Coffee started becoming a favorite drink in Europe in the seventeenth century during the Age of Reason. During this Age, thinkers decided to open up to new ideas thus going beyond the wisdom of the former people. Coffee which was a new drink at the time boosted sharpness and made one’s thoughts ‘clear’. This drink was preferred by intellectuals, scientists, clerks and merchants- people who did their work while seated on desks using their brains (Standage 136). Coffee assisted them in planning for their day, waking up early and staying awake till late in the night to ensure all planned work had been completed. This drink was served in establishments that were sober, calm and respectable, a thing that promoted sane discussions hence providing opportunities to acquire education, engage in debates and building up self-image.
During the Seventeenth Century, the impact of coffee (after its introduction into Europe) was clearly noticeable because the common beverages at that time were wine and “small beers”. People who consumed coffee and not alcohol started their day aware and stimulated rather than feeling dizzy and having impaired judgment, a thing that led to a great improvement in the quantity and quality of the work they did. Therefore people started considering coffee as a sobering drink and not an intoxicating one, improving perception instead of numbing senses and changing the reality. Drinking coffee was considered by the seventeenth Century thinkers as having moved beyond the boundaries of the ancient world. According to the thinkers, coffee was sobriety, a drink of clear perception, therefore a drink associated with modernity and forward movement – the perfect beverage of the current Age.
Development of Coffee and Its Influence on the Social, Cultural, Political and Economic Events
Coffee’s stimulating effect started to be known in the Arab world where coffee originated. There are several stories that try to narrate the origin of coffee drinking. One is told of an Ethiopian who was looking after goats and discovered that goats became frisky after eating cherries that were brownish-purple in color from a certain tree. The man also decided to eat them himself and felt their stimulating effects. His discovery was then passed over (by him) to the imam in the locality. The imam came up with a new way of preparing the berries by boiling them in water after drying them to make a hot drink that he consumed to remain awake at night during religious ceremonies (Standage 137).
Another story is told of a man called Omar who had been sentenced to death by starvation in a desert in Yemen outside Mocha city. He was led by a vision to a coffee plant from which he ate some berries. These berries gave him enough energy to go back to Mocha. His survival and return to Mocha were considered as God’s sign to spare his life in order to convey the knowledge of coffee to the human race which turned out to be a favorite drink in Mocha. Coffee drinking customs seemingly became popular in Yemen in the middle of the fifteenth century. The practice of converting coffee berries into a drink might have been innovated in Yemen and this was attributed to a scholar and a mystical Sufi order of Islam’s member known as Muhammad al-Dhabhani. He died in 1470. At this time, the Sufis had adopted coffee and consumed it to keep awake throughout the night religious ceremonies during which those who participated connected to God through continuous swaying and chanting.
As coffee spread all over the Arab world, by 1510, it came to Cairo and Mecca. Here is where the kind of coffee’s physical effects brought in much controversy. Coffee became a social drink and its association to religion was shaken off. People started selling it on the streets, market places and also in the coffeehouses that were set up. Unlike the illegal bars where alcohol was sold, coffee houses became places where people held in high esteem could not be ashamed to be seen.
However, some Muslim scholars objected that just like alcohol which was prohibited by prophet Muhammad, coffee was subject to religious prohibition since it was intoxicating. As a result, coffee was put on trial by the local Governor, Kha’ir Beg and the sale and consumption of coffee were banned throughout Mecca. A few months later, authorities in Cairo (that were higher) overturned the ruling of the Governor and once again the selling and consumption of coffee resumed its original course and Kha’ir was replaced as governor the following year.
The Muslim scholars went ahead to find a clear definition of what actually an intoxicant was. They came up with various scholarly definitions that applied to alcoholic drinks and in turn applied these to coffee. It was established that the effects of coffee on the consumer did not march these definitions. The effects of coffee on the consumer were no longer a concern to the higher authorities but the major concern turned out to be the conditions in which coffee was consumed because coffeehouses were considered to be places where people spread rumors, gossiped and held political debates. Despite further attempts to close coffeehouses due to the accusation of coffee drinkers as potential lawbreakers, no law was actually broken and these efforts failed.
In the early seventeenth century, the Europeans who visited the Arab world took interest and made comments about how Arabs drank coffee. At this time coffee was little known in Europe and there were attempts to introduce the beverage in Europe. There was one objection about its adoption which was its association with Muslims. In 1605, Pope Clement V111 was told to give the Catholic Church’s stand on coffee. Despite several arguments, the Pope went ahead and had a taste of coffee. It is told that the aroma and taste of coffee pleased him and he approved that it be consumed by the Christians.
Coffee joints started becoming common establishments within half a century in the western part of Europe and as it moved towards the west, coffeehouses took the same popularity as in the Arab world as places of respect for one to be. The first coffeehouse was set up in London in the year 1652 by Pasqua Rosee, the Armenian servant working for Daniel Edwards, an English merchant. Edwards helped Rosee to set up the coffeehouse. Edwards tasted coffee during his visit to the Middle East. During this time, the city was coming up as a center for a growing commercial empire.
Rosee’s business thrived especially after much advertisement with the clear statement of the positive effects on the consumer of coffee. This posed a threat to the tavern-keepers (since they lost customers) who hurriedly went ahead to present their complaints to the Mayor, that Rosee was a foreigner and had no right to run a business in the city. Despite Rosee’s departure, the number of coffeehouses kept on increasing. Apart from the tavern-keepers, whose objection was based on commercial reasons, medical men came up with a belief that coffee was poisonous and other commentators just like the Arab critics, showed their worry that coffee houses were places of time-wasting and discussion of useless things. In addition, they claimed that the taste of coffee was unpleasant.
Despite the opposition faced, coffee drinking has gone on to spread throughout Europe and the world over. Today, coffee consumption has spread widely in homes and outside the homes and it is difficult to imagine the impact of the introduction of coffee and the first coffeehouses’ appeal. Although there may be big improvements in modern cafes where coffee is taken as compared with the original coffeehouses, coffee still remains a beverage people take while discussing important issues and sharing ideas. It is still a safe drink that can be taken by people while discussing serious issues without a risk of getting intoxicated and losing self-control just as is the case with alcohol.
It is not surprising that the present center of coffee culture, the Starbucks Coffeehouse chain’s home in the city of Seattle, is also a place where the largest internet and software firms in the world are found (Standage 172). The association of coffee with reason, innovation and networking actually have a long history.
Tom, Standage. A History of the World in 6 Glasses. New York: Walker & Company, 2006. ISBN 0802715524.