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So Good They Banned It – Times When a Cup of Coffee was Criminal

Brewing up a regular ol’ cuppa joe seems like such an everyday thing to do, but travel back across the antiquities of time and you’ll see just how dangerous a morning coffee used to be.

It’s surprising to think that a sip of your favourite blend could have got you roughed up, landed you in jail, or even put to death. A grim thought, but thankfully those times when a cup of coffee was criminal are well and truly over.

So if you haven’t already, go and fix yourself up with a nice cup of Foxy Brown or whatever coffee you have in the cupboard, and read on to discover what might have happened to you in another lifetime.

Because Coffee Makes You Feel Good

Let’s start in 16th century Mecca, where the city’s governor outlawed coffee and sent out his cronies to torch coffee stalls in the streets. The year was 1511, and Khair Beg believed the intoxicating effects of coffee put it in the same boat as booze, so drinking it seemed to fly in the face of the Quran. The ban didn’t last very long at all, just a couple of weeks, but other rulers soon followed suit.

Because Coffee is the Devil’s Drink

Coffee was banned in Italy?! Hard to imagine, but it’s true. This time around it was the Catholic Church that turned their nose up to caffeine. They didn’t like the strange energising effect it had on people. Also, it was from mysterious faraway lands, which immediately made them suspicious.

It’s no wonder then that they came to the conclusion it was a satanic beverage that must be condemned for eternity. That was until Pope Clement VIII had a taste, and promptly baptised the humble coffee bean to make it safe for Christians to drink!

When Coffee Would Get You Killed

Moving onto the 17th century, and to what is undeniably the harshest crackdown on coffee the world has ever seen. Sultan Murad IV initiated a ban on coffee across the entire Ottoman Empire starting in 1633, which lasted for more than 100 years.

Legend has it that Murad would disguise himself as a commoner and roam the streets, sniffing out illegal coffee houses and decapitating criminal drinkers on the spot. When his successor Ibrahim took over, first offenders would get away with a nasty beating to recompense for their wrongdoing. But if you were caught a second time, you’d find yourself stuffed in a leather sack and unceremoniously chucked in a river to drown.

When Coffee Made Rulers Mad

Around the same time in England, London’s first coffee house opened in 1652, and within a couple of decades, King Charles II declared all coffee houses must close. But what was his concern with this new foreign brew?

Well, it was stimulating political discussions across the capital, sparking debates in which the monarchy was the butt of insulting jokes. Not one to be taken the piss out of, a proclamation to suppress coffee houses was published, however lawmakers saw to it that no ban was actually enacted.

Over in Prussia, now modern-day Germany and Poland, Emperor Frederick the Great had a different beef against coffee. He didn’t like the money pouring out of the country to pay for this exotic new drink, so he created a state monopoly over coffee imports and banned the public from roasting their own beans.

The Infamous Swedish Coffee Experiment

Numerous Swedish kings grappled with coffee for over 60 years, enforcing five separate bans on it between 1756 and 1817. All sorts of reasons were touted for why coffee was bad, all of them nonsense. Persistent offenders would have their coffee cups and saucers confiscated.

In a bizarre experiment to try and prove coffee was bad for your health, a pair of identical twins who had already been sentenced to death were summoned to be human guinea pigs. One twin was made to drink three pots of coffee a day while the other drank tea. Turned out the tea drinker died first, at the ripe old age of 83.

Honouring the Coffee Drinkers of the Past

The common theme to take away from all these historic coffee bans was that in every instance, it was a minority who were against it. For your average guy and gal, coffee drinking was enjoyable, a time to talk, relax, and have fun. Let’s thank our predecessors for sticking a finger up to the man so that we can drink coffee in peace today.

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