it a try. Not great, but you know, it'll do the trick. I'm gonna say a soft pass. 

Meredith, I need to know more about where these grounds came from.

[Meredith]: You mean like what part of the world these grounds came from?

[John]: Yeah, yeah. I mean are they like- Is it like a single origin? Ethiopian? Okay, Meredith has given me more information about the coffee in question. Um, I'm a little bit of a coffee snob, I just realized while talking to Meredith about this, so I've gotta just readjust my expectations. Because this coffee was purchased already ground from Costco.

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So even when there are passes, they're still gonna taste a little bit like fails. Okay, now we're gonna use the coffee maker and we're going to attempt to heat milk while brewing coffee, so I'm gonna put some milk in this pot. 

That should be enough. I'm not a big milk-in-my-coffee guy. Although, I might need milk in this coffee. And then, um, abracadabra alackazam! Oh, apparently you have to, uh, flip the switch. 

Lotta grounds coming into the coffee there. What's the problem? Oh, oh the filter. The filter, oh no. Oh no the filter. Oh god. Alright, so we had a little bit of a mishap. I don't really know how to make coffee, uh, is the summary of it. But, um, we've got some coffee-like liquid.

I mean the milk is warm, so pass. But if that doesn't sound good to you, apparently you can also make your own creamer with milk and vanilla extract. Uh, I didn't get any exact measurements here, but I know from experience that vanilla extract is something that needs to be used in great moderations. Oh god! That's plenty. That's gonna be plenty. [gasp] Disaster.

This studio is gonna smell like vanilla forever. We're officially renaming the mental floss studio, the mental floss vanilla-flavored studio. We're gonna mix this up and put it into my coffee. That's pretty good! Pass.

Okay, here's a really popular one on the internet. If you like your coffee iced but not watery, the solution is to freeze coffee into ice cubes and then you can put these either in coffee or apparently also in milk. I'm gonna try it with coffee first. There goes my coffee ice cube into my coffee. I think it might need a second ice cube.

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Then we're gonna let that cool off for a minute while we prepare the milk one. Bada-boom, bada-bing. Alright, coffee first, always.

Oh, that's good. That's really good, it's cold but it's not watery. This on the other hand is very likely going to taste like milk.

Yeah, I... I taste no coffee whatsoever. I mean I suppose if I let them melt it would eventually taste like coffee-flavoured milk.

Nonetheless, based on how much I'm enjoying this coffee-flavoured iced-coffee, I gotta say pass. Okay, lastly, if you purchase whole beans like, you know, a normal person, then the internet claims that you can grind them up with a mortar and pestle. I mean, who owns a mortar and pestle but not a coffee grinder?

Okay, we're gonna try this anyway. Here we go. Oh good Lord.

I just, I believe in myself and I believe in this dumb life hack. And also this would be the first time that every life hack was a pass. I just need to keep doing it.

Okay, it doesn't look exactly like coffee grounds but I think I can make coffee from this. I'm going to try, at least. Okay I'm just gonna kinda put some coffee grounds in there.

That does not look like coffee, but, but, a boy can dream. Here we go. That's pretty clear.

That's awfully clear. It doesn't look exactly like coffee, but it looks more like coffee than it looks like water. Smells kinda like coffee, kinda.

Ahh that's disappointing. Yeah, I mean that's just not coffee unfortunately, so

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I'm gonna have to say it's a fail, although with notes of pass.

B: When you think of coffee, one of the first things you think of is probably how you can grind up the beans with a mortar and pestle, of course, but also coffee shops. It turns out they were very important places in London history. Back then they were called coffee houses. So a man named William Bittopf (?~8:25) was one of the first known Englishmen to write about coffee.

This was in 1600 when it was a Turkish beverage. A decade later a man named George Sandys called it "black as soot and tasting not much unlike it." Despite that, in 1652, the first coffee house in London opened. You can visit the site where it was located today at St. Michael's Alley in Cornhill.

There's even a plaque recognizing the coffee house. It was run by a Greek man named Pasqua Rosee who once called coffee "a miracle cure for pretty much any illness you could imagine." I agree.

A coffee house boom followed. They were hugely popular spots for men only to debate, chat, and talk about the news. I mean, people there loved the news, regardless of how it arrived.

As expert Dr. Brian Cowan, lists in his book on coffee houses people got news in print, both licensed and unlicensed; in manuscript; and aloud, as gossip, hearsay, and word of mouth. Unfortunately, not many coffee house buildings made it into the 20th century.

They weren't built to last, but according to the images we have coffee houses were probably wood from top to bottom. When they were first invented there were long tables for a large amount of people to sit and engage with strangers about the news of the day, but later on smaller booths emerged. The owner and their family often lived on-site.

Coffee houses were sometimes just a single room within that residence. That's all generally speaking though. How they looked and who was inside them really varied from place to place.

Sir Isaac Newton spent time debating in coffee houses. Voltaire once called one

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"dirty, ill-furnished, ill-served, and ill-lighted." Now that's a good review.

Now, of course, coffee houses weren't without their predecessors. Places like ale-houses, inns, and taverns were already very popular spots for people to get rowdy.

And coffee houses weren't too different, but their invention did kind of mark a period of sobreity in London. Prior to coffee, people mostly drank alcohol because the city's water source wasn't safe. People were drunk a lot more in the streets then.

Historian Dr. Matthew Green theorizes that the arrival of coffee then triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for truly spectacular economic growth in the decades that followed as people thought clearly for the first time. The stock exchange, insurance industry, and auctioneering all burst into life in the 17th century coffee houses.

But even as the popularity of coffee houses rose, the reputation of coffee looking and tasting like soot stayed true. Other Englishmen compared it to oil and mud. Some coffee houses did serve tea or even chocolate and food to go along with that soot coffee.

E: Let's finish up with a scientific study published in 2014 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Researchers from John Hopkins University wanted to learn about how caffeine affected human memory but, unlike the authors of many other studies, they wanted to learn how caffeine might enhance memory after some knowledge was already learned. So how did they do that? Well they did a double-blind study.

That's when neither the participants nor the researchers know who's in the experimental group and who's in the control group. There were 160 participants who looked at pictures of all sorts of objects like saxophones, clovers, and seahorses. Five minutes after studying these photos participants got either a caffeine pill or a placebo.

The caffeine dose was a little lower than what you'd find in a tall Starbucks coffee. It's important to note that these people were not regular caffeine consumers. Before the pills, the researchers took salivary samples, they also took samples one hour later, three hours later, and the next day.

Speaking of the next day, that's when the participants came back to have

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their memories tested.

They were shown more pictures, some were the same as the day before, some were totally new, and some were similar to the previous day's but not quite the same. And they were asked whether each picture was new, similar, or old.

It turned out that caffeine did have memory enhancing effects. Interestingly, those who took the caffeine pill after studying were more likely to recognize that a picture was similar rather than the same as the previous day's. That's a special kind of skill, it's called pattern separation.

And according to the researchers, that demonstrates an even deeper memory retention level. As for why, according to the researchers, caffeine might help jog memories by influencing the levels of certain chemical messengers in the brain or the behaviour of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory. So if you ever need to study seahorse pictures, you know what to use as a study aid.

When I was in college, I studied the morphological differences between East and West Nile African Crocodiles and I found none, and I apparently should have been drinking more coffee.

J: Thanks for watching Mental Floss Video which is made with the help of all of these nice people. And please subscribe to our channel if you want to see more scatterbrained videos. DFTBA! [OUTTRO MUSIC]