[Sca-cooks] Update on coffee question

Stefan li Rous StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
Wed Jan 27 14:24:12 PST 2010

Bear, among others, replied to my questions with:
<<< Okay, Stefan.  Here are my thoughts on these statements.

First, you must differentiate between the coffee plant and the coffee
beverage.  Second, there is a lot of misinformation on coffee out there,
with the best stories being the most misleading. >>>

Thank you folks for responding.

I guess I jumped the gun. It seems the coffee discussion has also  
occurred on the Lochac list multiple times. Here is one of the replies  
to the message from the Lochac list I was asking about.

<<<On 26/01/2010, at 2:42 PM, C Lenehan wrote:

> For information on the vital subject of coffee
> * Coffee seems to have been drunk in Persia since the ninth century.
> * It was first cultivated around 675 in Arabia.
> * 1475    The first coffee shop opens in Istanbul (Kiva Han).

This has come up before on this list, and been shown to be a mass of
pseudo-historical urban legends.

There is a great deal of mythologising by about the emergence of
coffee (as either a medicine or a drink), all of which seems to be of
Western origin. Possibly the most widespread of these is the famous
story of coffee being 'discovered' by a shepherd watching his charges
acting vigourously after grazing on the plant, although this account
does not appear until 1671. Arab historians were aware of these
myths, and for the most part avoided inventing similar stories

There is no evidence that coffee was cultivated or even generally
consumed even in the Islamic world before the 15th century. It is not
mentioned in surviving 10th century Persian culinary books, nor in
13th century culinary or medical treatises.

The earliest evidence is in the 15th century of a drink called qahwa
made from  the stimulating leaves of a plant known as qat which was
used semi-medicinally by several Sufi orders as part of their rituals.

After a stay in Ethiopia the imam and later Sufi shaykh Jamal al-Din
ibn Sa'id al-Dhabbani is credited with the innovation of adding
coffee arabica (known as bunnu, noted as a wild-growing shrub) to the
brew and introducing it to the Islamic world on his return to Yemen,
where it began to be used widely. As al-Dhabbani died in 1470 AD, the
introduction of coffee as a beverage was contemporaneous with his
lifetime. Stories of widespread cultivation prior to that  have no
basis in fact.

Stories of Avicenna or Arab physicians using the plant medicinally
are also false. Indeed the muftis of Mecca saw coffee as violating
the shari'a, being a harmful intoxicant. The jurist Kha'ir Beg
prosecuted the case in 1511 based on the medical evidence of famous
Persian physicians of coffee as a harmful substance. Islamic
physicians tended to maintain that stance until at least the mid 17th
century despite its phenomenal popularity.

Stories of the 'Kiva Han' coffeehouse are similarly unfounded, and
similarly undocumentable. Coffeehouses spread just as rapidly as the
drink it served,
increasingly popular as a place to meet, talk, and pass the time
while indulging. The first coffeehouse mentioned in Arab histories is
located in Mecca in 1511, then Damascus in 1530.

The Ottoman chronicler Ibrahim Pecevi relates the first coffeehouse
in Istanbul was opened in 1555 by arrivals from Aleppo and Damascus.
It is said this coffeehouse became known (in translation) as the Cafe
of the Gate of Salvation (thus inspiring the name of the Rowany
Festival coffeehouse).

For a marvellously detailed and rigourously researched work on coffee
in period, you can't go past 'Coffee and Coffeehouses: the Origins of
a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East' by Ralph Hattox (1988).

While Prospero Alpini did travel to Egypt 1580-1583, his mention of
coffee arabica in De Medicina Egyptiorum refers to the plant, not the
use it was put to as a beverage, and was not published until 1591.
The earliest mention of coffee seems to be by German physician
Leonhard Rauwulf in 1583, describing 'a beverage as black as ink,
useful against numerous illnesses particularly those of the stomach.
Its consumers take it in the morning...in a porcelain cup that is
passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed
of water and the fruit from a bush called bunnu'.

Pope Clement VIII approved coffee as a beverage suitable for
Christians in 1600 despite appeals to ban 'the Muslim drink'; the
first coffeehouse in western Europe was established in Venice in 1645.

So, in short:
- Coffee emerges 1420-1470 in Aden, Yemen
- Early use associated with Sufi orders
- Widespread even though banned for violating shari'a law 1511
- First coffeehouse in Istanbul 1555
- Enters western Europe through trade with Venice before 1600.

Coffee, therefore, is perfectly 'period' for late period Venetian as
well as Islamic personae. If you're not...tie on a turban and enjoy

idarat al-ka's (passing the cup),
Giles   >>>

I didn't remember any commentary on this list about Pope Clement VIII  
and coffee. However, in re-reading the Florilegium coffee-msg file I  
did find this:

<<< 1600: Coffee, introduced to the West by Italian traders, grabs  
attention in high
places. In Italy, Pope Clement VIII is urged by his advisers to  
consider that favourite drink of the Ottoman Empire part of the  
infidel threat. However, he decides to "baptise" it instead, making it  
an acceptable Christian beverage.

I've also seen reference that says the Pope who baptised coffee was  
III, so I wouldn't be surprised to find that this last item is  
Admittedly, the earliest *English* reference to coffee provided by the  
is dated 1598.

Sir Lyonel Oliver Grace, HCB*
*Heavily Caffeinated Baron >>>

Bear, know anything about this?

THLord Stefan li Rous    Barony of Bryn Gwlad    Kingdom of Ansteorra
    Mark S. Harris           Austin, Texas          StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
**** See Stefan's Florilegium files at:  http://www.florilegium.org ****

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