19. Juni 2018
A few quotes about coffee
When I did research for my historical heist novel „Der Kaffeedieb“ (The Coffee Thief) in which a band of 17th century rogues tries to break the Ottoman coffee monopoly, I came across dozens of poems, ditties and quotes about „the wine of Islam“ – more than one could possibly have crammed into a novel.
That is a pity, because many of them are quite amusing. If you are interested in the history of coffee in Europe, then here you go:
The first English coffeehouse opened in Oxford, in 1651. Until then, coffee had been considered a mere novelty, something mentioned in obscure journals of Oriental travelers, if at all.
In early reports coffee was often hailed as a medicinal substance with amazing healing powers:
When foggy Ale, leaving up mighty trains
Of muddy vapours, had besieg’g our Brains,
Then Heaven in Pity
First sent amongst us this All-healing Berry,
Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome liquor,
That heals the stomach, makes the genius quicker,
Relieves the memory, revives the sad,
And cheers the spirits without making mad.
Others were convinced coffee was good for digestion and against headaches.
Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the Stomack, and for expelling Fumes out of the Head. Excellent Berry! which can cleanse the English-man’s Stomak of Flegm, and expel Giddinesse out of his Head.
(M.P. „A character of coffee and coffee-houses“)
It also allegedly cured many other ailments, according to a pamphlet by Pasqua Rosée, the owner of London’s first coffee house:
It is observed that in Turkey where this is generally drunk that they are not troubled with the Stone, Gout, Dropsie, or Scurvy and that their skins are exceedingly clear and white
(Rosée, „The Vertue of the Coffee Drink“)
Not everyone shared this sentiment, however. French doctors opined that coffee could kill you, because of
burnt particles, which [coffee] contains in large quantities, have so violent energy that, when they enter the blood, they attract the lymph and dry the kidneys.‘
(Expertise by the University of Marseille, 1679)
Paralysis, impotence and brain damage were some of the dangers, according to the professors. The German composer Carl Gottlieb Hering would later even write a coffee canon (which uses the notes C-A-F-F-E-E) warning against excessive coffee consumption:
C-a-f-f-e-e, trink nicht so viel Kaffee! Nichts für Kinder ist der Türkentrank, schwächt die Nerven, macht dich blass und krank. Sei doch kein Muselman, der ihn nicht lassen kann!
C-a-f-f-e-e, don’t drink so much coffee. Not for children is the Turk’s brew, weakens the nerves, makes you pale and sick. Don’t be a Mussulman, who cannot stay off it.
Many anti-coffee writings were being circulated by the coffeehouses‘ main competitors – ale houses and vintners. There also was a good deal of xenophobia involved. When coffee’s popularity surged in the late 17th century, the Ottoman Turks were the most powerful nation in Europe – and considered to be enemies of Christendom.
Neve mind that the English, the French and the Venetians were all more than happy do business with the Turks – they still were heathens and clearly up to something. Some people thought coffee was some kind of Trojan horse that would bring Islam and the Alcoran (i.e. The Koran) to the Occident:
Once Coffee WAS VENDED HERE THE ALC’RON shortly did appear
(The Character of a Coffee House, 1665)
Coffee was the devil’s brew, for sure:
For Menan Christians to turn Turks and think
T’excuse the Crime because tis in their drink
Is more then Magick and does plainly tell
Coffee’s extraction has its heats from hell
(A cup of coffee, 1663)
Others simply found the new drink unpalatable:
Syrop of Soot and Essens of old shoes
Dasht with Diurnals and the Booke of News
(Anonymous coffee ditty)
But it soon became evident coffee was here to stay. At the end of the 17th century, London had dozens of coffee houses. These were frequented by many gentlemen, among them natural philosophers and politicians like Halley, Hooke, Pepys or Wren. Coffee houses thus became information hubs. Tom Standage from „The Economist“ has called them „the internet coffeehouse“. A standard coffeehouse greeting was „What news have you?“. This is encapsulated in a poem by Thomas Jordan:
You did delight in Wit and Mirth and long to hear such news
As comes from all parts of the earth, Dutch, Danes and Turks and Jews
I’le send you a Rendezvous where it is smoking new:
Go hear it at a Coffee-house– it cannot but be true
There’s nothing done in all the World, from Monarch to the Mouse
But every day or night ‚tis hurled into the Coffee-house
(Thomas Jordan, News from the Coffee-house)
Many people remarked on this:
Coffee houses make all sorts of people sociable. The rich and the poor meet together, as also do the learned and unlearned. For here an inquisitive man that aims a good learning may get more in an evening then he shall by books in a month; he may find out such coffee houses where men frequent who are studious in such matters as his enquiry tends to and he may in short space gain the pith and the marrow of the others reading and studies.
(John Houghton, „A discourse of coffee read at a Meeting of the ROYAL SOCIETY“, 1699)
And you got all that knowledge for just a penny (which was what a dish of coffee cost you):
So great a Universitie I think there never was any; in which you may a Scholar be, for spending of a Penny.
Coffee houses, some remarked, were also places of political power:
„I am not yet convinced that any Access to men in Power gives a man more Truth or Light than the Politicks of a Coffee House.”
Coffee which makes the politician wise, and see thro‘ all things with his half-shut eyes.
But when coffee houses became more an more popular among gentlemen, some were not amused. No, not the king, although Charles II. once tried to ban coffee houses. London’s women were furious that their husbands were sitting in the coffee houses all day. They circulated a pamphlet called the „Women’s Petition Against Coffee“:
The Occasion of which Insufferable Disaster, after a furious Enquiry, and Discussion of the Point by the Learned of the Faculty, we can Attribute to nothing more than the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE …has…Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent, as Age.
Understandably, their husbands felt they needed to counter these arguments with a pamphlet of their own. It went by the succinct title „THE Mens Answer TO THE Womens Petition AGAINST COFFEE, VINDICATING Their own Performances, and the Vertues of that Liquor, from the Undeserved Aspersions lately cast upon them by their SCANDALOUS PAMPHLET“
‚Tis base adulterate wine and surcharges of Muddy
Ale that enfeeble nature, makes a man as salatious
as a Goat, and yet as impotent as Age, whereas Coffee
Collects and settles the Spirits, makes the erection
more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, adds a
spiritualescency to the Sperme, and renders it more firm
and suitable to the Gusto of the womb, and proportionate
to the ardours and expectation too, of the female
Well, that’s it. Enjoy your spiritualescent coffee, maybe with some music by Johann Sebastian Bach. He wrote a coffee cantata:
Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!
Oh! How sweet the coffee tastes
Lovelier than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel
Coffee, coffee I must have
And if someone wants to refresh me
He will pour a coffee for me
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