Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East

Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East
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The 17th century French traveler and writer Jean Chardin gave a lively description of the Persian coffeehouse scene:. Latest article. It te Coffee burst onto the scene in the Near East in the middle of the 5th century. Aleppo, Izmir, and Istanbul Cambridge, , The espresso bar is a type of coffeehouse that specializes in coffee drinks made from espresso. This book promises to be a classic on the early formation of Iranian nationalism.

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Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. Request Username Can't sign in? There is no contradiction between the two statements… since the former speaks of qahwa made from the husks [of the coffee berry], while the latter refers to qahwa from qat. It is possible that the berry or beverage was first called after Kaffa, and that subsequent to its introduction in Arabia those who knew of it there could not resist the poetical urge to apply to it a near-homophone that had been a term for wine.

A third etymological explanation, that because of its effects in invigorating the body it was given a form derived from quwwa strength or power seems far less likely. Note: The author seems to have a strong need to get away from the possibility that coffee was called wine because coffee is intoxicating, like wine is.

Even when the subject was well known and openly discussed, our Yemeni sources on the origins of coffee use come not from the mountains, but from such places as Zabid in the Tihama or Aden on the coast. In spite of the long time [that it had been drunk], not a soul gave any thought to interfering with coffee drinkers, nor did anyone find fault with the drink either in itself or because of factors [associated with but] external to it, such as passing the cup around and the like.

Jaziri claimed that until then there had been no controversy surrounding coffee. It is, indeed, most unlikely that a step such as was taken in Mecca was not preceded by growing sentiment against coffee. In , coffee gatherings were again banned, but not coffee itself.

In , word came from Damascus that the Ottoman sultan had forbidden coffee. In the early attempts at prohibition, all were quickly unsuccessful. This is due, at least in part, because of the ambiguity in the legality of coffee. Even wine, which was clearly illegal, had to be continually prohibited.

Lacking both popular support and the unanimous approval of the men of religion, there was very little hope of success. From its introduction to Islamic culture, coffee has been equated with wine, an explicitly forbidden drug. Part of the controversy is the application of traditional but apocryphal sayings of the prophet to this new drink. Each time, the answer came not as a statement from Muhammad, but as a revelation through him from God. Each time the revelation was stronger, but each time ways were found to circumvent it.

An Ethiopian Legend

Finally, God sent a revelation clearly forbidding wine. Hannafi: khamr means several different beverages, but can be applied to only those beverages specifically. Plates: engraving of a coffee tree; engraving of a branch of a coffee plant; European coffee pots, ca. Seventeenth-eighteenth century; European coffee cups; Turkish miniature of coffee house activities; engraving of a coffeehouse; engraving of an ornate coffee house; outdoor cafe of Istanbul; Damascus river-side cafe; street vendor;.

This is the interpretation preferred by the Hanafis. Aside from those things that fit into their narrow definition of khamr , any beverage, alcoholic or not, is allowed. To the Hanafis, things that are khamr cannot be made legal by removal of alcohol.

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Coffee and COFFEEHOUSES The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East RALPH S. HATTOX Coffee and COFFEEHOUSES Coffee and. Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East (Publications on the Near East) University of Washington Press ed.

Boil it, remove the alcohol, and it is still khamr , and still forbidden. On the other hand, if you take the grape juice, cook it so that it is reduced by two-thirds, and then allow it to ferment, it is permitted in quantities that will not intoxication.

The History of Coffee

What is drunk? According to the Hanfais, one would have to be almost dead-drunk and senseless before he would be considered sakran drunk , and hence liable to punishment. In the light of all that has been said about beverage laws, then, is it possible to maintain that the effects that the coffee drinker experiences could be classified as sukr , intoxication?

It seems that both of those are quite apropos to mild caffeine stimulation… me thinks the author doth protest too much. The attempts at prohibiting coffee strictly followed the pattern for other drugs: claim outrageous medical problems, and use it to harass unapproved groups. The Risala fi ahkam al-qahwa has a curious passage from which it is clear that medical arguments focused on coffee, although at the time, the chewing of coffee beans was still a fairly routine practice.

Jurists actually argued that the beans were legal, but that the drink was not. This, the author of the treatise points out, was all so much rubbish.

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Whatever harmful effects can be attributed to the drink are present all the more so in the beans, he claims, since at least the water used to prepare qahwa helped to temper the properties of the bean. If the drink and not the bean became the target of criticism contrary to prevailing contemporary medical theory, then the reason for such opposition to coffee must indeed be sought elsewhere.

Beans could be, and were, consumed everywhere. But coffee was consumed primarily in the coffeehouse. Where alcohol was illegal and restaurants non-existent, coffeehouses presented a compelling attraction for those wishing to socialize. In the Near Eastern context we are speaking of a society without any significant restaurant culture.

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The inhabitants of the sixteenth-century Muslim city were, even by the standards of their contemporaries from Europe, short on dining spots. While visiting coffeehouses, people could show hospitality outside of its traditional place in the home: they could even buy rounds for the bar, so to speak, and show hospitality to strangers. The actions described here in coffeehouses strongly resembles what we see men do in bars: talk trash about women, tell tall tales, and listen to music.

All these people are quite base, of low costume and very little industry, such that for the most part they spend their time sunk in idleness. The novelty of such activity was obviously quite striking in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and there is an implied revolution in the way people perceived of how things were to be done. When someone is in a coffeehouse, and he sees people whom he knows come in, if he is in the least ways civil, he will tell the proprietor not to take any money from them.

An Ottoman visitor to Cairo at the end of the sixteenth century wrote:. When jundis [soldiers] go, for instance, in a coffeehouse and there have to get change for a gold coin, they will definitely spend it all. They regard it as improper to put the change in their pocket and leave. In other words, this is their manner of showing their grandiosity to the common people. But their grand patronage consists of treating each other to a cup of coffee, of impressing their friends with one [cup] of something four cups of which costs one para.

The patrons of the coffeehouse, it seems, were not immune to the temptation often to disregard the strict letter of the truth when relating stories about others, partucularly about women. A writer who was otherwise favorably disposed to coffee was particularly indignant about this aspect of coffeehouse life:. What they come up with are generally the most frightful fabrications, things without a grain of truth in them. Pecevi describes the often intense literary activity among the patrons. As was to happen later in Europe, the coffeehouse became something of a literary forum; poets and writers would submit their latest compositions for the assessment of a critical public.

In other corners of the coffeehouse, there might be heated discussions on art, the sciences or literature. In , on the pretext of preventing the disastrous fires that sometimes got started in coffeehouses, he ordered them torn down, and coffee, as well as tobacco and opium, banned. The taint on backgammon is, if anything, worse. Though they were considereed objectionable by some, the coffeehouse proprietor knew what his public wanted, and gave it to them:. Generally in the coffeehouses there are many violins, flute players, and musicians, who are hired by the proprietor of the coffeehouse to play and sing much of the day, with the end of drawing in customers.

Music, it seems, was considered a distinguishing feature of taverns. This, of course, was quite in accordance with old revered custom, inasmuch as traditional symposia and meetings of the artistic were held, whether in house or tavern, with the musical accompaniment of songstresses, often demurely screened off from the company, but sometimes mingling more freely with them.

Whatever the case may be, many found the custom shocking and repellent. The author of the Risala fi ahkam al-qahwa , otherwise a supporter of coffee drinking, has nothing but criticism for this sort of activity:.


Perhaps what can be said for prohibiting [coffee] is the evidence that it is drunk in taverns hanat , which embrace all sorts of reprehensible things: singing girls qaynat , [various types of] fiddles… the playing of instruments of wanton diversion, dancing, and the clapping of hands. From later accounts, it is difficult to tell just how long such songstresses continued to entertain in coffeehouses, nor is it clear that such was ever the case outside the Hijaz.

It is unlikely that such a holdover from tavern life would ahve long been tolerated, and one must assume that the more pious would suspect, perhaps with some justification, that vocal performances were not the only services supplied the patrons by such songstresses…. In any event, most later accounts make no mention of singing girls. The coffee shop was a world strictly of men.

Often… used gen. As a term of contempt for an unchaste woman.