Coffee war and peace

Delicious_Coffee!We promise this post really isn’t as long as War and Peace and you should read all of it immediately.

As it’s UK coffee week, we’re continuing our look at the history of coffee.

Today coffee is widely considered a social tool that brings people together, but its history seems rife with division. Trawling back in time, coffee was a vehicle for conflict, conjecture and controversy.

When it first originated, coffee was mainly consumed in the Islamic world and was very directly related to religion.

Wikipedia tells us that the earliest credible evidence of coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the fifteenth century, in the Sufi monasteries of the Yemen. Coffee spread to Egypt and North Africa, and by the 16th century it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia and Turkey.

From the Middle East, coffee drinking spread first into Italy, before the rest of Europe was seduced and the Dutch began to transport coffee plants to the East Indies and Americas.

Vibrant trade between Venice and Muslims of North Africa, Egypt, and the East brought a large variety of African goods. Venetian merchants introduced coffee-drinking to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for the beverage. Coffee became widely accepted only after controversy over whether it was acceptable for Catholic consumption.

Pressured by his advisers to declare coffee the “bitter invention of Satan” because of its popularity among Muslims and it being a substitute for wine, Pope Clement VIII instead declared that…

                    “This devil’s drink is so delicious…we should cheat the devil by baptizing it.”

According to Leonhard Rauwolf’s 1583 account, coffee became available in Britain no later than the 16th century. This was thanks largely to the efforts of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company.

The first coffeehouse in Britain was opened in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a Turkish goods trader. Edwards imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment. Established in 1654, Queen’s Lane Coffee House in Oxford is still there today.

A coffee house in Vienna.

A coffee house in Vienna.

By 1675 there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses throughout England, many of which were involved in the progressive movement between the 1660s and 1670s. Coffee houses in England were used for deep discussion of beliefs during the enlightenment, such as thoughts on religious and political issues of their time.

The practice of religious and political discussion became so common that Charles II made an attempt to crush coffee houses in 1675. Banning women from coffeehouses was not universal, but appears to have been commonplace in Europe.

The practice of religious and political discussion became so common that Charles II made an attempt to crush coffee houses in 1675. Banning women from coffeehouses was not universal, but appears to have been commonplace in Europe.

Many believed coffee to have several medicinal properties in this period. A 1661 tract entitled “A character of coffee and coffee-houses”, written by one “M.P.”, lists some of these perceived benefits:

‘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.’

However, the new commodity proved controversial among some subjects. The anonymous 1674 “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” stated:

“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.”

Maybe they put something else in their coffee back then.