This experiment, designed by coffee-hating King Gustav III, sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us!
Sometimes, in the study of history, you come across individuals who shouldn’t necessarily be counted among the worst people to ever live, but who are nevertheless total goobers. One such fellow is the Swedish king Gustav III, who reigned from 1771 to 1792. Gustav was a bit of a mixed bag, overall: an “enlightened despot,” he abolished the torture of people accused of crimes and passed legislation promoting religious toleration.
He also had a lifelong vendetta against the greatest beverage in the world, coffee. In fact, the consumption of both coffee and tea (the second-greatest beverage in the world) had been restricted in Sweden since 1746, coincidentally the year of Gustav’s birth.
Even so, coffee-drinking grew in popularity during the second half of the 18th century, much to Gustav’s horror. During his reign, the king decided to use science to prove once and for all that coffee was not to be trusted by forcing some guy to drink coffee until he died.
According to the Cambridge World History of Food,
In the best scientific tradition, Sweden’s Gustav III reputedly commuted the death sentences of twin brothers convicted of murder on the condition that one be given only tea to drink and the other coffee.
First of all, how convenient is it that Gustav was able to find a pair of twins, both convicted of the same capital crime? And second, how lucky were these guys? Instead of being executed, they got to live out their lives in comfort, enjoying tasty caffeinated beverages.
The experiment didn’t exactly go as planned.
The tea drinker died first—at age 83—and Sweden became the world’s most ardent coffee-consuming nation, with its citizens drinking five cups per person per day by 1975.
Gustav never found out that his experiment failed—the king was assassinated at a masquerade ball by his political enemies long before his test subjects passed away from natural, non-coffee-related causes.