Today on the blog we are talking about the history of coffee. National Coffee Day is September 29. As you drink your coffee on National Coffee Day or any other day, it’s nice to reflect that what was once a drink of rulers has become available to everyone.
Satan and the Pope
First, it had to become acceptable to Christians, as the drink was invented by Moslems. Priests appealed to Pope Clement VIII (1535-1605) to have the drink forbidden as an invention of Satan. The Pope allegedly stated, after his first cup of coffee, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it, and making it a truly Christian beverage.”
The Big Steal
At that time, it was available only in the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. In 1714 King Louis XV received a healthy descendent of the original tree from Java. The king’s servants developed the first greenhouse in Europe to source the king’s beans. In 1720 Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu stole cuttings from a coffee tree in the king’s greenhouse and planted them in French Martinique. Eventually, 90% of the world’s coffee descended from those cuttings.
As a major port city for the French, much of that Martinique coffee likely made its way here. It was an expensive import, possibly only available to rulers and the wealthy. Coffee was one of the luxuries that caused Spanish Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miro (1782-1791) to go into debt.
A ruler’s love of coffee predates Governor Miro and King Louis XV. Frederick the Great of Prussia imposed heavy taxes on coffee because he thought it a luxury that the masses did not deserve. Of course, he brewed his with champagne instead of water. After them, Napolean Bonaparte had a passion for coffee. Records show he drank coffee each evening on his voyage to Elba. He also drank coffee on St. Helena. Luckily for him, coffee plants brought from Yemen were flourishing. And luckily for us, the New Orleans port brings in more coffee than any other port in the world except for Brussels. No longer such a luxury, we are able to share in the delicious “Satan’s drink.”
Taken from New Orleans Coffee: A Rich History by Suzanne Stone with collaboration from David Feldman. Suzanne leads The Savvy Native’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm and Fascinatin’ Women and Jewish New Orleans tours. David leads our Lee Harvey Oswald and the JFK Conspiracy and Mafia, Murder, Sex and All That Jazz tours.
The Savvy Native is a group of experienced local tour guides who were either born in New Orleans or wish they had been.
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