King Gustav III's Strange Coffee Experiment

We could go on and on by talking about the history of coffee, but considering the drink's popularity, it's likely you've already heard most of the beverage's fun facts. So, how about King Gustav III instead? Heard of him? Apologies to the now-bored history buff who already knows everything about Swedish monarchs in the 18th century, but for everybody else, here's a little lesson covering ye olden days.

Towards the end of the 1700s, King Gustav III reigned in Sweden for more than two decades, bringing its parliament back under the royal family's control, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Despite apparently being power-hungry, Gustav supported the Enlightenment and used his power for good. The king outlawed torture as a method of investigating crimes, he expanded religious freedoms and those of the press, and made their economy fairer through various reforms. Gustav even adored the arts, writing plays and establishing a school focused upon championing national literature.

Still, the king clearly had an authoritarian streak. Gustav put stricter governing legal documents into place, he strengthened Sweden's navy and used it to wage war against Russia, and opposed the French Revolution. Like many other historical figures, King Gustav III had both good and bad sides to him. Perhaps his most radical stance, though, was his opposition to coffee. He hated it so much that he conducted a macabre experiment to prove it was dangerous.

Death by coffee

By chance, one's right to drink coffee and tea was formally limited for Swedes just a single year after Gustav III was born, according to Foodbeast — so maybe he came out crying about caffeine? Yet, demand for it still increased to the point that, as an adult, King Gustav III felt he must do something to show his loyal subjects how bad coffee in particular truly was. When a pair of killers who also happened to be twin brothers were sentenced to death, Gustav came to a decision: Both would be able to live out their lives for as long as possible. Although, one would only be allowed to drink tea while the other would exclusively be served coffee.

In the end, a dissatisfied noble assassinated King Gustav III, shooting him at an opera masquerade. That's right, the poor king didn't even live long enough to discover the results of his experiment. His test subjects outlived him, eventually dying from natural causes in their 80s. So, was his experiment a total bust? Well, it's far from proof, but one of the twins did die before the other, even if his drink wasn't directly responsible for his death. Which one? The tea drinker.

Gustav's experiment didn't get the intended result, and per the Cambridge World History of Food, Sweden became one of the top coffee-drinking countries in the world over the following two centuries. Plus, the Swedes still cherish their coffee. Maybe the stuff isn't so bad after all!