I sent an email to an ex-co-worker a few days back, but I figured I might as well post the same info here:
while back I had a conversation on how I found it amusing that all over the world ancient people had found the plants in their own region that were natural stimulants. In South America they found the Coca plant, in Asia they found the tea leaves, and Northern Africa they found coffee, etc. The coworker responded that the coffee was the interesting one, because coffee has to go through many process before it can be used (beans first dried, then roasted, diffused in boiling water, etc.)
OK, so fast forward from that breakroom conversion a few years, and I’m listening to a podcast called A History of the World in 100 Objects and a few of them discuss aspects of early food that seem to explain things a bit. One points out that
our diet evolved towards the more complex to prepare plants. (stronger but dumber, stronger animals could chase us away from their foods, but if we started eating foods that needed to be husked, boiled, crushed, etc there wouldn’t be the competition.) A later one
described how even ancient maize was more complex to prepare than the more readily digestible form we have bred over the years.
So if a staple food like like corn started with an odd preparation process with limestone, etc. and our brains are built to figure out
and remember complex cooking steps needed for them; then figuring out the complex steps to extract the caffeine out of coffee starts seeming very similar.