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Posts Tagged ‘Propero Alpini

“I like coffee because it gives me the illusion that I might be awake”*…

It’s Monday morning, an occasion to contemplate the favored fuel of the workday. Here, a late 18th century treatise..

How did coffee become so popular in the Middle East, turning the Yemeni port city of Mokha into a global marketplace of beans for nearly three centuries? Benjamin Moseley, eighteenth-century physician and early anti-vaxxer, offers an origin story for coffee culture in the expanded fifth edition of his Treatise Concerning the Properties and Effects of Coffee (1792). Noting that the account is a “ludicrous tale”, he nevertheless reproduces it in full. One night a Yemeni goat herder found his flock restless. They would not sleep, but “jumped and frisked about as if they had been infatuated”. The herder summons a religious official from the local mosque, who notices that the goats had foraged on “shrubs and berries [that] had always been considered among the wild and useless productions of the earth”. Intrigued, the holy man goes home and steeps himself a cup, which he “supped off hot”. Soon he too “began to dance and frisk about as the goats had done”. After the jitters wane, the man’s thoughts turn back to God, and he realizes that this concoction would “be an excellent thing to keep the Dervishes awake, when their duty obliged them to pray after dinner”. The experiment was an “utmost success” and soon the drink spread through every nearby nation and “among all the religious of the East.”

Moseley was the eighteenth-century precursor to today’s third-wave connoisseur. He had strong opinions on roasting that might still hold water — “the closer it is confined at the time of roasting, and till used, the better will its volatile pungency, flavour, and virtues, be preserved” — and high standards of taste: following François Bernier, he relates that only two people in 1650s Cairo were capable of making a proper brew. As a practicing physician, Moseley’s interest in coffee was mostly medical and, although these debates still continue, he had little time for the uncaffeinated. In a terribly-aged analogy, he compares coffee alarmists to those who raise “declamations against mercury” and “nonsense against tobacco” — equally bunk. Some of the proclaimed benefits of coffee are familiar. It combats “lethargy, catarrh, and all disorders of the head”. It “accelerates the process of digestion”, affects “the gastric powers”, and “diffuses a genial warmth that cherishes the animal spirits, and takes away the listlessness and languor”. It also helps hangovers: that “disorderly condition brought on by drinking bad fermented liquors, and new rum, to excess”. Other benefits are perhaps less well-known today. If bedridden with “bloody flux” or dysentery, drink four cups of hot coffee and cover yourself with heavy bed clothes — you will soon be cured through perspiration; for messengers commuting long distances, “the alternate effects of opium and coffee” can sooth “their tedious journies”. Aside from a caution to pregnant women and those with serious illnesses, the only negative account of coffee in this hundred-page treatise comes from a person Moseley met in Leyden: he “seldom drank much coffee, or continued the use of it for several days successively, without having a hæmorrhage from the nose.”

When the first edition of Moseley’s treatise appeared in the 1780s, Europe’s urbanites had been hooked on coffee for more than a century. London’s original coffee house opened in 1652; the French, who “knew nothing of it until 1645”, could enjoy a public café in Marseilles come 1671. As Matthew Green details, these were intoxicating spaces where strangers mingled and discussed news, politics, scholarship, and everything in between…

[Indeed, the London Stock Exchange was born in Jonathan’s Coffee House (later, Garraway’s coffee house), as stock trading was not allowed in the Royal Exchange. Until the LSE went fully electronic, the clerks who carried orders and papers to and from brokers were still called “waiters,” the title by which they are still known at Lloyds of London, which had a similar genesis.]

A 1792 appreciation: “A Treatise Concerning the Properties and Effects of Coffee,” from @PublicDomainRev. Read the Treatise at the Internet Archive (@internetarchive).

On a more modern note: “Nope, coffee won’t give you extra energy. It’ll just borrow a bit that you’ll pay for later.”

(Image above: source)

* Lewis Black


As we contemplate the cuppa, we might spare a thought for Prospero Alpini; he died on this date in 1617. A Venetian physician and botanist, he wrote several botanical treatises, many based on his travels in the Middle East, which covered exotic plants of economic and medicinal value. Because his description of coffee and banana plants are considered the oldest in European literature, he is said to have introduced them to the continent. (He was also the first to artificially fertilize date palms.) 


Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 6, 2023 at 1:00 am

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