Its Growth and Birthplace - Where most Drank - Legends as to its Origin - Its Gradual Spread - Introduction into Europe and England - Pasqua Rosee's Handbill - The English Coffee Houses - Their Rules - A Poem about Coffee Houses.
Next to tea, Coffee is, perhaps, the infusion most drank, its use being universal in Turkey, Egypt, Persia, and most Mahometan countries; and on the continent of Europe, with the exception of Russia, it is a greater favourite than tea. In Norway and Sweden it is especially drank, whilst tea is comparatively disused.
It is the seed of an evergreen shrub (Coffea Arabica) which grows from six to twelve feet high, with a stem of from six to fifteen inches in circumference. When the blossom falls off, there remains, in its room, or rather, springs from each blossom, a small fruit, green at first, but which becomes red when it ripens; it is not unlike a cherry, and is very good to eat. Under the flesh of this cherry, instead of the stone, is found the bean, or berry, which we call coffee, wrapped round in a fine thin skin. The berry is then very soft, and of a disagreeable taste; but as the cherry ripens, the berry in the inside grows harder, and the dried-up fruit being the flesh or the pulp of it, which was before eatable, becomes a shell or pod, of a deep brown colour. The berry is now solid, and of a clear transparent green. Each shell contains one berry, which splits into two equal parts.
In Abyssinia coffee appears to have been used as a drink from time immemorial. Abd-alkader, a learned native of Medina, writing at the beginning of the seventeenth century, gives us the history of its introduction into Arabia. A certain Sheikh, notorious for his piety and knowledge, named Jemal-eddin, brought it from Persia to Aden. He was wont to take it as a medicine relieving the headache, enlivening the heart, and preventing drowsiness. This last attribute at once recommended it to the various imams, muftis, and dervishes, who wished to remain awake for the performance of religious exercises at night. The examples of these holy persons had its usual influence upon the people, and coffee drinking soon became a common custom.
Not, however, without considerable opposition did this fashion come into vogue; there were many long and animated disputes about the legitimacy of drinking coffee. Its defenders alleged its medicinal virtues, its opponents declared it to be like wine, of an inebriating nature - indeed, a sort of wine itself; and went so far, in the heat of argument, as to say that all who drank it would appear at the general resurrection with faces blacker than the bottoms of their coffee-pots.
An insult of this sort was surely sufficient to justify a prompt adoption of the severest rejoinder by the other side, and, in replying, they became poetic. Said one:
"It is a dear object of desire to the collector of knowledge; It is the drink of the people of God, and in it is health. It's odour is Musk, it's colour Ink: The wise man and the good will sip it pure as milk in its innocence, And differing from it but in blackness."
And another sang "Courtesy is the coat of the customers in a Coffee-house.
The Coffee-house itself is as Paradise in its carpets, its company and its tender delights.
When the waiter comes with the Coffee in its cup of porcelain, sorrow disappears, and all anguish sinks under its dominion.
In its water we wash away our impurities, and burn out our solicitudes in its fire.
The man who has looked only on its chafing dish will say, ' Fie upon the Wine and the Wine Vats.'"
Coffee won the day.
There is, however, another story of its introduction - how in the far-off past a poor dervish, who lived in the deserts of Arabia, noticed that his goats came home every evening in a state of hilarity. Unable to account for this, he watched them, and found them feeding on the blossoms and berries of a tree which he had never before noticed. He experimented upon himself by eating them, and soon became as jocund as his goats, so much so, that he was accused of having partaken of the accursed juice of the grape. But he soon convinced his maligners that the source of his high spirits was harmless, and they, tasting, became converts, and the berry became of general use.
From Abyssinia, the use of coffee spread to Persia and Arabia, thence to Aden, Mecca, Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo and Constantinople, whence it found its way to Venice in 1615. But it is hard to say exactly when its use was introduced into England. Robert Burton mentions it in his Anatomy of Melancholy, but not in the 1621 edition. He says,1 "The Turks have a drink called Coffee (for they use no wine), so named of a berry, as black as soot, and as bitter (like that black drink which was in use among the Lacedaemonians, and perhaps the same), which they sip still of, and sup as warm as they can suffer; they spend much time in those coffee houses, which are somewhat like our alehouses or taverns, and there they sit, chatting and drinking, to drive away the time, and to be merry together, because they find by experience that kind of drink, so used, helpeth digestion, and procureth alacrity."
Anthony a Wood says that the first coffee-house was kept in 1650 in Oxford, by Jacobs, a Jew; and it seems generally recognised that the first coffee-house in London was opened in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill, in 1652, by one Pasqua Rosee, a Greek, servant to Mr. Edwards, a Turkey merchant. In "A Broadside against Coffee, or the Marriage of the Turk" (1672), he is thus mentioned:
"A Coachman was the first (here) Coffee made, And ever since the rest drive on the trade; Me no good Engalash ! and sure enough, He plaid the Quack to salve his Stygian stuff; Ver boon for de stomach, de Cough, de Ptisick, And I believe him, for it looks like Physick."
1 Part 2, Section 5. - Mem. 1, Sub. 5.
Here is Rosee's handbill:
"The Vertue of the Coffee Drink.