Coffee role as a social drink in The Middle East and the Ottoman Empire
Who made the first coffee?
We do not know for sure when and where the coffee drink, as we know it today, appeared.
There are speculation that Homer's Iliada speaks about a potion made from coffee beans. Later sources however, are placing the drink in Arabian Peninsula. At first, somewhere between 575 and 850 C.E., it is said that the beans were crushed and mixed with fat, making a kind or "energy bars" used as an revigorant by warriors.
A beverage made from coffee beans is placed after the year 1000 C.E. But, again, it is only an estimate since there are speculation, without much credibility, that even Muhammad, the prophet, who lived between 570 and 632 C.E., used the drink and "when he drunk this magic potion, he felt strong enough to unhorse forty men and to possess forty women." (The world of Caffeine, Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K. Bealer, Routlege, New York, 2001, p.11)
Another legend says that a shepherd noticed he's goats acting funny after eating from a particular berry bush. Then he tried the berries himself and started dancing with the goats. So the coffee drink was invented. The social component here is quite obvious and hits from the very beginning.In its early stage, coffee was a medicine and an energizer, and the philosopher Avicenna of Bukhara (980 -1037 C.E.) was one of the first to describe its medicinal proprieties: "It fortifies the members, it cleans the skin, and dries up the humidities that are under it, and gives an excellent small to all the body." (The Coffee Book; Gregory Dicum, Nina Luttinger; The New York Press, New York, 1999; p.6)
From drug to drink
At first, the coffee beans were boiled and fermented to obtain a kind of wine used as a medicine or as a stimulant. Later, when the users became aware of its content of caffeine, they roasted the beans and ground them very finely, then boiled the grounds to make coffee.
Coffeehouses originated in the Muslim world and the earliest ones is speculated that had appeared in Yemen around middle 15th century. Some writers even suggest that the first coffeehouses were actually Sufi mosques where a kind of drink named "quahva" was used to keep the monks awake during prayers. This drink though was not spread to all population, and it was used rather in emergency situation or religious ceremonials. The Sufis then, through their travels or guests, spread the use of this drink along Arabian wold.
The beverage became popular due to consumption by sheiks, physicians and religious leaders. The First coffeehouses are placed in Mecca and Cairo and they were very simple: just one large room, without no windows, few tables as a furniture.
The coffee was mainly consumed in the morning. Here stopped people from all classes of society to get their morning cup. The women though were banned from entering the coffeehouses. Unlike Europe, lately, these places were reserved for men only.
By mid 16th century, the habit of drinking coffee in a social environment spread to Constantinople, the capital of Ottoman Empire, which ruled big parts of near Middle East, and the eastern Europe. In time, the coffeehouses became more sophisticated. They were built to accommodate social life, entertaining activities, business and trading. The best neighbourhoods got bigger coffee houses, the poor ones, got only simple rooms. There were also outdoor stands or kiosks, were people would stop for a coffee. Coffeehouses spread everywere in Islamic wold, from the capitals to the villages.
Coffee becomes a dangerous affair
"One of the mos interesting facts about coffee is that wherever it has been introduced it has spelled revolution. it has been the world's most radical drink in that its function has always been to make people think. And when the people think, they become dangerous to tyrants and to foes of liberty of though to action." Ulkers (?)(The Coffee Book; p. 17)
In less the 100 years, coffee as a drink, and coffeehouses as a public gathering became very popular. Coffeehouses became centers for entertaining, for arts and literature. Singers would present their songs (though later female singers were banned), poets would recite their rhymes. People played games like chess and backgammon or card games.
A large crowd would exchange daily news, gossips, stories and jocks and discuss the laws or the current political affairs. Along with coffee, opium and tobacco was consumed.
Some leaders were afraid that such gathering may undermine their powers. Coffeehouses were seen as useful or dangerous and were forbidden and allowed according with the interests of political leaders. From time to time, one sheik or sultan banned the coffeehouses, and sometimes the coffee drink.
Every time an embargo over coffee took place, a huge debate sparked. Jurists, law makers, doctors and religious leaders would speak for or against coffee. Some would emphasize the health benefits of coffee while others would uncover details that contradicted the religious texts like the fact that coffee, being roasted became coal and everything carbonized was prohibited by the Prophet.
The worst sanctions against coffee lovers came under the rule of Murat IV (1623 - 1640) sultan of Ottoman Empire. His kingdom was, in fact, governed by Mahomet Kolpili, the sultan's vizier. He not only banned the coffeehouses but also, when he became aware that his law was broken, he prohibited coffee altogether with tobacco and opium. To make sure the edict works, it is said that he ordered that coffeehouse costumers and proprietors caught to consume it, to be sewn in a bag and thrown in Bosphorus. (The world of Caffeine; p. 15)
The bans did not work. Coffee was too popular and could cause riots if a ban would last for too long. The next sultan made sure to reopen coffeehouses to gain public support.
While the Islamic world was still debating over coffee, early travelers and traders would spread the word about it. Not long, Western Europe was hooked.
(To be continued)
Year of the first coffeehouses in major cities:
Mecca cca 1500
Cairo cca 1500
Cambridge early 1660
The Hague 1664
Amsterdam mid 1660s
New York 1696
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