Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How a Pope Spread Coffee to the World?

Pope Clement VIII
In the 17th century, coffee drinking began to rise in Europe. Venetian merchants who exclusively traded with the Ottomans brought samples of the caffeinated drink to Europe. However, alarm bells of the most powerful religious institution in Europe, the Catholic Church, rang. The decision whether the church should thwart the rise of coffee or should allow it to continue laid in the hands of the Pope, Clement VIII.

The arrival of coffee to Europe was both welcomed and displeased. Europe at the 1500’s had just entered into the period of Renaissance. It was a time of renewal and rebirth from the scourges of the Black Plague. Disease riddled the daily lives of many Europeans. Clean water was not accessible to many. And so, the usual quencher of thirst was alcohol, mostly wine. When coffee arrived in Europe, people became excited to have a new option besides wine. The effects of coffee, its reinvigorating and uplifting effect mesmerized many Europeans. In the Italian Peninsula, the usual and biggest consumers of coffee were intellectuals – students and professors alike. Coffee drinking became habit around universities in Italy. The stimulating effect of coffee allowed discourse to scholars and permitted the formulation of new ideas. 

Some ideas, however, were deemed by most rulers as dangerous, radical, and revolutionary. Fearing the possible instability, many local rulers banned coffee. Besides local authorities, wine merchants were under threat, the new competition would plummeted their profits as customers would have another option for a drink. Coffee also gained the attention of the religious authorities – the Catholic Church.

Many Christian clerics were alarmed by the new black hit. They were even more scandalized when they learned that it came from their archenemy – the Muslims. The period of Renaissance was a period of recovery not just from sickness, but also from the devastation to the population and economy brought by the Crusades. Although the Crusades were going out of trend, tensions from the two religions continued. Thus, having known that coffee was from the Muslim enraged many clerics.

Many clerics wanted coffee to be banned across Christendom. To achieve this, they needed the support of the most powerful and influential man in the church, the Pope. In 1603, Pope Clement VIII was petitioned by anti-coffee clerics to ban the substance. They argued that coffee was the creation of the devil to the Muslims as a substitute for wine, which was an alcohol (not allowed to Muslims) and as they pointed out, it was blessed by Christ during the Last Supper.

The argument of the clerics, however, had wrong perceptions. In the Islamic World, debates over the legality of coffee both in religious and more earthly world were raging. In Egypt a governor tried to ban. Later on, in the Ottoman Empire, question were asked to the safety and effects of coffee.

Regardless, the clerics wanted Clement VIII to make a decision. A shrewd and curious man, he wanted the arguments of both sides. He heard the voices of the anti-coffee clerics. And then, he wanted to know the side of coffee itself. Nothing was better to know the effects of coffee than tasting it. A Venetian merchants then brought a coffee bean to the Pope and processed to be a nice brewed cup of coffee.

The beautiful aroma fascinated the Pope. He then drank the cup of coffee given to him. The following events would then decide the faith of coffee in Europe and the world. After his sip, Pope Clement VIII felt the same good feeling as other drinkers felt. He felt reenergized and uplifted. He praised coffee. Saying that it was impossible for Satan to create such a beautiful drink. Also, he said that it would be shame if coffee would only remain in the hands of heathens (the Muslims). And so, to the dismay of the anti-coffee clerics, Pope Clement VIII “baptized” coffee as a Christian drink for all to enjoy.

Thanks to Pope Clement’s decision, coffee flourished in Europe. It allowed coffee to reach various royal courts, such as Louis XIV’s, whose coffee tree became the ancestor of most coffee trees in the Americas. It also allowed energized intellectuals to form new ideas that would shape the world.
Santos, R. & D. Lima. An Unashamed Defense of Coffee: 101 Reasons To Drink Coffee Without Guilt. United States of America: Xlibris Corporation, 2009. 

Ukers, W. All About Coffee: A History of Coffee from the Classic Tribute to the World’s Most Beloved Beverage. Massachusetts: Adams Media, 2012. 

Weinberg, B. & B. Bealer. The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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