The Manufactured Evils of Coffee

An interesting read from The AtlanticThe Devious Ad Campaign That Convinced America Coffee Was Bad for Kids.

The piece is fascinating for a variety of reasons.  First, it is about coffee.  Second, it contains artifacts of a different era of advertising (when you could say pretty much whatever you wanted), and third, it points to a source of what is “common knowledge” (i.e., that coffee is bad for children—something I have heard all my life, and even semi-believed, even though I never really could figure out why it would be the case).

Also:  Postum?  Never heard of it.  However, it appears that you can buy it on Amazon.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. john personna says:

    I buy the kid coffee. He thinks it’s awesome, like he’s getting away with something.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Fascinating. I remember seeing Postum on the shelves in the coffee section of my father’s grocery store but never knew what it was. I was not allowed to drink coffee until I was about 17 but really didn’t develop a taste for it until I got to college. I quit drinking coffee recently because my 68 year old gut can’t really handle it anymore.

  3. ernieyeball says:

    …it contains artifacts of a different era of advertising (when you could say pretty much whatever you wanted),

    All kinds of claims are made today for many foodstuffs. The dairy industry once trumpeted milk as the “perfect food”. I think cow’s milk is for baby cows.
    Claims for totally worthless homeopathy are promoted without censure in natural and organic food outlets.
    Then there are products that are touted as “chemical free”.
    Of course if something is chemical free it would not exist.
    Looks like there is no shortage today of hucksters “saying pretty much whatever they want.”

  4. ernieyeball says:

    @Ron Beasley: I quit drinking coffee recently because my 68 year old gut can’t really handle it anymore.

    Now this does scare me. Since I swore off the swill and the nicotine caffeine has been my primary drug of choice.
    Was this your physicians advice?

  5. anjin-san says:

    @ ernieyeball

    Right there with you, I have up booze, drugs, and a number of other things I really enjoyed once upon a time. My only remaining vices are coffee and jazz. If I have to give one of them up, it will get ugly.

  6. ernieyeball says:

    @anjin-san: I’m hardly living clean.
    I’m also waiting for Jan 1, 2014 when medical marijuana will be legal in Illinois. I have seen the list of diagnosis that the weed will be prescribed for and truly do not wish for myself (or anyone else) to suffer those ailments.
    Since the proposed quota for MedWeed is 2.5 oz every two weeks maybe some legal weed will spill over into the street market and drive down price.

  7. Ron Beasley says:


    Was this your physicians advice?

    Yes. I have grown to like tea though.

  8. michael reynolds says:


    We have medical here in CA. Basically it’s legalized pot as long as you have the hundred bucks to visit a weed doctor. Or so I hear.

    Poor people, or people who are too disorganized to arrange an appointment can of course head over to Golden Gate Park or Haight Street and (so I’m told) find a few (hundred) dealers.

    Some of the dispensaries are quite upscale and very efficient. The Apothacarium on upper Market Street is quite nice. I hear.

  9. JKB says:


    I read over a book on setting up a creamery that was about 100 years old. In it, they sent the left over “milk” back to the dairy the next day after they took the valuable part, i.e., cream. Now people buy that swill for their health. The less good stuff in it the better.

    I had a family member that was pushing Zija. Going on and on about how what they liked was it was “all natural”. I told them to pick a leaf off my Foxglove plant and chew on it. It was all natural…digitalis.

  10. Spartacus says:

    Stephen Taylor:

    Also: Postum? Never heard of it.

    It’s no replacement for coffee, but it is tasty.

  11. Kylopod says:

    I drank Postum as a kid, before transitioning to coffee as a teenager. But for several years in my teens, I drank a form of coffee known as klah. If you have any idea what that is, then you’re apparently as geeky as the family I was raised in.

    “Klah” is the name of a coffee substitute on “Pern,” the colony planet in Anne McCaffrey’s sci-fi series. McCaffrey eventually published a fan companion book which included a recipe for what she described as the closest earth equivalent to klah. I liked it and drank it for years. Here is the recipe:
    Mix together:
    2 tablespoons sweet ground chocolate
    1/2 cup dark cocoa
    3/8 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 teaspoon dark instant coffee crystals, ground to powder
    small pinch of nutmeg
    Use two to four teaspoons of the mixture per cup of boiling water. Stir well. The klah should be thick, much like hot cocoa.

  12. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    In fairness to Mr. Post’s argument, I can see how coffee could be construed to be bad for children to the extent that it replaced milk in a child’s diet. What we have here is an unwarranted assumption or an appeal to facts not in evidence. As to Postum, it was somewhat popular in the area that I grew up in–two or three Mormon stake centers may have had a impact there–and I have tried it. To my perception (and memory, it’s been a long time) it would taste like whatever you added–sugar, honey, cream, cinnamon, etc. On it’s own, it mostly tasted like toast crumbs.

  13. beth says:

    @Spartacus: My dad drank Postum. I always assumed it was because it was cheaper than real coffee. They also used tea bags three times – the third time the kids got to use them. I was told that coffee was bad for kids but the already used twice tea bags didn’t have enough of anything left to hurt us.

  14. ernieyeball says:

    @michael reynolds: The City. I miss it.
    When I lived in San Francisco 40 years ago at the corner of
    Irving St. and 14th Avenue it was a short walk to the park to see Garcia and The Dead for free on many Sundays.
    You could bring your own weed or just stand there and let the fog bring the ambient smoke to you.

    It’s the same story the crow told me; it’s the only one he knows.
    Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go.
    Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait,
    Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?
    Uncle John’s Band (Hunter -Garcia)

  15. ernieyeball says:

    @Kylopod: Did you drink it out of a Klah-O-Pod?

  16. Ol' Nat says:

    Coffee is bad for kids if it turns out that they can’t sleep!

  17. Tyrell says:

    When I was a child it was basically no coffee if you are under 18. This was an unwritten rule. Once in a while I will see a young coffee drinker in a fast food place or buying some in a Convenience store. Our area even is still dry and I don’t think it will change in my life. If someone wants an alcoholic drink, it is a 20 minute drive to the county line. Those stores there get a lot of business from here. Marijuana legal? Will never happen here.
    “They’re probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars” (“Folsom Prison”, Cash)

  18. Grewgills says:

    I have lived in two states with medical marijuana and it didn’t have much effect on street price, though the quality improved. The one place I have seen it effect price is on the Big Island of Hawaii. There it drove the price down to about 200/oz or about half what it is on Oahu or in CA. Isolation and a high concentration of hippies that thought they were going to get rich on legal weed came together.

  19. ernieyeball says:

    @Grewgills: There it drove the price down to about 200/oz

    “…where does the time go?”
    Pretty sure I bought my first weed in 1968. The price of a lid (1oz.) hung at $20 for several years, about $134 today according to BLS Inflation Calculator. Had to roll a fat joint and smoke the whole thing to get a decent buzz.
    Today I can get by copping 1/8 oz. for $50. While the unadjusted per oz. price works out to 20X more than 45 years ago, a pinch or two of todays bud is incomparable to yesterday’s ditch weed.

  20. sam says:

    Little known factiod: Chocolate milk is made from old, unsold, skim milk. (Can’t recall where I heard this, it may be factiness).

    Apparently this stuff is as controversial re kids as coffee.