Gertrude’s Diary #96 – The History Of Coffee

Back at Gertrude’s Diary #83 I invited readers to guess the Greek myth for their chance to win a cup of coffee. Vladimir correctly identified the reference to Pandora, and has suggested that I can expiate my debt by writing an entry on how anything ever got done before the invention of coffee.

References to coffee can be traced back to 9th century Ethiopia, where the plant is indigenous. It spread to Arabia by the 15th century; legend has it that a Mullah gave it to his monks to keep them awake during evening devotions.  Unfortunately, the general populace decided to dispense with the devotions and just hang around the coffeehouses, which were then banned because they were more popular than the mosques. Coffeehouses were closed in Mecca in 1511, wrecked in Cairo in 1534 and forbidden by many edicts in Contstantinople in 1554. I know plenty of people who feel the same way about Starbucks.

In 1660 Italy became the first European country to use coffee, and its consumption spread quickly throughout Europe and England, where coffeehouses became popular social, literary, and polital gathering places.  I think it is important to remember that prior to this pretty much everyone in England drank ale.  They might try a little wine if they were wealthy, and the aristocracy were just starting to drink tea, but apart from that it was ale.  So I want you to picture the scene in the local tavern, sometime in the late 1660’s.

Monday:  Ate a turnip.  Drank 6 pints of ale.  Everyone else pretty drunk too.  Passed out.
Tuesday:  A treat tonight!  Ate some green salt pork.  Drank 6 pints of ale and vomited.
Wednesday:  Fair bit of plague around this evening.  Drank 4 pints of ale and sang songs about syphillitic prostitutes.
Thursday:  Found this new place this evening around the corner from the tavern.  Called a coffeehouse.  Everyone there was so lively, all bubbling over with ideas.  I became quite enthralled by an energetic discussion about the intersection of literary and political purpose.  I shall definitely return.
1675:  Charles II closes 3000 coffeehouses as “seminaries of sedition”.

Bloody typical.

Apparently Charles II rescinded his command after just a few days under pressure of popular demand.  I suspect he just couldn’t get anything done around the palace.

Of course, there are health effects to drinking coffee.  While some researchers claim that drinking coffee can prevent breast cancer, Alzheimers disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver, there are others who claim negative effects.  The Seventh Day Adventist church discourages the drinking of tea and coffee, and here’s what Wikipedia had to say about that:

“Studies conducted on Adventists have shown a small but statistically significant association between coffee consumption and mortality from ischemic heart disease, other cardiovascular disease, all cardiovascular diseases combined, and all causes of death.”

I love those last 5 words, don’t you?  Drinking coffee statistically increases your disposition to all causes of death. Should we then conclude that by imposing a ban on coffee we could survive anything?  Robbed at gunpoint by a trigger happy psychopath?  Contract Ebola virus?  Hit by a bus?  No problem, I don’t drink coffee?  No, I don’t think so.  Otherwise the world would be full of vegetarian, God-bothering, wowser zombies.

From this brief examination of the facts surrounding coffee, I think we can safely assume that the safety of the free world rests on our ability to sit around on our arses chugging caffeine rich beverages.  Brave soldiers of democracy, lift up your lattes in triumphant chorus.

And let’s just try to ignore the deforestation, pesticide pollution, soil and water degradation and habitat destruction that are associated with coffee growing.  That’s all happening far away from our local cafes.  Shhh.  Back to your coffee.

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