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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 July 2008

A loaf of bread, and thou, and ... a cuppa Joe?


[With apologies to Omar Khayyam.] My September book [Templar Knight, Forbidden Bride] which is set in 12th century Spain and France, elicited a copyeditor’s question: “Did they drink coffee in that era?”

So I researched the history of the brew, and oh, my! Coffee drinking goes back to the 9th century. In Ethiopia, goat herder Kaldi noticed his goats got friskier after eating red berries; curious, he tried the same berries and felt decidedly more springy himself. He couldn't wait to pass the word.

Coffee as we know it originated in Arabia, where the roasted “berries” were pounded to smithereens and brewed in a broth that made the goat herders happy in their work, kept Muslim worshippers in the mosque from nodding off, enlivened conversation, allowed a man to make love all night (!), and drove dervishes to heights of ecstasy.

And where Islam went (the middle east, northern Africa, and Spain), qahwa went, too. In the 10th century, a Persian physician, Razi, refers to “bunchum” which apparently derives from the word “bunn” or “bunna,” as the coffee plant was termed in the Kingdom of Kaffa in Ethiopia. Traditional Islam prohibits use of alcohol as a beverage, but coffee became a suitable alternative to wine. The word qahwa is derived from qahwat al-bun, or wine of the bean.

Though the Arabs guarded the secret of the brew, sometime in the 1600's, one Baba Budan, an Indian smuggler, left Mecca with fertile coffee plant seeds strapped to his belly and launched a coffee plantation near Mysore.

The world’s first coffee shop opened in Constantinople in 1475; the date is significant since in 1453 the Ottoman Turks overran that city and much more. And once again, wherever the Turks went, so did coffee. [I once made the mistake of ordering “Turkish coffee” in a Greek restaurant... talk about instant ugly American! Greek coffee is brewed three times before serving, and it's so thick it
leaves a sediment at the bottom of the cup. A very small cup makes one very talkative.]

By 1600, coffee had flowed into Venice and in 1607 Captain John Smith, founder of Virginia at Jamestown, introduced coffee to the New World.

Even England opened coffee houses, first called “penny universities” because for a penny you could buy a cup of coffee and discourse on timely topics with other happy drinkers. Do you know the origin of “tips”? A sign in an English coffee house read: “To Insure Prompt Service” (TIPS). If you wanted quick service and a soft seat, you tossed a coin into the tin.

Not to be outdone, Paris opened a coffee café, and in 1713, Louis XIV planted the first coffee tree in France.

The Turks, defeated in a battle near Vienna, left behind sacks of coffee beans, and voila! Italy joined the klatch. In 1690 the Dutch smuggled coffee seedlings out of the Arab port of Mocha and started cultivation in Ceylon and the East Indies. Hence, the slang term “cup of Java.”

Berlin opened its first coffeehouse in 1721. And in 1723 Gabriel de Clieu, a French naval officer, transported a seedling to Martinique. Within 50 years there were 19 million coffee trees on the island, and eventually 90 percent of the world’s coffee spread from this plant.

Seedlings smuggled out of Paris in 1727 launched the Brazilian coffee industry. Brewed coffee was considered a delicacy by some, and the “devil’s drink” by Christians. One open-minded pope, Vincent III, decided to taste the banished liquid and fell in love with it: “Coffee is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”

In 1732 Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Kaffee-Kantata, an ode to the delights of coffee: “Ah! How sweet is coffee taste! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter by far than muscatel wine! I must have my coffee.”

But the most significant event of all occurred in 1668, when coffee replaced beer as New York City’s favorite breakfast drink.

And the rest is history.

Sources: telusplanet.net; wikipedia.org; nationalgeographic.com.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Wonderful post, Lynna! Coffee is my drug of choice, the stronger the better. I had no idea they were drinking it as early as the 9th century, though. Your novel sounds terrific; I can't wait till it comes out. I'm very fascinated by that era, the confluence of the three major religions, etc. I've alwyas been intrigued by the Knights Templar as well. Some years ago another actor and I adapted Ivanhoe for the stage and I read a bit about them, but there's so much mystery surrounding their cult (if indeed they were a cult) and whether they were good guys or bad guys, or good guys with a bunch of bad apples among them.

I'd be interested to hear about your Templar research.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

May I, with good nature, chide you about the statement that "Italy joined the klatch" as a result of coffee left behind at an Austrian city despite an earlier statement that Venice is credited with having coffee about 80 years earlier. Are you underscoring Venice's status as an independent republic at the time? :)

BTW, if anyone is attending the Hearts Through History. San Francisco's best coffee, Blue Bottle, is a little more than one block from the event. They take their coffee very seriously.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I must confess I am NOT a big coffee drinker. At the age when most Southern children learn to drink coffee (ages 9 to 12) I lived in England and learned to be a devoted tea drinker. (Earl Gray is my tea of choice, but I LOVE to try different teas!) However, I am quite partial to real Louisiana chickory coffee. My late DH's Cajun buddy (James Elysian Boudreaux who is now Dr. Boudreaux a psychiatrist like the DH) introduced us to the charms and power of that particular brew in his family retreat at a place in the middle of an incredibly beautiful Louisiana swamp called St. Jean's Landing. For some reason, coffee that can peel the hide off an alligator appeals to me!

7:41 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Amanda,
As far as my research indicates, Templars were not a "cult" exactly, though they were considered a bit "strange" in that
they took vows of chastity, their rites were conducted in secret,
and they pledged to fight to the death (which is why their reputation as warriors grew).

Like the Knights of St. John (Hospitallers), Templars (Knights of the Temple of Solomon, in Jerusalem) were an organized group of crusader "helpers"--initially conceived to aid pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Because of their fighting prowess,
they were often hired as mercenaries, but their allegiance was always to the Church, not to any particular temporal leader.

Because of the secrecy about Templar rites, Templars today have a "cult" status, arising primarily because of the secrecy itself, I think. And then there are all those stories about Templars secreting their treasure somewhere in France (Chateau le Rennes is the favorite spot for conjecturers. (Robinson, "Born in Blood.") In truth, however, at the dissolution of the Templars in France), their funds were sent to the Hospitallers, then headquartered at Rhodes.

[With apologies to Scott, who may take exception to my research.]

10:43 AM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

I wish I liked coffee since it smells so divine. I'm more of a tea drinker.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

"...the berries made the goats friskier..."

I love it, Lynna!

I think the goats deserve total credit for the discovery. ;-)

9:19 PM  

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