Edited Transcripts

Coffee! with Wulfriðe Blitzen

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Welcome to the new arrivals, we are giving it a few minutes for some stragglers to make it, then I will start. It will be a quieter salon tonight.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Welcome to the brave few tonight who have come to listen to this talk. There is so much to tell regarding the history of coffee that I don’t have time to squeeze it all in, so I shall try and get as much said as possible in the allotted time. Feel free to ask questions along the way. All the following information can be found in various sources, books and articles online if you wish to explore the history of coffee further.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The Arab world is never far from the news today, and people quickly forget it was once renown as a culture of scientists, free thinkers and inventions galore. This includes the three course meal with soup followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. The habit was brought across to Moorish Spain in the 9th Century from Iraq. “Alcohol” derives from the Arabic “al kuhul”… many Arab countries, like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco, make wines and beers, even though Islam does not permit the drinking of alcohol. And lastly, coffee. Treasured by Muslim mystics for centuries, it was even briefly banned by Muslim nations. As we shall see, it has always courted intrigue and scandal throughout its recorded history
Wulfriðe Blitzen: For centuries its origins have been debated over by scholars till recent DNA research by Kew Gardens in London found the oldest originated in the Ethiopian highlands. More worryingly, they also discovered that the plant has an incredibly narrow gene pool. Although there are 124 known species of coffee, most of the coffee that’s grown comes from just two – Arabica and Robusta. This has made it incredibly vulnerable to climate change and fungal or insect attack, with the Arabica strain presently under threat of extinction similar to the sweeter Gros Michel banana, which was almost totally wiped before plantations replaced it with the more robust, but not as sweet Cavendish strain in the 1950’s.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Personally, I will always prefer the tastier Arabica over the Robusta, and if you teach your tastebuds to refine themselves to flavours, you too will soon find yourself insisting on the same
Wulfriðe Blitzen: There is a third strain, little known, I shall mention that at the end
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name qahwa, from which our words coffee and cafe both derive. ‘Qahwa’ originally meant wine, and Sufi mystics in Yemen used coffee as an aid to concentration and even spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of Allah. By 1414, it was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt from the Yemeni port of Mocha. It was still associated with Sufis, and a cluster of coffee houses grew up in Cairo around the religious university of the Azhar. They also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo, and then in Istanbul, the capital of the vast Ottoman Turkish Empire, in 1554
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In Mecca, Cairo and Istanbul attempts were made to ban it by religious authorities. Learned shaykhs discussed whether the effects of coffee were similar to those of alcohol, and some remarked that passing round the coffee pot had something in common with the circulation of a pitcher of wine, a drink forbidden in Islam. Coffee houses were a new institution in which men met together to talk, listen to poets and play games like chess and backgammon. They became a focus for intellectual life and could be seen as an implicit rival to the mosque as a meeting place.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Some scholars opined that the coffee house was “even worse than the wine room”, and the authorities noted how these places could easily become dens of sedition. However, all attempts at banning coffee failed, even though the death penalty was used during the reign of Murad IV (1623-40). The religious scholars eventually came to a sensible consensus that coffee was, in principle, permissible. Marco Polo mentions it in his travels, and though it was a popular drink in the Arab nations where European traders often travelled to and even partook in the drink to discuss business, it was oddly one of the few things never brought back much into the west and only found in some high end Apothecary suppliers in large port cities. All this was about to change.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Coffee spread to Europe by two routes – from the Ottoman Empire, and by sea from the original coffee port of Mocha. Coffee also arrived in Europe through trade across the Mediterranean and was carried by the Turkish armies as they marched up the Danube. As in the Middle East, the coffee house became a place for men to talk, read, share their opinions on the issues of the day and play games as its popularity slowly spread further and further west.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By the early 17thc Coffee began to be mentioned by English Captains returning from the east as a recommended medicinal drink. At first, coffee had been viewed with suspicion in Europe as a Muslim drink, but around 1600 Pope Clement VIII is reported to have so enjoyed a cup that he said it would be wrong to permit Muslims to monopolise it, and so he declared he would Baptise it. By 1630 it had reached France, and together with tea was drunk more for novelty value. All this changed in 1650.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: How does one baptise coffee?
Magda Kamenev French press?
engacia: pour holy water over the beans
Cherie Harcassle: dunking it in water
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I assume the same way a Jewish person or a Muslim person makes something Kosher or Halal, by saying a prayer over it.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: I like Fraulein engacia‘s idea.
Wulfriðe Blitzen laughs
Jedburgh Dagger: or dunk a sinner in it
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Certainly would like to have been a fly on the wall that day

Wulfriðe Blitzen: England was a Protectorate after a long Civil War and run on Puritan lines. Alcohol was frowned upon. Partying was banned, fun was sinful, plays had been stopped. Even Christmas was outlawed. London’s coffee craze began in 1652 when Pasqua Rosée, the Greek servant of a coffee-loving British Levant merchant, opened London’s first coffeehouse (or rather, coffee shack) against the stone wall of St Michael’s churchyard in a labyrinth of alleys off Cornhill. Coffee was a smash hit; within a couple of years, Pasqua was selling over 600 dishes of coffee a day to the horror of the local tavern keepers. For anyone who’s ever tried seventeenth-century style coffee, this can come as something of a shock — unless, that is, you like your brew “black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love”, as an old Turkish proverb recommends, and shot through with grit.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: It’s not just that our tastebuds have grown more discerning accustomed as we are to silky-smooth Flat Whites; contemporaries found it disgusting too. One early sampler likened it to a “syrup of soot and the essence of old shoes” while others were reminded of oil, ink, soot, mud, damp and shit. Nonetheless, people loved how the “bitter Mohammedan gruel”, as The London Spy described it in 1701, kindled conversations, fired debates, sparked ideas and, as Pasqua himself pointed out in his handbill The Virtue of the Coffee Drink (1652), made one “fit for business” — his stall was a stone’s throw from that great entrepôt of international commerce, the Royal Exchange.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Here’s a copy of the world’s oldest coffee advertisement
Wulfriðe Blitzen: See how it cures all ills! It helps you think!:p
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Remember — until the mid-seventeenth century, most people in England were either slightly — or very — drunk all of the time. Drink London’s fetid river water at your own peril; most people wisely favoured watered-down ale or beer (“small beer”). The arrival of coffee, then, triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for truly spectacular economic growth in the decades that followed as people thought clearly for the first time. The stock exchange, insurance industry, and auctioneering: all burst into life in 17th-century coffeehouses — in Jonathan’s, Lloyd’s, and Garraway’s — spawning the credit, security, and markets that facilitated the dramatic expansion of Britain’s network of global trade in Asia, Africa and America.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: No respectable women would have been seen dead in a coffeehouse. It wasn’t long before wives became frustrated at the amount of time their husbands were idling away “deposing princes, settling the bounds of kingdoms, and balancing the power of Europe with great justice and impartiality”, as Richard Steele put it in the Tatler, all from the comfort of a fireside bench. In 1674, years of simmering resentment erupted into the volcano of fury that was the Women’s Petition Against Coffee. The fair sex lambasted the “Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE” which, as they saw it, had reduced their virile industrious men into effeminate, babbling, French layabouts. Retaliation was swift and acerbic in the form of the vulgar Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee, which claimed it was “base adulterate wine” and “muddy ale” that made men impotent. Coffee, in fact, was the Viagra of the day, making “the erection more vigorous, the ejaculation more full, add[ing] a spiritual ascendency to the sperm”.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In London you can actually buy coffee mugs with a copy of the Woman’s Petition printed on it…
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By the dawn of the eighteenth century, contemporaries were counting between 1,000 and 8,000 coffeehouses in the capital even if a street survey conducted in 1734 (which excluded unlicensed premises) counted only 551. Even so, Europe had never seen anything like it. Protestant Amsterdam, a rival hub of international trade, could only muster 32 coffeehouses by 1700 and the cluster of coffeehouses in St Mark’s Square in Venice were forbidden from seating more than five customers (presumably to stifle the coalescence of public opinion) whereas North’s, in Cheapside, could happily seat 90 people.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The walls of Don Saltero’s Chelsea coffeehouse were festooned with taxidermy monsters including crocodiles, turtles and rattlesnakes, which local gentlemen scientists like Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Hans Sloane liked to discuss over coffee; at White’s on St James’s Street, famously depicted by Hogarth, rakes would gamble away entire estates and place bets on how long customers had to live, a practice that would eventually grow into the life insurance industry; at Lunt’s in Clerkenwell Green, patrons could sip coffee, have a haircut and enjoy a fiery lecture on the abolition of slavery given by its barber-proprietor John Gale Jones; at John Hogarth’s Latin Coffeehouse, also in Clerkenwell, patrons were encouraged to converse in the Latin tongue at all times (it didn’t last long); at Moll King’s brothel-coffeehouse, depicted by Hogarth, libertines could sober up and peruse a directory of harlots, before being led to the requisite brothel nearby. There was even a floating coffeehouse, the Folly of the Thames, moored outside Somerset House where fops and rakes danced the night away on her rain-spattered deck.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Despite this colourful diversity, early coffeehouses all followed the same blueprint, maximising the interaction between customers and forging a creative, convivial environment. They emerged as smoky candlelit forums for commercial transactions, spirited debate, and the exchange of information, ideas, and lies.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Here’s an early coffee cup – you may recognise it more as a rice bowl
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Customers sat around long communal tables strewn with every type of media imaginable listening in to each other’s conversations, interjecting whenever they pleased, and reflecting upon the newspapers. Talking to strangers, an alien concept in most coffee shops today, was actively encouraged. Dudley Ryder, a young law student from Hackney and shameless social climber, kept a diary in 1715-16, in which he routinely recalled marching into a coffeehouse, sitting down next to a stranger, and discussing the latest news. Private boxes and booths did begin to appear from the late 1740s but before that it was nigh-on impossible to hold a genuinely private conversation in a coffeehouse.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: As each new customer went in, they’d be assailed by cries of “What news have you?” or more formally, “Your servant, sir, what news from Tripoli?” or, if you were in the Latin Coffeehouse, “Quid Novi!” That coffeehouses functioned as post-boxes for many customers reinforced this news-gathering function. Unexpectedly wide-ranging discussions could be twined from a single conversational thread as when, at John’s coffeehouse in 1715, news about the execution of a rebel Jacobite Lord (as recorded by Dudley Ryder) transmogrified into a discourse on “the ease of death by beheading” with one participant telling of an experiment he’d conducted slicing a viper in two and watching in amazement as both ends slithered off in different directions. Was this, as some of the company conjectured, proof of the existence of two consciousnesses?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The person who wrote it had a sense of humour. Its quite a good read
Wulfriðe Blitzen: His last comment was ‘We are driven to the coffee house to escape the insufferable din of your wagging tongues!’
Erehwon Texeira: So, London’s coffee houses were the Reddit and Hacker News of the day? Tedious boy’s clubs?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In the 17thc there was a habit to pay for things in kind with trading tokens, a hang up from the English Civil War.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: An IOU if you will
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Some 19thc American tokens use 17thc terms such as ‘good for one drink
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Coffee houses spawned newspapers, some which still exist today. A man would enter the building, pay a penny to a ‘Comptroller’ who would hand him a bowl, which consisted mostly of Chinese ricebowls in the early days because being so similar in shape to tea cups from China (and not being rice eaters) it was deemed to be for coffee. This shape is still echoes in the modern coffee cup today. The cup was held in a certain way to prevent burn fingers, a saucer was provided so you didn’t spill a drop and could slurp the dregs noisily while in conversation. A jar labelled ‘TIPS’ (To Insure Prompt Service’, although some sources dispute this is what it meant) was left at the counter, and a little extra would get you a clay pipe and some tobacco. A serving boy would then come over to fill your cup from an army of coffeepots boiling by the fire. Each house specialised in their own added flavours, and experiments began with filters (its recorded that old socks were used for this purpose, even fish skin…yuk).
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Although this father and daughter are drinking tea, they are holding the cups the same way as for coffee and for hot chocolate
Wulfriðe Blitzen: As coffee houses encouraged debate on the matters of the day (lets call them a 17thc Facebook) it was common for fights to break out.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: If you look carefully, while the serving boys carry on as if nothing is happening a rowdy debate is taking place
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Someone is throwing coffee at another man
Wulfriðe Blitzen: My favourite illustration has a serving girl hitting someone over the head with a ladle
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Sadly I couldn’t source a clear version of that one for tonight
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I’ve actually made and served 17thc style coffee using a recipe from the coffee house owned by the most famous mistress of Charles II, Nell Gwyn
Wulfriðe Blitzen: She added orange rinds and spices
Wulfriðe Blitzen: It was boiled for a long time, so a crust formed. Akin to Egyptian Ibrik coffee pots
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Actually it was very nice

Anna Mynx: do you have a link to the recipe?

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Not on me right now as I had it given to me by someone at the Royal Palaces at Greenwich a few years ago, But its easy to make. Add your favourite coffee mix, and on the top place a teaspoon of orange peel, and a pinch of nutmeg
Wulfriðe Blitzen: It tastes best brewed in a stove pot espresso pot, I found.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Sadly the coffeehouse was not to last in England. By the late 18thc privacy, snobbery and private clubs began to dominate the social scene. Coffeehouses went into decline, some converted to tea, a new cheaper import partly encouraged by the British government who had begun to fight for the domination of the Eastern import markets. Tea, once drunk by the upper classes suddenly became cheaper than coffee, and was easy to buy around the country.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Twinings started life as a coffee house – he found tea sold more and founded his now famous company
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I hope you can see the details in this next image
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Its called ‘Tom and Jerry at a Coffee Shop’
Wulfriðe Blitzen: This is the Regency period. By now the wealthy dared each other to visit coffee houses for entertainment, as a ‘good fight’ could always be witnessed between people in a fierce debate
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Notice something else in the image – Africans
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In London at this time Africans were free. There was a large community. Sometimes they ended up running coffeehouses by the dockside
Wulfriðe Blitzen: One is a sweep, but the lady by the fire is African
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The other lady cooking crumpets seems to be in mid debate
Wulfriðe Blitzen: It depends on who you talk to, some people call her Indian, some just call her ‘unwashed’
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Indeed, after 150 years, people were still fiercely debating politics and the affairs of the day. Like Facebook, others begged to disagree with your opinion
Wulfriðe Blitzen: While the coffee shop declined in England to a few small pockets, it thrived in France and Austria, where it began to become an art form
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Here’s a Parisian coffeehouse, around 1850’s.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: You can see they are still debating and discussing the news of the day
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The man at the back on the extreme left may have just run out of coffee
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Or intently reading. Or both
Wulfriðe Blitzen: As it declined, it increased in countries like France and America. It is said the French Revolution began in a Parisian coffee house as the state of the royal family was much debated. In America political change and high taxes resulting in the Boston Teaparty made an entire nation look elsewhere for a new national drink. Coffee found a new niche.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Cocoa has an interesting history too. Not sure if you can brave a talk about that so soon after this
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Now this is one for the coffee monsters in the room
Wulfriðe Blitzen: A disease-stricken Arabica coffee plant next to a towering Liberica
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Liberica is the little known ‘third’ strain of coffee. There is a reason we do not see it in coffee houses though.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Liberica was lost to science
Wulfriðe Blitzen: But found again by Kew Garden experts
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They discovered a load of 19thc paperwork by English colonials raving about the bean, so they set out to see a genus in the mountains all over Yemen and Ethiopia
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Just as they were about to give up and list it as extinct, they found it!
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Well apparently they tried to get it as a replacement for the Arabica when it began to be threatened by the ‘leaf rust’ the modern plants are also threatened with
Wulfriðe Blitzen: When it was tasted, they wrote: “Liberica is a strong grower and a prolific cropper but it just doesn’t taste very good, and for many tastes a bit like vegetable soup”
Wulfriðe Blitzen: We may see them experiment with cross breeding, as they are very concerned that with global warming Arabica will vanish. Its a very fussy plant – too warm, it burns, too cold, it doesn’t grow beans. It prefers altitude.
Stereo Nacht: Bah. Just migrate the plants as temperature changes… Current fields will disappear, others will become available…
Wulfriðe Blitzen: People have tried to grow it in their homes, but only succeed with Robustica. But the plant takes years to mature before you can get your first proper crop.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Last image for the evening. A lady in Ethiopia serves coffee. Notice the cups
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They consume much of their own coffee before it even leaves the country, and are proud of their national drink
Wulfriðe Blitzen: So does nothing taste as good as Arabica? “Coffea stenophylla, sometimes known as the highland coffee of Sierra Leone, is supposed to be incredible,” says Schilling. Drunk locally, in 1896 it was described by Kew as one of the two species of coffee which could “prove a formidable rival of the Arabian coffee” – the other was Liberica. Who knows, if the British had opted for C stenophylla instead, what coffee would taste like today.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I added the last from a quote, but I thought it was pertinent
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I shall end the talk here, but if you have any questions, please ask:)
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Thank you:D I hope you take a new look at the coffee section when you next go shopping. And stick to Arabica, Robusta is bleh

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Fraiu Gräfin, which bean is it that is processed by cats’ digestive systems?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: ah! Civet cat coffee. Apparently its a secret favourite of Prince Charles, so people get him a pack of it when they want to curry favour with him
Lady Sumoku: Kopi Luwak
Magda Kamenev laughs. It is rather expensive.
Erehwon Texeira: civets are more like raccoons, aren’t they?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: With which bean variety does it start?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I believe its Arabica for the cat. But then, how many people would confess they pick up after jungle cats with a poop collector?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Their stomach acids are supposed to change the chemical signature of the bean. I have never tried it, but a coffee house in London sells it for £10 a cup.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: And now in London you can actually visit ‘hipster’ coffee houses who brew coffee in Victorian Vacuum coffee makers
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The Japanese brew their coffee that way, because they feel it gets the flavour of the bean much more distinctly

Magda Kamenev: I look forward to seeing how Starbucks’ introduction to Milan goes.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Heh yes, that’s had a few Italians over here scowl in disguste
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Let me link you the machine, maybe you have seen them
Wulfriðe Blitzen: http://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-d2IVU4MDnqY/TzCwZAgDbwI/AAAAAAABo0Y/-5UHelTGxBI/s720/e5gtrwqefdsfdsfsdfsdf.jpg
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I love watching those ones as they process the coffee, they make a pleasing click

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Recently they dared to say coffee now is the most popular drink in the UK. Its so bad that the large tea companies like Twinnings are looking at new ways to sell tea
Wulfriðe Blitzen: So there’s now a flood of trendy teas of obscure and odd flavours
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I have a box of Jasmin and coconut tea, and Jasmin, lavender and chamomile tea for instance.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I still prefer the original Jasmin tea, with the opening flowers. You place the tea, and a tightly coiled dried pod into a cup, and pour on boiling water. The flower opens slowly.

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