Thursday, November 15, 2007
Coffee and the Law
Coffee has a surprising and so far unexplored social history. About one thousand years ago, coffee from Africa crossed the Red Sea into Arabia where Muslim monks brewed it into a kind of wine used for spiritual rituals. During the 16th century, Muslim religious leaders prohibited coffee drinking as forbidden by God. But, coffee caught on and became so popular and so troubling to Muslim religious and political leaders that in the 17th century, a Turkish sultan prohibited it again for the Ottoman Empire. In 18th century Germany, the government took up regulation of the demon drink and proposed prohibition, but only for women. J.S. Bach, a noted coffee house hound, was so outraged (too much coffee?) that in 1732 he composed an operatic political screed. The Coffee Cantata , one of Bach's most famous secular compositions, features a libretto by Christian Freidrich Henrici. It recounts a father's poignant struggle to free his daughter from her coffee habit. (For more detail on the story and the music click here).
The daughter, plainly buzzing, sings:
"Oh, How sweet coffee tastes
Lovelier than a thousand kisses
Smoother than Muscatel wine
Coffee, coffee... I must have
And if someone wants to delight me
Let him pour me coffee!"
– J.S. Bach, The Coffee Cantata
(Bach may have had more invested in women's unregulated access to coffee than just a burning sense of gender equity).
I'm thinking that we lawyers need to scrutinize the history of regulation of coffee and its implications for religious liberty and sexual equality. Seminar anyone?