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?


Jim Chen said...

Thanks for this, Marie. As Food Law Prof Blog has kindly indicated, I discussed this very issue some time ago in Around the World in Eighty Centiliters, 15 Minn. J. Int'l L. 11 (2006):

The production, marketing, and delivery of beverages are enterprises so vast that fully to comprehend [them] would require an almost universal knowledge ranging from geology, biology, chemistry and medicine to the niceties of the legislative, judicial and administrative processes of government. Queensboro Farm Prods., Inc. v. Wickard, 137 F.2d 969, 975 (2d Cir. 1943). So extensive are the legal complexities at issue that the typical North American coffee service traverses nearly the entire range of allocative and redistributive considerations within the law of trade. A simple carafe of coffee, with cream and sugar on the side, vividly illustrates the tradeoff between comparative advantage and redistributive goals in the formation of trade policies.

See generally Jim Chen, The Potable Constitution, 15 Const. Comment. 1 (1998); Seminar Proposal: The Potable Constitution.

Marie T. Reilly said...

Jim: Thanks for this comment. It both tastes great and is less filling.

Your proposed seminar would tour the U.S. Constitution using "naught but cases involving liquor, beer, wine, and milk."
All I recall of my constitutional law course are the milk cases and the mudflap cases. Oh, and that Marbury v. Madison thing . . . .