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TWO: Coffee and the Protestant Ethic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wolfgang Schivelbusch   
Monday, 25 February 2013 00:00

Toward the end of the sixteenth century, Leonhart Rauwolf, an Augsburg physician, traveled through the Near and Middle East. He noticed that the Turks and Arabs were consuming a hot, blackish beverage much as Europeans drank wine and beer. In his book Journey to the Lands of the Orient, published in 1582, Rauwolf wrote: "Among other things they have a good drink which they greatly esteem. They call it 'chaube': it is nearly as black as ink and helpful against stomach complaints. They drink it from earthenware and porcelain cups early in the morning, also in public places without any hesitation. But they take only small sips of it and then pass these cups around, for they are seated next to each other in a circle. To the water they add a berry the natives call 'bunnu' which, but for its size and color, resembles bay tree berries, surrounded by two thin hulls. This drink is very common among them, so that one finds quite a few who serve it in the bazaar, as well as shopkeepers who sell the berries there."

It is difficult to determine precisely when coffee was introduced to Arabic culture. According to legend, Mohammed was cured of narcolepsy with coffee. There are indications in Arabic medical literature that coffee was used medicinally as early as the tenth century. But in the Islamic world, too, it became a popular beverage relatively late, certainly no earlier than the fifteenth century.

Although the dating may be vague, the logic of coffee drinking for Arabic-Islamic civilization is incontestable. As a nonalcoholic, nonintoxicating, indeed even sobering and mentally stimulating drink, it seemed to be tailor-made for a culture that forbade alcohol consumption and gave birth to modern mathematics. Arabic culture is dominated by abstraction more than any other culture in human history. Coffee has rightly been called the wine of Islam.

Until the seventeenth century, coffee remained a curiosity for Europeans, mentioned in accounts of journeys to the exotic lands of the Orient. They could not imagine consuming a hot, black, bitter-tasting drink—much less with pleasure. It reminded them too much of hot pitch, which was used in medieval times for battle and torture.

One of the earliest botanically exact illustrations, published in 1716 in
La Roque's Voyage de 1'Arabie Heureuse, one of the exotic travel
accounts popular in that period.

The situation changed around the middle of the seventeenth century. Suddenly a whole set of hitherto unknown exotic substances became fashionable. Together with chocolate, tea, and tobacco, coffee made its entrance upon the stage of European luxury culture. It appeared in several different places at once, then spread in a quasi-strategic pattern of encirclement: in the south it surfaced in the Levantine trade centers, Venice and Marseilles; in the north, in the transshipping ports of the new international trade, London and Amsterdam. From these bridgeheads it quickly conquered the hinterlands. Around 1650 coffee was virtually unknown in Europe, at most used as medication. By about 1700 it was firmly established as a beverage, not, of course, for the entire population but certainly among the trend-setting strata of society.

Court aristocracy added coffee drinking as one more flourish to its cult of luxury. Coffee became as fashionable as the new chinoiserie, or the young blackamoor kept as a sort of mascot in one's retinue. Essentially it was not the drink itself that mattered to court society but how it could be consumed, the opportunities it afforded for display of elegance, grace, and high refinement. The porcelain that was created expressly for coffee drinking at the court was what mattered most—just as all aspects of life in an absolutist regime were determined by the forms of court ceremony. Form replaced content.

Coffee, tea, and chocolate appealed to court society of the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries not only as exotic drinks, but also as
occasions for self-display. The exquisite service and the young
blackamoor who served it were basically more important to
aristocratic taste than the items consumed. (Portrait of Madame
Dubarry by Decreuse.)

During the Rococo period, people loved to dress up and surround
themselves with objects in the oriental style. This masquerading
extended from Chinese porcelain rooms to little blackamoors serving
the beverages newly in vogue. As this engraving by Chodowiecki
shows, some even went so far as to dress up in "native" costumes to
drink their coffee.

Bourgeois society of the same period regarded coffee in a different, quite contrary light. Not form, but substance—the drink —was the focus of interest. The thing itself, in this case, consisted in the actual physiological properties and effects ascribed to coffee. Were one to list all the properties they believed inherent in coffee, the result would be an amazingly motley catalogue of often mutually contradictory virtues. Here is just a small sampling: Coffee is good for colic, it fortifies the liver and the gall bladder, brings relief in cases of dropsy, purifies the blood, soothes the stomach, whets the appetite, but can also decrease it, keeps you awake, but can also induce sleep. It cools "hot" temperaments, but on the other hand it warms up "cold" ones, etc. Coffee, in other words, was viewed as a panacea. There wasn't a positive effect it was not credited with. If we wade through the jumble of properties most commonly imputed to it, however, we come up with two which are actually one and the same: sobriety and the power to sober up a person. In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century medical literature as well as in the general view, coffee was perceived as primarily a sober beverage, in contrast to previously known drinks, all of which were alcoholic. The lateseventeenth-century middle classes welcomed coffee as the great soberer. The coffee drinker's good sense and business efficiency were contrasted with the alcohol drinker's inebriation, incompetence, and laziness, most clearly in texts from seventeenth-century Puritan England. " 'Tis found already," wrote James Howell in 1660, "that this coffee drink hath caused a greater sobriety among the Nations. Whereas formerly Apprentices and clerks with others used to take their morning's draught of Ale, Beer, or Wine, which, by the dizziness they Cause in the Brain, made many unfit for business, they use now to play the Good-fellows in this wakeful and civil drink."

A Backward Glance:
The Significance of Alcohol before the Seventeenth Century

It would be difficult for us nowadays to imagine the crucial role alcoholic drinks played before the hot, nonalcoholic beverages (coffee, tea, and chocolate) assumed their permanent place in the European diet. The former were consumed as both a semiluxury to be enjoyed and a nourishing staple. Medieval people drank copious amounts of wine and beer, especially on holidays—and holidays were quite numerous then (in Paris, for instance, 103 holidays were observed in the year 1660), including church consecrations, weddings, baptisms, burials, and "blue Mondays." On workdays beer and wine were a regular part of the meals.

Prior to the introduction of the potato, beer was second only to bread as the main source of nourishment for most central and north Europeans. "Some subsist more upon this drink than they do on food," wrote Johann Brettschneider, alias Placotomus, in the year 1551, referring not to hard-core drinkers, but to average folk: "People of both sexes and every age, the hale and the infirm alike require it." An English family in the latter half of the seventeenth century—the period when coffee drinking was catching on among the upper classes—consumed about three liters of beer per person daily, children included. Although large breweries already existed by then, beer brewing was still a part of housekeeping, like bread baking and slaughtering—one of the housewife's duties.

The best way to get a sense of how pervasive beer was in the seventeenth century, and often even in the eighteenth, is to remember that breakfast as a rule consisted of beer soup, a now-forgotten dish. In rural areas of Germany such soups were still prepared as late as the end of the eighteenth century. The following recipe—which already shows a considerable degree of refinement—comes from that period: "Heat the beer in a saucepan; in a separate small pot beat a couple of eggs. Add a chunk of butter to the hot beer. Stir in some cold beer to cool it, then pour over the eggs. Add a bit of salt, and finally mix all the ingredients together, whisking it well to keep it from curdling. Finally, cut up a roll, white bread, or other good bread, and pour the soup over it. You may also sweeten to taste with sugar."

How unusual the new hot beverages must have tasted to palates accustomed to the ubiquitous beer! The following passage from a letter written by Duchess Elisabeth Charlotte of Orleans illustrates this clearly. Of German origin, and more popularly known as Liselotte von der Pfalz, she complains about the taste of the three new drinks in fashion at the court of Versailles: "Tea makes me think of hay and dung, coffee of soot and lupine-seed, and chocolate is too sweet for me—it gives me a stomachache—I can't stand any of them. How much I would prefer a good Kalteschale [a cold soup, often prepared with wine and fruit—Trans.] or a good beer soup, that wouldn't give me a stomachache."

But it was the ritual function of alcohol, above and beyond its nutritional function, that explains what we now regard as the excessive consumption of alcohol in preindustrial societies. Drinking rites are of course still very much with us today. Drinking to someone's health, clinking glasses, the obligation to return another's toast, drinking as a pledge of friendship, drinking contests, etc.—these are rites and obligations one cannot easily evade. To earlier societies they were even more obligatory.

Due to its nutritional value and low alcohol content, beer has been regarded since the dawn of history as the "good" alcohol, as opposed to stronger things like liquor. Where beer reigns, people are content, well nourished, and happy. What William Hogarth expressed for an entire society in his famous engraving Beer Street (see p. 155) is similarly summed up by this portrait of a beer drinker by Martin Engelbrecht. The original text reads: "Balm to my breast as summer nears, / I do not quaff thee, noblest draught, / 1 sip thee, that my
mind stay clear."

Drinkers would work themselves into a state of intoxication that was not merely the result of the alcohol imbibed. It was also psychological in origin, fueled by the frenzy engendered in outdoing yourself offering toasts.

A drinking bout, once under way, usually ended only when its participants lost consciousness. To withdraw earlier was viewed either as an insult to one's drinking companions or as an admission of weakness on the part of the one who "chickened out." Observing a German drinking bout in the sixth century, the Roman author Venantius Fortunatus wrote that the participants "were carrying on like madmen, each competing in drinking to the other's health," and that "a man had to consider himself lucky to come away with his life." This essentially holds true also for the Middle Ages and for Germany up to the sixteenth century. Today competitive drinking to the point where participants lose consciousness is to be found in only a few social settings (rural weddings, Oktoberfest, student fraternities, etc.). It was a normal occurrence in the life of the preindustrial world.

One account of such a drinking contest in 1599 demonstrates how little things have changed in the thousand years between the Old,,Germanic society and that of the sixteenth century: "These drunkards are not satisfied with the wine they have in front of them, but contend with one another using drinking vessels as they would spears and weaponry. The foremost among them attacks, launching a round of drinks. Soon thereafter he bids those across the room to drink. Others are soon enlisted to join in on all sides with glasses and goblets. These guests and drunkards contend with each other, man to man, in pairs: they must swallow half, then all of a drink in one gulp, and without stopping to take a single breath, or wiping their beards, until they sink into a complete stupor. . . . And just as soon as two heroes emerge victorious, these men guzzle in competition with each other. And whoever is the winner and has best stood his ground carries off the prize. Sometimes the ones who drink the most are awarded honors and presented with trophies as well."

Until well into the nineteenth century, beer brewing, like slaughtering
and bread baking, was a part of housekeeping. The illustration by
George Cruikshank (top, facing page) shows one of these outdoor
home breweries. Comparing the dimensions of the casks with those in
the illustration of a brewery from the sixteenth century by Jorg
Amman (bottom, facing page), we see how little has changed over the
three centuries.

Beer and, later, liquor were part of the regular food rations of Europe's armies until the nineteenth century. From a 1632 decree by Wallenstein (above) we see that a mercenary's daily ration consisted of two pounds of bread, one pound of meat, and four pints of beer.
The inescapable presence of beer in military life is shown in an
illustration (next page) of a bivouac from around the end of the sixteenth century: three huge barrels of beer fill the left third of the

Well into the seventeenth century beer was generally served by
women, attesting to its domestic origins. In England particularly, "Ale
Wives" became folklore figures—as in the case of Elinor Rummin,
whose portrait appears on the title page of a book that Henry VIII's
court poet, Skelton, dedicated to her in 1624 (top, facing page).

In the painting by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) (bottom, facing page), the "porridge" is in fact probably beer soup. Before potatoes entered the European diet, this soup was a major source of daily nourishment. The massive, heavy body types that are seen in north European, especially Dutch, painting of the seventeenth century—and Jordaens's Porridge Eater is one of them—have their nutritional and physiological explanation in the high beer and beer soup consumption.

Also known as Liselotte von der Pfalz (1652-1722) and for her letters
from Versailles to Germany, in which she complains of, among other
fashionable innovations, the bad-tasting new beverages coffee, tea,
and chocolate. (Painting by Hyazinth Rigaud.)

To be sure, there was increasing criticism of these drinking customs in the sixteenth century. The account just quoted, written by a Tubingen professor, Johann Georg Sigwart, is itself an expression of a new view of moderation articulated in a barrage of pamphlets, caricatures, sermons, and books. If the image this propaganda literature created were to be taken as literal truth, one would have to assume that sixteenth-century central Europe saw a sudden explosion of wanton drunkenness and gluttony. "When the city gates are closed, and those who live outside in the surrounding towns leave, they go weaving from side to side, stumbling and staggering, falling into the mud, their legs splayed out wide enough for a coach to pass through." Such descriptions should be taken with a grain of salt. They reflect not so much historical reality as opinion passed off as reality—which is to say that what changed in the sixteenth century was not actual alcohol consumption (which was already so huge that an increase was scarcely possible), but rather the attitude toward drinking.

This new attitude developed during the Reformation. Its chief representatives and advocates were the leading Reformers, above all Martin Luther. The Reformation, redefining the relationship between the individual and God as a personal one, at the same time took pains to regulate the relationship of man to alcohol. In so doing the Reformation was laying an essential foundation in both realms for the development of capitalism.

Following the Reformation, medieval eating and drinking customs
came under critical fire. A flood of polemical tracts, satires, and
caricatures, especially against immoderate drinking, was released.
The drunkard is usually portrayed as an animal, with the head of
an ape, a donkey, or a pig, and with bird claws and similar
appendages. Equally popular in these illustrations is the moment
when the imbiber "throws up." Frequently the scene is presided over
by "Demon Alcohol" (top, facing page), who was seen in those times
as both the cause and the incarnation of vice.
Sequence of illustrations:
Frontispiece from Sebastian Franck's widely circulated diatribe On
the Abominable Vice of Drunkenness (above).
Title page from Matthiius Friedrich's Against Demon Alcohol (top,
facing page).
Hans Burgkmair: The Table of the Wealthy (bottom, facing page). Title page from Thomas Heywood's Philocothonista, or, the
Drunkard (top, p. 36).

However, the movement to moderation in the Age of Reformation did not have especially lasting results. The numerous prohibitions against toasting rituals, intended to put an end to drinking contests, had to be repeatedly renewed, obviously having failed to achieve the desired effects. Nor were the apostles of moderation themselves the sort of thoroughgoing Puritans the Calvinist churches of seventeenth-century Holland and England were to bring forth. Medieval joie de vivre and the Protestant ethic were still inextricably joined in a person like Luther, who preached tirelessly against "Demon Alcohol" (a sixteenth-century descriptive term for alcoholism), yet who also coined the proverb "wine, women, and song"—without which a man would remain a fool his whole life long.
Obviously conditions in the sixteenth century were not yet ripe for any real change in drinking habits. It would take not only Puritan ideology to condemn "Demon Alcohol," but some material basis to make it possible. That came with a more highly developed society and economy, sharper restraints, a higher degree of work discipline—and also a new group of beverages that could replace the old ones. For without substitutes the existing traditions would not disappear. Any substitute for the tried and true would have to have a new kind of appeal—that is, it must satisfy new needs—otherwise it would be unacceptable. These requirements were fulfilled by the new hot beverages that reached Europe in the seventeenth century—above all, coffee.

The Great Soberer

Coffee awakened a drowsing humanity from its alcoholic stupor to middle-class common sense and industry—so seventeenth-century coffee propaganda would have it. The English Puritan poets seized on this theme, as for example in the following anonymous poem published in 1674:

When the sweet Poison of the Treacherous Grape Had acted on the world a general rape;
Drowning our Reason and our souls
In such deep seas of large o'erflowing bowls,

When foggy Ale, leavying up mighty trains Of muddy vapours, had besieg'd our Brains, Then Heaven in Pity . . .
First sent amongst us this All-healing Berry,
Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome Liquor, That heals the stomach, makes the genius quicker, Relieves the memory, revives the sad,
And cheers the Spirits, without making mad . . .

Another two hundred years later the nineteenth-century poet-historian Jules Michelet would see coffee fulfill this historic mission as the sobering agent of an entire epoch: "Henceforth is the tavern dethroned, the monstrous tavern is dethroned, which even half a century earlier had sent youths wallowing 'twixt casks and wenches, is dethroned. Fewer liquor-drenched songs on the night air, fewer noblemen sprawled in the gutter . . . Coffee, the sober drink, the mighty nourishment of the brain, which unlike other spirits, heightens purity and lucidity; coffee, which clears the clouds of the imagination and their gloomy weight; which illumines the reality of things suddenly with the flash of truth . . ."

However, in the seventeenth century, coffee was not only considered a sober drink in contrast to alcoholic beverages, but above an4.beyond that it was credited with the ability to sober up people who were already drunk—a popular belief even today, in spite of all pharmacological evidence to the contrary. Sylvestre Dufour was the author-editor and compiler of a book on the new hot beverages. It had many editions and translations throughout Europe after its publication in 1671 (Traitez Nouveau et curieux du cafe, du the, et du chocolat). Dufour claimed to have seen the following episode: "Coffee sobers you up instantaneously, or in any event it sobers up those who are not fully intoxicated. One of my friends who had had too much wine sat down at the gambling table one evening after dinner. He was losing considerable sums, because having drunk too much wine, he was confusing hearts with diamonds. I took him aside and had him drink a cup of coffee, whereupon he returned to the game with a completely sober head and clear eye."

There was another series of attributes which the seventeenth century ascribed to coffee, none of them borne out by modern scientific findings. It seems that people of that era perceived coffee to have properties it could not possibly possess, but which they themselves projected onto it. A classic instance of the placebo effect?

If we examine another of these supposed properties, the motivation behind the projections becomes clearer. Michelet speaks in the passage that follows the section quoted above of "antierotic coffee, which at last replaces sexual arousal with stimulation of the intellect." What he had in mind here was the coffeehouse culture of the Enlightenment, the coffeehouse as the gathering place of intellectuals and center for discussion. In seventeenth-century England the idea of coffee as an antierotic drink was much more direct and concrete. It was regarded as a substance that reduced sexual energies, even to the point of impotence. It was recommended to clerics who lived in celibacy. In 1764 a broadside caused a great sensation in London. Its title: "The Women's Petition against Coffee, Representing to Publick Consideration the Grand Inconveniencies accruing to their SEX from the'Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling LIQUOR. Presented to the Right Honorable the Keepers of the Liberty of VENUS." The text expressed in no uncertain terms the fear that coffee would make "men [as] unfruitful as those deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought." It is easy to identify the sociopolitical impulse behind this complaint: the English coffeehouses of this period excluded women, and in their pamphlet the women were rebelling against the increasing patriarchalization of society. That this opposition should use the argument that coffee makes men impotent shows, on the one hand, how powerful this notion was at the time, and on the other, how unpuritanical, indeed how antipuritanical, the women of this time were.

Coffee as the beverage of sobriety and coffee as the means of curbing the sexual urges—it is not hard to recognize the ideological forces behind this reorientation. Sobriety and abstinence have always been the battle cry of puritanical, ascetic movements. English Puritanism, and more generally, the Protestant ethic, defined coffee in this way and then wholeheartedly declared it their favorite drink.

There is no doubt that coffee is to a large degree an ideologically freighted drink. Yet it would be wrong to see only this aspect of it. For coffee undeniably has other properties that made it so well-suited to European civilization as it evolved from the seventeenth century on. Modern pharmacology confirms this. The caffeine in coffee affects the central nervous system. As a standard twentieth-century study states, it enhances "mental activity, speeds perception, and judgment at the same time that it makes them clearer, and it stimulates mental activity without leading to any subsequent depression." It is these properties that make coffee the beverage of the modern bourgeois age. The very point at which it was fully inserted into European culture confirms this. The seventeenth century was the century of rationalism, not only in philosophy, but in all the important areas of material life. The absolutist-bureaucratic state was built on the rationalistic viewpoint that originated in this period. Work in the newly burgeoning factories was organized rationalistically. Rationality and accountability characterize the bourgeois spirit that was behind it all.

The seventeenth-century bourgeois was distinguished from people of past centuries by his mental as well as his physical lifestyle. Medieval man did physical work, for the most part under the open sky. The middle-class man worked increasingly with his head, his workplace was the office, his working position was sedentary. The ideal that hovered before him was to function as uniformly and regularly as a clock. (The first example that comes to mind is the famous clocklike regularity of Kant, whose neighbors allegedly set their watches by his precisely timed daily walks.) It is perfectly obvious that this new way of life and work would affect the entire organism. In this connection coffee functioned as a historically significant drug. It spread through the body and achieved chemically and pharmacologically what rationalism and the Protestant ethic sought to fulfill spiritually and ideologically. With coffee, the principle of rationality entered human physiology, transforming it to conform with its own requirements. The result was a body which functioned in accord with the new demands—a rationalistic, middle-class, forward-looking body.

Arguments for and against coffee

In the seventeenth century people judged the effect of coffee on the human body in various ways, depending on how they felt about progress in the first place. For optimistic middle-class progressives coffee's chief property, that of stimulating the mind and keeping one awake, was quite welcome. After all, it promised nothing less than to lengthen and intensify the time available for work. And inasmuch as time is money, to quote Benjamin Franklin, coffee indirectly proved to be a productive resource, or what we today might call a first-rate efficiency factor. In this sense, not to drink any coffee would be almost as great a sin for the puritanical bourgeois as wasting time itself.

Available from 1671 on in numerous editions and translations, this
book by a Lyon businessman, Sylvestre Dufour, became a sort of bible
of the new hot beverages. It was a compilation of many texts already
in wide circulation concerning coffee, tea, and chocolate. The
frontispiece shows the three drinks in the hands of figures
personifying their respective nationalities: on the left, the Turk or

Arab with coffee (which was then still drunk, like tea from a small
handleless bowl); center, the Chinese with tea; on the right, the
Indian with chocolate. In front of them stand the appropriate
containers, already in their familiar forms: the pear-shaped coffeepot;
the wide, bulbous teapot; the slender, oval chocolate pot with its
accompanying stirrer.

The title—and especially the subtitle (And Others Who Get Little
Exercise in the Course of Their Work)—of this much-read book by the
French physician Tissot is evidence of how a new lifestyle preoccupied
people: the nonphysical activity, sitting in the office or studying all
day. The century of the Enlightenment, which in its first half was
interested only in the human mind, in its second half turned its
attention to the problem of what effect this monopoly of mental
activity would have on the rest of the body.

This simple yet persuasive argument for coffee prevailed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, at the same time, there were also different viewpoints, ranging from skeptical to explicitly hostile. Where such views were solely the expression of vested material interest (on the part of wine merchants, brewers, innkeepers, and groups representing their interests), they do not warrant our attention; but the criticisms of independent writers are quite another matter. Carl von Linne, or Carolus Linnaeus, the great eighteenth-century naturalist, for example, saw coffee's main virtue much as its advocates did, in its ability to keep people awake artificially. Yet he sees some problems, as the following sentence shows: "On this account [coffee] might be considered useful by those who set a higher worth upon saving their time than on maintaining their lives and health, and who are compelled to work into the night" (author's italics). This already clearly shows an inkling, indeed a knowledge, of the price the body, or the health of human beings, must pay for progress in the form of greater concentration and labor efficiency. Linnaeus's remarks reflect a view that is related to Rousseau's ideal of nature and that is echoed in modern environmental consciousness: that it is our own ill-used, manipulated bodies that pay the price.

Half a century after Linnaeus, Samuel Hahnemann, the homeopath, paraphrased the same thought. Coffee creates an "artificially heightened sense of being," according to Hahnemann; "presence of mind, alertness, and empathy are all elevated more than in a healthy natural condition"; but, he goes on, these effects are unhealthy, in that they throw life off its natural rhythm, which consists in an alternation of wakefulness and sleepiness. It is worthwhile to hear out Hahnemann's argument against coffee more fully, because concisely and clearly it works out the problem raised by controlling the human organism with stimulants (and this in 1803) :

"In the first moments or first quarter hour of waking, especially when waking occurs earlier than usual, probably everyone who does not live in an entirely primitive state of nature experiences an unpleasant sensation of less than fully roused consciousness, gloominess, a sluggishness and stiffness in the limbs; quick movements are difficult, and thinking is hard. But lo and behold, coffee dispels this natural but unpleasant feeling, this discomfort of mind and body, almost immediately. After a full day's work we must, by our nature, slacken and grow lazy; an unpleasant sensation of heaviness and fatigue in our mental and physical powers makes us cross and peevish, and compels us to seek the necessary rest and sleep. This peevishness and sluggishness, this unpleasant fatigue of mind and body with the natural approach of sleep, quickly vanishes with this medicinal drink; sleepiness vanishes, and an artificial sprightliness, a wakefulness wrested from Nature takes its place."

With Hahnemann we are entering the realm of modern medicine. If we now return to the period in which coffee was first discovered as a beverage, we find that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries already had quite a similar awareness of the problem caused by the effects of coffee. However, it was formulated in medical concepts that no longer speak clearly to us and that therefore require some explanation. It is worth the trouble, for these old medical texts express ideas that strike us as both strange and familiar. Of course, their description of how coffee works does not hold up in light of today's scientific knowledge. But that isn't the issue. The documents should be read more as evidence of the contemporary attitude and awareness concerning coffee, attitudes from which we can deduce what coffee meant to people in those days. It is precisely the language, nonscientific by today's standards, the images and fantasies used, that give us a sense of the expectations, the conscious and unconscious fears, with which people regarded coffee. Let us begin with a passage from a paper delivered in 1679 before the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Marseilles. It describes the route coffee follOws through the coffee drinker's body and the effects it has:

"The profuse burned particles it carries with it possess such a violent force that when they enter the bloodstream they sweep along all the lymph as well and drain the kidneys. Furthermore, they endanger the brain; after they have dried up its fluid and its convolutions, they keep all the pores of the body dilated and so impede the sleep-inducing animal forces from rising to the brain. Through these properties the ash contained in coffee induces such persistent wakefulness that the nerve fluid dries up; when it cannot be replaced, general prostration, paralysis, and impotence ensue. And because the blood, which has by this point grown as listless as a riverbed in midsummer, becomes acidic, all parts of the body are depleted of their fluid, [and] the entire body falls prey to the most frightful emaciation."

It is of secondary concern to us that coffee should be condemned in this medical expert's report. What matters are the notions, images, and ideas that are presented. The principal concept here is that a body will go to rack and ruin when its fluids are drained off. Coffee is viewed and condemned as a substance which drains and desiccates [vital] fluids. A healthy body, in this view of things, is a fluid-filled body; a sick body, one that is dry.

Judging well-being and illness by gauging the proportions of body fluids is a characteristic of the so-called humoral medicine that was popular in Europe in the seventeenth century and to some extent also in the eighteenth, despite the concurrent rise of modern medicine. Humoral medicine had its origin in the Greek and Arabic traditions, deriving its name from the Latin word for fluid or sap: humor. The present meaning of "humor" derives from this original sense of the word. Even into the eighteenth century "humor" did not necessarily refer to the comic, but quite generally to mood or state of mind. According to humoral medicine, a person's mood was the product of his body fluids. Here the classical doctrine of the temperaments even touches, or rather intersects classical medicine. Both are based on the so-called four, fold scheme (Viererschema).

The fourfold scheme recognizes four body fluids which correspond to four temperaments and an equal number of properties. The body fluids are: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. The temperaments are: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. The properties are: warm and moist, warm and dry, cold and dry, and cold and moist. In summary, that means for each combination of body fluid, temperament, and property, we get: blood, which is warm and moist, producing sanguine temperament; yellow bile, which is warm and dry, producing a choleric temperament; black bile, which is cold and dry, producing a melancholic temperament; phlegm, which is cold and moist, producing, of course, a phlegmatic temperament.

The fourfold scheme could be infinitely extended beyond body fluids and temperaments. It included calculations for the ordering of the heavens' cardinal points, for the seasons, designations for the ages of man, nutrition, and so on, which were each in turn assigned certain properties and linked to a particular temperament, body fluid, etc. In short, the fourfold scheme represents the attempt to create a universal medicine, to understand the human body in relation to and as a part of the entire nature of the world.

Not surprisingly, seventeenth-century medicine tried to fit coffee into this scheme. But there were obvious difficulties. Opinions varied as to whether coffee was a cold or warm, dry or moist substance, for its sobering and antisoporific effects were observed in equal measure among the different temperaments. Finally, its adherents agreed on the empty formula that coffee contained all the properties of the fourfold scheme, and it was therefore an appropriate remedy for the most varied temperaments: it cheered the melancholy, subdued the choleric, and animated the phlegmatic (the sanguine was held to be the "normal" healthy temperament).

These so-called promotion slips (advertisements) of eighteenth-century London spice merchants show how the new semiluxury goods—coffee,
tea, and chocolate along with sugar and tobacco—created an assortment of commodities unheard of only a century earlier.

At first glance, this canonization of coffee as panacea is quite meaningless. On closer inspection, however, we can glean from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century medical texts that coffee was thought to bear a special relationship to one of the body fluids, namely, mucus or phlegm, associated with the phlegmatic temperament. What we find in the negative evaluation quoted above turns up again and again in any number of other medical descriptions and, indeed, regardless of whether the author is arguing for or against coffee. It was generally thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that coffee dried out the body's phlegm and thereby robbed the phlegmatic temperament of its very foundation. Some examples are in order. Dufour wrote that coffee "dries up all cold and moist fluids." The eighteenth-century French physician Tissot wrote in his work The Health of Scholars: "Viscous phlegm, which lines the sides [i.e., of the stomach] is lost; the nerves are irritated, acquire a certain motility, and the vital forces fade away." The English physician Benjamin Moseley spoke of "coffee, which through its warmth and effectiveness, thins the mucous moistures, and improves circulation of the blood." Finally, Diderot's Encyclopedie emphasizes the especially benign effect coffee has on "heavy-bodied, stout, and strongly phlegm-congested persons," whereas it has a deleterious effect on those who are "thin and bilious."

To sum up: In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries coffee was viewed as an extremely dry and desiccating substance. This view was surely associated with the actual roasting process coffee beans underwent, and which removed their natural moisture, their fluids. If, in one respect, the desiccation of the body through coffee was being assessed negatively and in another positively, one might well assume that a specific ideological position underlay each of these judgments. Let us anticipate a bit, and state outright that it was middle-class progressive writers who championed the draining of the body, and conservatives who viewed this same process as disastrous. This simple equation has a reedy explanation.

In the seventeenth century anyone who regarded the mucus-rich body as the only healthy, fit type, necessarily was taking the phlegmatic temperament as the natural, God-given temperament. Remember, after all, that up until the introduction of the new warm beverages, beer was the basic source of nourishment in the diet (at least in England and Holland, the first middle-class nations). Beer, according to the nutritional science of the day, as well as simple direct observation, resulted in hefty bodies. Popularly beer and phlegm were mentioned in the same breath.

Although the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries viewed coffee as a drug that dried out the phlegm, the underlying reason was the actual replacement of beer by a new low-calorie—that is to say, nonfattening—beverage. This event in the history of nutrition translated into a specific new concept in medicine. The seventeenth-century writers who saw the phlegmatic, portly, saftig body type as the only natural one, and who considered any semblance of desiccation as fatal, must be called conservative because they thought the medieval diet the only one that was natural. The notion of dryness, which was then (and still is, in fact) associated with abstraction, nervousness, and so forth, offended the conservative sensibility. Dryness, however, is the modern principle par excellence. Dryness and sobriety are synonymous. Dryness is the principle of masculinity, patriarchy, asceticism, antisensuality, in contrast to the sensual and feminine. In this sense coffee is the great drying agent at the threshold of the modern age.

From the Coffeehouse to the Coffee Party

In 1687 or 1688—the exact date is not recorded—Edward Lloyd opened a coffeehouse on London's Tower Street. He named it after himself: Lloyd's Coffeehouse. Several years later he moved his operation, which had meanwhile grown successful, to Lombard Street, where it would remain in business for the next eighty years.

Lloyd's Coffeehouse soon evolved into a meeting place for people in the maritime occupations: ship captains, shipowners, merchants, insurance brokers. People went to Lloyd's to hear the latest trade news. From time to time, Lloyd himself ran a news service providing this sort of information, "Lloyd's News." This news-reporting venture flourished, its profits soon surpassing those derived from serving coffee. One sector of Lloyd's clientele in particular continued to expand—the insurance brokers. In the course of the eighteenth century Lloyd's completely shed its role as a coffeehouse and became the world-famous institution we know today, the largest insurance brokerage in the world.

Founded toward the end of the seventeenth century, it soon developed
into the business hub of the maritime insurance trade. A century later
"Lloyd's" itself became an insurance firm, moving into the Royal
Exchange, but it also continued to function as a "normal"
coffeehouse. The illustration above dates from this period.

This transformation began in the early eighteenth century when insurance agents would meet their clients in Lloyd's Coffeehouse to transact business. As the century advanced, the underwriters began to rent regular booths in Lloyd's, much as brokers conduct their business in the stock exchange. When, at the end of the eighteenth century, Lloyd's actually moved to London's Royal Exchange, its transformation was complete. The former coffeehouse became the greatest insurance enterprise in the world when those insurance underwriters who had been its regular patrons decided to merge under a "constitution."

Not all coffeehouses that opened in London toward the end of the seventeenth century followed such a spectacular course. Lloyd's is the great exception. Yet its history epitomizes the role the coffeehouse played in the social and economic history of the early middle class as well as in its cultural history.

The coffeehouse of the seventeenth and eighteenth century has nothing to do with the modern Konditerei-café [pastry shop—cafe] —leaving aside the Viennese variety—except the principal drink it served. Its social, economic, and cultural role was almost the opposite of today's. Its clientele, far from being elderly ladies eating cake, were businessmen. In England women were denied access, though on the Continent they were tolerated. In other words, coffeehouses were primarily places to do business. Nor did the "business" have to be of an entirely commercial nature. In the s,eventeenth and eighteenth centuries, politics, art, and literature were also considered by the middle class to be part of business. In Vienna the coffeehouse continued longest as the site of these activities. In London, where the form firseflourished, it also disappeared first, eclipsed in the eighteenth century by its successor, the club.

According to documents from the period, around 1700 there were some 3,000 coffeehouses in London. With a population of 600,000 that would have meant one coffeehouse for every 200 people. The number seems incredible. (Scarcely a century earlier, when beer was the unrivaled beverage of the people, the number of taverns had been around 1,000.) Exaggerated though the figure 3,000 may be, the fact remains that the coffeehouse played a central role during this period when London was the international hub of capitalism.

The coffeehouse as a public space was as novel as coffee was as a drink. As the name suggests, it was intended specifically to serve coffee. Although tea and chocolate were also available, that only underlined the establishment's nonalcoholic character. Sobriety and moderation were the order of the day for the coffeehouse: proper manners were required, talk was to be held to a subdued and considerate level—it was, in short, everything that taverns were not. The following "Rules and Orders of the Coffee House" date from 1674 and should give some idea of the coffeehouse code and character:

Enter sirs freely, But first if you please, Peruse our Civil-Orders, which are these. First, Gentry, Tradesmen, all are welcome hither, and may without affront sit down together: Pre-eminence of place; none here should mind, But take the next fit seat that he can find: Nor need any, if Finer Persons come, Rise up to assigne to them his room.

He that shall any Quarrel here begin, Shall give each man a Dish t'atone the sin; And so shall he, whose Complements extend So far to drink in COFFEE to his friend; Let Noise of loud disputes be quite forborn, No Maudlin Lovers here in Corners mourn, But all be brisk, and talk, but not too much.

One of the earliest illustrations, a woodcut from 1674 (above), shows an establishment as yet barely recognizable as a coffeehouse: the guests sit at table as at an inn, and the innkeeper serves coffee out of a jug that is in no way different from a beer, wine, or cider jug. Only the drinking bowls—still without handles—show that these men are not drinking beer or wine. Most remarkable is the calm, sober mood that dominates the scene. One need only look at a corresponding tavern scene from paintings of the same period to see the difference
and thus appreciate the contribution the coffeehouse made to modern civilization. In the illustration of a coffeehouse on the next two pages, the typical coffeehouse already becomes more recognizable by its higher-class clientele in full-length wigs. The scene is dominated by an item now typical of the coffeehouse, a sales counter, precursor of the buffet, from which the hostess-cashier directs and oversees business. This sales counter, not a feature of the traditional inn, derived from shopkeeping, further proof that coffee had become a truly bourgeois phenomenon.

Documents from around 1700 cite the existence of some three thousand coffeehouses in England's capital. Even this later map from the mid eighteenth century gives an idea of their ubiquity in the city,
although by this time, coffeehouses had to a great extent been replaced by private clubs.

On the basis of these rules the coffeehouse of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fulfilled its most important social role: as a center for communication. In a period that still had no daily newspaper in the modern sense, it functioned as a sort of news exchange. Lloyd's is an example of the coffeehouse serving as a commercial communication center. Yet the coffeehouse fulfilled this function not only for commerce. It was equally important for two other middle-class bourgeois activities: journalism and literature. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries people frequented coffeehouses not only to conduct business but also to discuss political and literary topics—and to read the newspapers that were available there. The coffeehouse and newspapers, the coffeehouse and journalism, the coffeehouse and writers—these are old associations that would last into the twentieth century.

In the early eighteenth century the editors of London's weeklies used coffeehouses quite literally as their editorial offices. Richard Steele, the editor of The Tatler, gave its address as the coffeehouse the Grecian. He classified the various kinds of news according to which of the coffeehouses—news exchanges—had been the source of information, just as today news agencies are cited as the sources of newspaper stories; thus we read in the first issue of The Tatler: "All accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment, shall be under the article of White's Chocolate house; poetry, under that of Will's coffeehouse; learning, under the title of Grecian; foreign and domestic news, you will have from St James's coffeehouse; and what else I shall offer, on any other subject, shall be dated from my own apartment."

The connection between coffeehouses and literature is just as old as that between coffeehouses and journalism. For writers of the eighteenth century the coffeehouse was every bit the second home it was for journalists. The two professions, of course, were not as distinct then as they are today; indeed, they were often combined in a single writer, for example, Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe. There was hardly a writer in the eighteenth century who did not frequent coffeehouses more or less regularly, at least in metropolitan London or Paris.

RICHARD STEELE (1672-1729)
Steele edited and published the weekly Tatler in one of London's many
literary and political coffeehouses. (Portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller,

The most important direct effect coffeehouses had on literature was probably in helping to create a culture of dialogue, of conversation, which originated in coffeehouses and only then made its way into written literature. The prose of a Laurence Sterne or a Diderot, for instance, is conversational prose, a prose of dialogue, modeled, quite clearly, on coffeehouse discussion and "argumentation." The English literary historian Harold Routh describes the effect of this process on English literature as osmosis between reality and literature: "Until the time of the restoration, neither writers nor readers had practised the studied simplicity of true conversation. Even pamphleteers like Nashe, Dekker or Rowlands, whose one aim was to follow popular taste, had never broken away from book knowledge, despite their slipshod style, and the literary cliques which handed round manuscript essays and characters had reproduced in their writings only such conversation as might be a vehicle for their cliches and conceits. Men had confined their literary interest to the library and, as a consequence, their style was either ponderous or precious. The Royal Society had already started a movement against redundance of phrase; but it may well be doubted whether the protests of Sprat, Evelyn and South would have had lasting effect without the influence of coffeehouses. It was here that, besides practising benevolence in small things, men learnt to unravel literary ideas in a style that was colloquial as well as cultured."

The seventeenth-century coffeehouses influenced middle-class culture in so many and divers ways that it would be impossible to mention them all here. The coffeehouse exerted this influence in its role as a social center. It was the site for the public life of the eighteenth-century middle class, a place where the bourgeoisie developed new forms of commerce and culture.

The still life Breakfast Table by Willem Klaesz Heda (1594-1679)
(abode) shows the peculiar intermingling in the seventeenth century of
a still-medieval cuisine with modern refinement. The high standard of
culture is obvious from the elaborate goblets, the cake, and last but
not least, the presence of a pocket watch. Yet at the same time the
drink is still one that predates modern breakfast fare: wine. It was
only in the nineteenth century, after hot drinks were long established,
that dandies and snobs discovered champagne breakfasts and the petit
dejeuner a fourchette ["early lunch" or "late breakfast," forerunner
of our modern "brunch"], i.e., breakfast without coffee.


Newspaper reading, chess playing, and discussion were the basic
activities here. German visitors to Paris were used to a much quieter
coffeehouse life. The actor and all-around theatrical figure Eduard
Devrient, for instance, marveled in 1839: "The way the gentlemen
come in, hat on head, cigar in mouth, and throw themselves down
stretching their feet out on the nearest chair, picking up any
newspaper, ordering brashly and loudly, all this was incomprehensible
behavior to me" (facing page).

In this respect the coffeehouse was comparable to two other institutions, the theater and the salon. The eighteenth-century theater—as a part of literature—represented an important locale for the self-definition of the bourgeoisie. This self-definition nevertheless remained on an aesthetic plane (however politically charged this may have been in the eighteenth century), while the coffeehouse was the focal point of life. In contrast to it the salon, which most closely approached the coffeehouse in its social function, was an aristocratic and elite institution. Entree was limited to the intellectual giants of the bourgeoisie who had been invited by the aristocratic hostess, whereas anyone who could pay his tab could enter a coffeehouse. It would be intriguing to reconstruct the change in behavior of eighteenth-century Parisian intellectuals as they went directly from the salon of Madame De Deffand to the public Cafe de Procope.

But what did coffee itself have to do with these various influences exercised by the coffeehouses? Such influences obviously cannot be explained by the mere physiological effect of coffee, but only sociologically, i.e., sociohistorically. The coffeehouse functioned as a social setting, a place for communication and discussion, while the coffee served in it no longer played any discernible role. On the other hand, the coffeehouse owed its origin precisely to the serving of coffee. It owed its name, its very existence, to the beverage.

When coffee first reached Europe, the middle class drank it only in the coffeehouses. (The aristocratic forms of coffee drinking need not concern us here.) It took a half century—and in Germany almost a full century—for coffee to enter the domestic sphere, as a breakfast and afternoon drink. Thus it began its career in the public sphere, as a specifically public drink, and afily later migrated into the private sphere to be served at home.

Here is a movement that follows all the typical stages in the history of innovations: some novelty fulfills its historical role—namely, to reshape reality in some crucial way—first in the public sphere, that is to say, in the sphere of collective consumption—and only later finds its way into the realm of private, domestic consumption. The public phase of an innovation can be termed heroic, in that it changes reality. The subsequent private phase must be termed conformist, in that, on its own, it demonstrates no change of dynamic, but functions rather to affirm and stabilize. Thus, for example, the transportation revolution in the nineteenth century began publicly, with the railroad as a means of mass transportation; in the twentieth century it took a private and domestic turn with the family automobile. Films began publicly with movie theaters; they then became privatized with the advent of the television set in the living room. In each instance what comes after is a reduction. It is not merely in scale or dimension that the machines in question are reduced when they move from the public sphere into domestic use—cars are smaller than locomotives, television sets smaller than movie screens—but the essential character of things is also diminished; the heroic aspect is lost, so to speak. In comparison with their tiny successors the railroad and cinema are powerful instruments that excite the imagination, inviting near mythical association. Cars and television lack this power and impact. They merely distribute or administer the reality which the earlier forms have created. The administrative and technological apparatuses, i.e., systems, that have made this diminution possible are in turn incomparably more monumental than their equivalents in the heroic beginnings; in some cases they may be highly visible (road networks), in other cases less visible (television).

This movement is discernible in the history of coffee as well. In its public, heroic phase, that of the coffeehouse, coffee was a powerful force for change, helping to forge a new reality. Moving into the middle-class home, to become a breakfast-time and afternoon drink, it grew passive, with a tendency toward the idyllic. It no longer exclusively symbolized the dynamic realm of early middle-class public life, politics, literature, and commerce; it stood more and more for domestic comfort, Gemiithchkeit.
However, we should distinguish between the two occasions for drinking coffee at home, breakfast time and in the afternoon. Breakfast coffee retained traces of the cultural-historical effects of the coffeehouse. It marked the start of the working day, formally putting an end to the night's rest, and making its drinkers alert and cheerful for the day ahead.

In the nineteenth century the daily morning newspaper was added to the breakfast ritual, yet another emigre from the coffeehouse. Remember that breakfast coffee now replaced the beer soup of earlier times, offering a domestic analogy to the supplanting of beer taverns by coffeehouses.

After its first "public" appearance in coffeehouses, coffee made its
way during the eighteenth century into the private life of the middle-
class family, in the form of breakfast or afternoon coffee. The family
gathered around the coffee table (or tea table) now becomes a favorite
motif for family portraits. Here is an interesting development: from
formal portraiture to a realistic coffee scene.
In Jakob Denner's painting (1749) the family is arranged as in a
traditional group portrait, the coffee table and service are random
additions (above). In the rendering by an anonymous English master
(top, facing page), we find a similar formal arrangement of figures,
combined in a remarkable way, however, with a fairly technical
interest in the coffee- (or tea-) drinking ritual itself: we see all the
components of the service, and each person holds his cup in a different
way, as though giving a demonstration of how to drink. Tischbein's
painting (bottom, facing page) is similarly bound to the traditional
format of the group portrait. Boucher's relatively early (1738)
Breakfast offers a more casually realistic scene (p. 66), of a sort even
Germany's Biedermeier style was never to achieve, however highly it
valued depictions of cozy scenes at the family coffee table, like those
in the pictures by Jakob Milde (p. 67).

gathered around the coffee table. (Abraham Schnapphuhn, Tea Party.)

A relatively rare theme in painting compared to that of families
gathered around the coffee table. (Abraham Schnapphuhn, Tea Party.)

These functions and symbolic meanings were not inherent in afternoon coffee-drinking, known in Germany as the Kaffee-kranzchen, or "coffee party" (literally "coffee circle"). The coffee party was strictly a woman's affair; according to the definition in Amaranthes' Frauenzimmerlexikon, the "Woman's Lexicon," it is "a daily or weekly gathering of several closely acquainted women, each taking her turn as hostess, and in which the members divert and amuse themselves with drinking coffee and playing Ombre." The dedication and ardor with which women would throw themselves into these ladies' coffee circles and coffee-drinking at home in general became a stock subject of comedies in eighteenth-century Germany, as evidenced by the playlets of the young Lessing, Gellert, or Picander. "It is well known," writes Picander, "that many a woman is so infatuated with coffee, that, if it were certain she would be served it in Purgatory, she would never care to reach Paradise."

It is obvious that this female passion for coffee is to be seen as compensation for women's exclusion from another, more public domain. Thus the afternoon coffee party functions as a sort of anticoffeehouse, a surrogate for the original coffeehouse created for male society. And yet the attempt to set up Kaffeekranzchen as domestic, feminine counterparts to men's coffeehouses lent itself to ridicule precisely because they became mere caricatures of their prototype. In the same way the Kaffeeklatsch or "ladies' gossip circle" became the butt of men's jokes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, being viewed as a parodic debasement of coffeehouse talk. On the other hand, since the nineteenth century, men's coffeehouse talk has acquired more and more the traits of that domestic gossip the ladies shared over coffee. These developments converge finally in the twentieth century, as the days of gossipy literary cafes grow numbered, the male world abandons the coffeehouse, and the cafe is colonized by the ladies' circles—a belated revenge on the patriarchal coffeehouse culture.


Coffee and Ideology

Just as the ladies' "coffee party" was a poor imitation of the coffeehouse, eighteenth-century German coffee drinking was a pale imitation of the English and French models. Provincialism, the lot of the German middle class ever since the Thirty Years' War, was evidenced even in the style and purpose with which coffee was drunk. Of course, there were coffeehouses in eighteenth-century Germany too, but they were hardly comparable with those of London and Paris. They had, as at least one observer noted, a markedly "philistine character." Perhaps in trading centers such as Hamburg and Leipzig they fulfilled social functions similar to those of the west European metropolitan centers, though here again on a smaller scale.

The "public-heroic" period of the coffeehouse in England and in France was skipped over in Germany, where right from the start coffee was limited to private, domestic consumption. In place of a coffeehouse ambience there prevailed the idyllic atmosphere, the "close intertwining of the new beverage with the coziness and comfort Gemiitlichkeit of family life," according to cultural historian Paul Hoffman. Heinrich Voss's Idylls conveys this spirit most directly, as in the following poem, "Seventieth Birthday":

Mother would stand over the old stove, busily roasting the coffee,
In the heat that rose from the pan, she stood and stirred it round with wooden spoon;
The sweating beans crackled as they browned, while spicy and fragrant,
The aroma that rose from them spread through kitchen and hall.
Then she would fetch the coffee mill down off the mantelpiece, Pour in the beans and, holding it tightly between her knees,
Her left hand keeping it steady, she would briskly crank the handle.
Thrifty as ever, she'd gather up beans that strayed into her lap, And then, finished, she'd pour the coarse-ground coffee onto the grayish paper.

The idyllic treatment of coffee in the eighteenth century was in any event not the simple phenomenon it would seem to be at first sight. There was another, different motivation involved. The German relationship to coffee was an index of Germany's relationship to the advanced nations of the West. Coffee, in fact, would never have attained the eminent position it did in German middle-class life had it not already been a beverage that symbolized the power England and France had assumed in the world at that time. With coffee, the German middle class got to sample, as it were, a bit of Western urbanity it had not yet achieved for itself. The same mechanisms were at play as those that made English literature the supreme model for eighteenth-century German authors and that prompted Lessing, for instance, to give his heroines English names.

On the other hand, this German tendency to partake of world history by imitating certain symbolic forms of the western civilization from which it was excluded also entailed some alteration of these forms; they became germanized, at times beyond recognition. Thus coffee, which began as a symbol of public life, activity, business, etc., ended up as a symbol of family life and domestic tranquility.

The German relationship to coffee was further complicated by political-economic problems. These too were intimately tied to Germany's nonparticipation in world history, that is, world economy. For colonial powers such as England, Holland, and France, procuring coffee posed no problems. Until about the end of the seventeenth century they obtained their supplies directly from Arabia. When it became clear that the popularity of coffee would not be a passing phenomenon, that coffee had indeed become the daily beverage of increasingly broader sectors of the population, these nations began to produce it independently. The Dutch planted coffee in their East Indian possessions, particularly on the island of Java, as did the French in the Antilles. In this way they obeyed the fundamental principle of mercantilism, to import as few goods as possible, that is, to let as little money as possible flow out of one's own country. (The English chose a different path from the Dutch or French. They switched to another drink entirely: tea. But that is a separate topic, which we will be discussing further on.)

Germany, which had no colonies, had to satisfy its demand for coffee through imports procured through middlemen. In this way vast sums of money left the country. For the most part, they flowed into Dutch and French coffers, since the coffee plantations of the French and the Dutch produced not only to meet their own demands, but also for export to third nations, particularly Germany. Apparently this situation barely affected German coffee consumption in the first half of the eighteenth century. Things changed, however, after 1750. Coffee, together with a whole set of other imported items, came under the scrutiny of mercantile economic policies. Measures by the state to restrict coffee consumption followed: higher duties on coffee, state monopolies on its sale and roasting, and even outright prohibition of coffee.

In Germany the coffeehouse never had the social significance of its
counterparts in London, Paris, or Vienna. Comparing the illustrations
of Richter's Coffeehouse (above) and Classig's Coffeehouse (facing
page) in Leipzig with the coffeehouse scenes from Paris (cf. p. 60), we
see at once how different they were. While the Parisian cafés have the
public quality of some portico-covered street, those in Leipzig look

The economic reasons for this new policy were not enough to make it acceptable to the population. It had to be cloaked in ideological, and in this case patriotic, garb. The coffee beans, hanging too high on the vine, economically, for Germany were thus declared to be "sour grapes." Coffee was declared an unGerman drink, not merely because the flow of money out of Germany would make the country poorer, but also because the drink itself had supplanted Germany's hallowed national beverage, beer. A classically reactionary argument. We find it in the writings of authors such as Justus Moser and August Schlozer as well as in decrees against coffee like the following, issued in the bishopric of Hildesheim: "Men of Germany, your Fathers drank spirits, and like Frederick the Great himself were raised on beer, and were happy and cheerful. And this we too desire for ourselves. Send the wealthy half-brothers of our nation [the Dutch] money for wood and wine, if you will, but no more money for coffee. All [drinking] vessels, particularly cups and ordinary little bowls, all mills, roasting machines, in short, everything, to which the word 'coffee' can be prefixed, should be destroyed and smashed to bits, so that the memory of its destruction may be impressed upon our fellows."

The attempt to reduce coffee consumption through prohibitions and to return to beer was to remain an isolated episode. An entirely different development eventually led to the solution of the foreign exchange problem and at the same time to an acquired taste for a specifically German coffee flavor. This was the discovery of a coffee substitute, namely chicory coffee. The similarity in taste and color between chicory and coffee had been noted as far back as the eighteenth century. Twenty years later, at the height of active opposition to coffee, the hotelkeeper Christian Gottlieb Forster saw an occasion for trying out the coffee substitute. He applied for, and received, from the Prussian state of Frederick II, a six-year privilege to grow, process, and sell chicory coffee. The raison d'etre of chicory coffee was graphically presented on the package in which it was sold. In the background we see an exotic landscape and a sailing ship carrying sacks of coffee, in the foreground a German peasant, sowing chicory and waving away the ship with a gesture of his hand. The caption reads, "Healthy and wealthy without you!"

The young Goethe at the coffee table, as depicted in the late nineteenth century by the painter Frank Kirchbach (b. 1859).

This etching by Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850) (top) alludes
to the Prussian tax on coffee, which put a stranglehold on imports in
the latter half of the eighteenth century. The nineteenth-century
painting The Coffee Sniffer by Katzenstein (bottom) depicts a coffee
raid by Prussian customs officers of the same period. These
government agents were popularly known as "coffee sniffers."

Again it was not enough merely to point up the economic necessity of a coffee substitute and its lower price; rather chicory was depicted as a healthier choice than coffee. This was a later version of the old discussion about the relative wholesomeness of coffee, though in this case the ideological disguise is all too apparent. Ersatz coffee acquired a remarkable significance in the everyday psychology of the German petty bourgeoisie; which became its chief consumer. The earlier attempt to participate at least symbolically in the lifestyle of the western nations (its obverse being a chauvinistic rejection of everything west European) was now given a further, certainly more intensely flawed expression.

The coffee drunk in Germany until about 1760 was the genuine article, imported from abroad. Chicory coffee was a sham, and self-deception. For no matter how hot, black, and coffeelike this beverage might look and taste, it was not the original—and no one could ever drink this ersatz coffee without such a conflicting awareness.

Real coffee was the aristocrat of coffee and the commoner's only-on-Sunday beverage, and as such was superior to ersatz coffee. The German petty bourgeois's social self-esteem and the esteem of others developed through the nose, as it were, through the aroma given off by the coffeepot: the family that drank genuine "bean coffee" assumed higher status than those who drank ersatz coffee. When finally post—World War II prosperity led to a democratization of real coffee, the once-important term "bean coffee" vanished from everyday speech, together with the lower middle class's heightened ability to discriminate between the smell of coffee and its substitutes.

The Dutch physician Cornelius Bontekoe, who practiced his profession
in Prussia, was, along with Sylvestre Dufour, the most tireless
champion of the new beverages in the seventeenth century. He was
especially taken with tea. "We recommend tea to the entire nation,
and to all peoples! We urge every man, every woman, to drink it
every day; if possible, every hour; beginning with ten cups a day and
subsequently increasing the dosage—as much as the stomach can take,
and the kidneys can secrete." Bontekoe recommended that the sick
take up to fifty cups a day! Contemporaries assumed he was paid for
these panegyrics by the Dutch East India Company, which dealt in tea.

England's Shift from Coffee to Tea
At the turn of the eighteenth century Great Britain was one of the major coffee consumers of Europe. Half a century later coffee played only a subordinate role. Tea had supplanted it. To put it statistically: in the period between 1650 and 1700 British tea imports totaled 181,545 pounds, in the next half-century 40 million pounds, more than a 200-fold increase. These numbers can only be regarded as approximations, of course. The statistics of the time comprised only those goods that passed through customs, not smuggled goods. Smuggling, though, was an important economic factor in the eighteenth century, and the smuggler was a significant social type: a socioeconomic renegade, challenging the power of the bureaucratic, absolutist state. Since the state imposed customs barriers on luxury goods, or Genussmittel, the smuggler came to be viewed as a sort of Robin Hood, defiantly helping the people to their enjoyment.

This supplanting of coffee by tea in England still remains an unexplained phenomenon. Surely neither a mysterious transformation in English taste—as has been proposed—nor some purely economic reason was responsible. It remains an unsolved yet fascinating problem in cultural and economic history. Its complexity is suggested here only by a couple of instances.

Like all European nations that began to drink coffee in the seventeenth century, the English at first also imported Arabian coffee. When it became clear that coffee was not going to be just a passing fad but rather an everyday institution, the various countries had their coffee supplied on a different basis. As we have seen, the French and the Dutch cultivated the coffee bean on plantations in their own colonies, to eliminate the flow of cash to Arabia.

In this light the substitution of tea for coffee seems England's own solution to the problem of foreign exchange payments. Yet when one considers where English tea came from, the riddle remains. It was not cultivated by the British themselves, but rather imported from China, which was still independent. Basically, then, the economic situation was identical to that of the coffee trade with Arabia, the sole differences being the trading partner and the article in question.

(Drawing by Rowlandson, 1817.)

It would be beyond the scope of this book to trace the development of the English tea trade in the eighteenth century in order to come up with an explanation for the disappearance of coffee. This much can be said, however: the English tea trade was the monopoly of the East India Company, which has rightly been called a state within the state. The earlier coffee trade, on the other hand, was run by independent merchants. Translated into modern terms, the competition could be described as a contest between a multinational concern and middle-class enterprises. It is quite obvious who got shortchanged in the process. The East India Company's position of strength was surely an essential factor in establishing tea on the English market and ultimately fixing it firmly in English taste even to this day. Yet other factors were in play too—for instance, the price ratio between coffee and tea.

A couple of price quotations will help to convey how hard it is to describe even this possible cause for the shift in taste with any precision: in London in 1662 a pound of coffee cost between 4 and 7 shillings. Around 1680 a pound of tea cost 11 to 12 shillings; at the beginning of the eighteenth century the cheaper varieties cost 8 to 10 shillings, the expensive ones 24 to 36 shillings. The price of tea thus continued to rise higher than the price of coffee. However, the price difference is more than compensated for by the smaller amount required to steep tea. Without knowing the strength of the tea and coffee brewed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we can assume from today's standards that an infusion of tea requires about a third or a fourth of the quantity required for coffee. Therefore, tea at the start of the eighteenth century was actually cheaper to use, even though more expensive to buy by absolute weight.

The shift from coffee to tea, whatever the deciding causes, may not have been drastically significant. It does not begin to compare, for instance, with the supplanting of medieval beverages by the new hot beverages. It is a matter of a change within a culture of consumption [Genusskultur] first revolutionized by coffee, not a major revision of the new historical plateau reached with coffee drinking. What the nineteenth century proved chemically, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries felt, as it were, instinctively; namely that the very same stimulating substance (caffeine) was found in both tea and coffee. Tea also provided that central nervous system stimulation which mattered so much to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. An English text from 1660 describes the effect of tea as follows: "It makes the body active and alert. It offers relief against violent headaches and vertigo. It causes the disappearance of spleen. . . . It banishes tiredness and cleanses the vital fluids and the liver. It fortifies the stomach, improves digestion, and is especially apt for stout-bodied people as well as great eaters of meat. It is good against nightmares, it eases the brain and strengthens the memory. It is especially good for sustaining wakefulness. One infusion is sufficient to allow one to work through the night, without doing injury to one's body."

We see that the properties of tea are practically the same as those of coffee. The text just quoted is taken from one of the advertisements for the London coffeehouse Garway's, which like most coffeehouses of the period served tea as well as coffee. Even today, despite their different tastes, coffee and tea are considered in tandem, as part of the same family, and which of the two one prefers is practically a matter of "six of one, half a dozen of the other." This cannot be said of the third of the new exotic drinks introduced into Europe. Chocolate, pharmacologically as well as culturally, was quite distinct from coffee and tea.


Our valuable member Wolfgang Schivelbusch has been with us since Tuesday, 19 February 2013.

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