We can all get (more than) a little ‘testy’ when we don’t get our coffee. Coffee culture is so much a part of day-to-day consumption in America that we literally drink more than 330 million cups of coffee a day, according to CBS news. Now, take that number and imagine if coffee was suddenly deemed illegal. Chances are underground communities of; farmers, exporters, roasters and cafe’s would pop up as frequently as “speakeasies” did in the days of prohibition. There would likely be a revolt. It could be mayhem.
In truth, coffee has actually been declared illegal multiple times throughout the centuries. Here are three examples of attempted coffee prohibition throughout history.
The relationship between Islam and coffee has not always been smooth. During the 16th century, Khair-Beg, the young governor of Mecca, came to learn that satirical verses written about him were coming out of coffee houses. The governor decided that coffee must be banned by the Koran. Khair-Beg convinced his advisors to agree to the outlaw and so, in 1511 coffee houses in Mecca were shut down. At the time, many worshippers were drinking coffee during mosque in preparation for late night prayer vigils. The pro-coffee and anti-coffee Muslim query soon caused a heated debate. Some Muslims believed that the heightened sense of awareness brought them closer to God. The restriction of coffee was lifted when the sultan of Cairo, Khair-Begs superior demanded that the widely enjoyed drink could not be banned without his permission. Khair-Beg was then charged with embezzlement and put to death.
King Charles the II
As coffee houses became prevalent throughout the seventeenth century in London, King Charles the II became paranoid. Because coffee houses were an ideal place to exchange political ideas, he feared they could be the birthplace of political dissent and thoughts of revolution. The king certainly could not admit to his own political insecurities, and so claimed they disrupted peace, promoted laziness and bred deceitful rumors.
Below is a copy of the king’s proclamation banning coffee houses and private coffee consumption.
By the King
A PROCLAMATION FOR THE Suppression of Coffee-Houses.
Whereas it is most apparent, that the Multitude of Coffee-Houses of late years set up and kept within the Kingdom, the Dominion of Wales, and the Town ofBerwick on Tweed, and the great resort of Idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many Tradesmen and others, do therein mis-spend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise by imployed in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs; but also, for that in such houses, and by occasion of the meetings of such persons therein, diverse False, Malitious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majesties Government, and to the Disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; his Majesty hath thought it fit and necessary, That the said Coffee-houses be (for the future) put down and supressed, and doth (with the Advice of his Privy council) by this Royal Proclamation, Strictly Charge and Command all manner of persons, That they or any of them do not presume from and after the Tenth Day of January next ensuing, to keep any Publick Coffee-house, or to Utter or sell by retail, in his, her, or their house or houses (to be spent or consumed within the same) any Coffee, Chocolet, Sherbett or Tea, as they will answer the contrary at their utmost perils.
And for the better accomplishment of this his Majesties Royal Pleasure, his Majesty both hereby will and require the Justices of the Peace within their several Counties, and the Chief Magistrates in all Cities and Towns Corporate, that they do at their next respective General Sessions of the peace (to be holden within their several and respective Counties, Divisions and Precincts) recall and make void all Licences at any time heretofore Granted, for the selling or retailing of any Coffee, Chocolet, Sherbett or Tea. And that they or any of them do not (for the future) make or grant any such Licence or Licences to any persons whatsoever. And his Majesty doth further hereby declare, that if any person or persons shall take upon them, him or her, after his, her or their Licence or Licences recalled, or otherwise without Licence, to sell by retail (as aforesaid) any of the Liquors aforesaid, that then the person or persons so Offending, shall not only be proceeded against , upon the Statute made in the fifteenth year of his Majesties Reign (which gives the forfeiture of five pounds for every moneth wherein he, she or they shall offend therein) but shall (in case they persevere to Offend) receive the severest punishments that may by Law be inflicted.
Given at our Court at Whitehall, the Nine and twentieth day of December 1675, in the Seven and twentieth year of Our Reign.
God save the King
This proclamation, banning coffee houses was to take effect on the date of January 10th, 1675. However, pressure from his own coffee loving cabinet ministers caused him to rescind the proclamation on the 8th of January.
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great was King of Prussia from 1740-1786. It is said that he banned coffee in 1777 due to concerns with money leaving the country due to mass addiction to the beverage. Rumors allege however, that while he banned his people from drinking coffee, he himself continued to enjoy the drink, often brewing it with Champagne instead of water.
The King of Prussia can be quoted in an issued manifesto as saying: “It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects and the like amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors.”
His subjects enjoyed their coffee to such an extent however, that eventually coffee won the battle against all attempts to remove it from the German kingdom.
These are just three of many examples throughout history, where people in positions of power have tried to control coffee consumption. There are also numerous other examples of coffee prohibition for religious reasons still continuing today.
This does raise the question then, what would you do, if someone took your coffee away?
Uncommon Grounds – The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World – Mark Pendergrast
History of Coffee – Part 1 Africa & Arabia
History of Coffee
Caffeine Nation – Rome Neal
Coffee – Cultivation, Processing and Prices
The King Bans Coffee
The Rise of the Coffeehouse Reconsidered – Bryan Cowan
London Coffee Houses and Mathematics
5 Crazy Attempts to Ban Coffee