Claudia Roden’s Coffee: A Connoisseur’s Companion begins with a history of coffee and that history, to my surprise, turns out to have been full of controversyÂ In the Middle East, where coffee drinking originated, coffee became very popular — monks and dervishes drank it to stay awake — but eventually it was seen as a threat to Islam:
Coffee houses sprang up everywhere people congregated. The more they frequented the coffee houses, the less they went to the mosques. Backgammon, mankala, dancing, music and singing, activities frowned on by the stricter adherents of Islam, also went on in the coffee houses. Having made a start within religion, coffee became a threat to religious observance (p. 13).
The Ottoman Grand Vizier suppressed coffee houses in 1656. And in Europe, there was no less controversy: “A Women’s Petition Against Coffee was published in London in 1674, complaining that men were never to be found at home during times of domestic crisis since they were always in the coffee houses, and that the drink rendered them impotent” (p. 14). In France, the wine merchants saw coffee as “an unwelcome competitor” (p. 14).
And the church?
In Italy it was the priests who appealed to Pope Clement VIII to have the use of coffee forbidden among Christians. Satan, they said, had forbidden his followers, the infidel Moslems, the use of wine because it was used in the Holy Communion, and given them instead his “hellish black brew.” It seems the Pope liked the drink, for his reply was: “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it.” Thus coffee was declared a truly Christian beverage by a farsighted Pope (p. 14).
So feel free to pour yourself another cup or visit a coffee shop and let someone pour one for you. Satan doesn’t own anything delicious. It’s God who made coffee beans grow and gave them caffeine to energize us and made them taste good, especially when brewed right and served with a bit of sugar and some cream … or however you like it. Myself, I think I’ll have a breve this afternoon, with thanksgiving.