Paul Andruss shares myths, legends and things we take for granted… in a unique and illuminating manner.. today he expresses himself on the subject of coffee… (Sorry could not resist)…. Over to you Paul…
Coffee – A Noxious Concoction
It is almost inconceivable to think once upon a time coffee was viewed in much the same way we view hard drugs, and disparaged using much the same language.
Grab yerself a cup a joe and dive in.
The origin of coffee and even its name is shrouded in myth. The word coffee comes from the Turkish Kavhe, which derives from the Arabic qahwah meaning perhaps ‘to lack hunger’, or ‘dark’, ‘sour’ or even ‘dark wine’.
It is thought the wild coffee bush originated in Sub-Saharan tropical Africa. Legend says around 900 AD goat-herders in the Ethiopian Highlands noticed their animals getting frisky after eating the bright red fruits of the coffee bush and tried it themselves. Because the seeds (coffee beans) were hard, they were roasted to make them edible.
A story, for which I found no substantiating evidence, was the seeds were ground down and rubbed on the gums, rather like cocaine. (Not though I know, I hasten to add: it took me 20 years to give up ciggies. One sniff of cocaine and I’d be on 30 a day). Eventually the powder was boiled in water producing a fragrant drink. There is a rather enigmatic reference to a brown liquid that might be coffee in a 10th century Persian medical book. In 1583, a German physician, returning from the Middle East, wrote coffee was useful in curing many illnesses.
Another legend says an 11th century Islamic Sufi mystic used coffee to sharpen the mind and concentrate his thoughts during his religious devotions. However both legends date from 1650s when coffee was widely drunk in the Islamic world and was already known in Europe.
In the 1500s Yemen merchants brought coffee across the Red Sea from Ethiopia, Sufi mystics (the same group that produced the Whirling Dervishes) used it to stay awake during nocturnal devotions. Coffee spread across Arabia to Mecca, perhaps as an alternative to wine, forbidden by the Prophet (the ban extends to all alcohol; even though lots of the faithful continue to booze to this day).
In 1511, Imams in Mecca banned coffee, preaching it led to indecent behaviour. In 1524, Suliman the Magnificent over turned the ban. A few years later there was another religious ban in Egypt and coffeehouses were ransacked. However by this time coffee was used across the Muslim world. By 1550, there were coffeehouses in Istanbul and Syria.
Despite this, Muslim coffee-drinkers’ tribulations were not over. In the 1600s Sultan Murad VI banned tobacco, alcohol and coffee. Consumption was a capital offence. He was so keen on the ban he would stalk the streets in disguise with a concealed sword beheading offenders on the spot. Obviously, he carried on using all three himself and probably died of liver failure due to alcoholism. His successor leniently commuted punishment for a first offence to a good beating. For a second offence you were sewn into a bag and dumped in the Bosporus.
Some historians believe coffee was met with suspicion because tyrannical rulers feared free speech. They thought coffeehouses spread sedition. According to one story, a Grand Vizier, after secretly visiting a coffeehouse in Istanbul, reported to the Sultan: People drinking alcohol get drunk, sing and are jolly, whereas the people drinking coffee remain sober and plot against us.
In 1550 coffee was introduced to Europe via Muslim slaves in Malta. It reached Europe commercially through trade between Venice and the Ottoman Empire. Legend says in 1600 when Cardinals tried to get Pope Clement to ban coffee as a ‘bitter invention of Satan’ the pope tried some and declared Satan’s drink to be so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. He thought it so much better for the populace than alcohol that he even considered baptising the bean to free it of its Infidel (and so satanic) taint.
A quarter of a century later an Oxford University student recorded trying coffee imported from Crete. Within twenty five years the first coffeehouse opened in Holborn and by 1665 there were 82 in London. These swiftly became business premises – for men only. The insurance company Lloyds of London started in Lloyd’s Coffeehouse. Gambling and unsuitable conversation was banned: religious dissent and ribaldry. Politics was fair game, which led to them being associated with sedition.
The first monarch to shut down coffeehouses was King Charles II in the 1660s when he traced some seditious poetry to them. The outcry caused him to change his mind in 11 days. A century later Frederick the Great fearful of revolution demanded Germans drink beer not coffee and sent his soldiers to shutdown illicit coffeehouses. He believed the French and American Revolutions were planned in coffeehouses.
Americans initially preferred tea, until the British Crown took advantage by taxing it to the hilt. After the Boston Tea Party, when American patriots, dumped crates of tea into Boston harbour, protesting ‘taxation without representation’, drinking tea was seen as unpatriotic.
John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
‘When I came to Mrs Huston’s House, I had ridden 35 miles at least. “Madam” said I, “is it lawfull for a weary Traveller to refresh himself with a Dish of Tea?” “No sir, said she, we have renounced all Tea in this Place. I can’t make Tea, but I’le make you Coffee.” Accordingly I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well.
The Women’s Petition Against Coffee (Ineedcoffee.com)
Monarchs were not the only ones to have a quarrel with the new coffeehouses.
Neighbours complained of the noisome smell, which seems surprising today when Estate Agents (Realtors) recommend the smells of fresh coffee and new baked bread to win over potential buyers. However coffee in those days was more like Turkish coffee: boiled to buggery. It was served in tiny cups and you only sipped the top third as the rest was sludge.
Hence the old joke:
Waiter this coffee tastes like mud!
Well sir it was ground this morning!
A recipe from the time says: Take a gallon of fair water. Boil until half of it is wasted. From this take a pint, add a spoonful of powder of coffee and boil for 15 minutes. Drink it as hot as you can and fast for two or three hours afterwards.
In 1674, a broadsheet was printed in London called ‘The Womens Petition Against Coffee’ or more explicitly ‘The Humble Petitions and Address of Several Thousands of Buxome Good-Women, Languishing in Extremity of Want’. It blamed coffee for male impotence. The petition came on the tail of a campaign by doctors claiming coffee dried up the cerebrospinal fluid and caused paralysis.
In truth both were probably governmental ruses to bring coffee into disrepute and so quieten political grumblings. Nothing hits home harder than telling a man his John Thomas will be… ‘Now Cramp’t into an Inch that was a Span’
Yet the most intriguing example of anti-coffee propaganda remains Gustav III of Sweden’s ban on both tea and coffee due to misuse and excessive drinking in 1746. When illicit consumption continued, Gustav set up an empirical experiment to prove his point. After all, this was the Age of Enlightenment.
He gave two identical twins a chance to have their death sentence commuted to life imprisonment if they agreed. One was to drink 3 pots of tea per day and the other three pots of coffee. He presumed they would be dead within the year and his point made.
In fact Gustav was the first to die, assassinated 46 years later in 1792. The twins also saw their doctors out. The first twin to die was the tea drinker, aged 83. The date the coffee drinker died is unknown as by then everyone had lost interest.
On the bright side I suppose if this proves anything at all, it is that compared to coffee, tea is bad for you. This news would have suited an old friend of mine, who continually drank brewed black coffee (not instant). She claimed as coffee contained oils it kept her skin young… as opposed to tea which contains tannin: used to cure leather.
©Paul Andruss 2018
As always my gratitude to Paul for his incredible research and ability to explain the complexities of a subject in such an entertaining and informative way..
About Paul Andruss.
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.
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You can find all of Paul’s previous posts and gardening column in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/paul-andruss-myths-legends-fantasy-and-gardening/
Thank you for dropping in today and as always please leave your questions and comments for Paul… thanks Sally.