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How History’s Attempts to Ban Coffee Have Always Gone Cold

Apr 18, 2023 | Coffee, Coffee & Tea 101

Coffee? An outlaw?

It’s hard to imagine in a world with a Starbucks on every corner that there was ever a time when coffee was viewed in the same light as say, alcohol during the days of prohibition. But history is a fascinating thing, and since coffee’s inception as a beverage, there have been parties throughout the eons that have found fault with the brew and subsequently declared it untouchable.

From religious 16th-century zealots to beer-swilling bureaucrats, here are just a few instances:

  • When Mecca Got Mad About Coffee: The world’s first coffee ban happened way back in 1511 when the governor of Mecca, Khair Bey, declared that its consumption flew in the face of Sharia law and led to radical thought. Fearing it might unite his opposition, he ordered coffee to be confiscated and burned in the streets. But the public was passionate about this intoxicating brew, and outcry soon convinced the Sultan of Egypt to overrule the ban.
  • A Pope’s Percolating Passions: In 16th-century Europe, religious leaders began to view coffee as a potential threat to their power and influence. Movements to ban coffee were launched throughout Italy, France, and Germany, but the most lasting (and perhaps legendary), was when the advisers of Pope Clement VIII threatened to excommunicate anyone who partook of “Satan’s drink.” Fortunately, his holiness took a few sips, changed his tune, and even suggested coffee not be banned, but baptized instead. Thanks to the Papal greenlight, coffee’s popularity quickly spread throughout Italy, and Europe at large.
  • An Angry Sultan Sinks Sips: Viewed as a mood-altering drug, coffee was banned multiple times by the Ottoman Empire. But coffee houses originated there, providing an alternative to liquor and bars – and its affordability and convenience quickly spread. Still, in 1633, Sultan Murad IV – whose brother had been killed by alleged coffee-drinking rabble-rousers – sent out orders from Constantinople: anyone found buying or selling coffee would be beaten on a first offense. On the second? They would be bound in a leather bag and tossed into the sea.
  • The Prussian King Preferred a Different Brew: Known to be an early drinker and believing coffee’s rise in popularity to be detrimental to his favorite beverage = beer – Frederick the Great dispatched a manifesto that touted beer’s superiority to coffee, then established a monopoly over imports. He’d ultimately raise taxes on the product, hoping to deny the commoners their fix and declare his brew of choice the winner. Clearly, it didn’t take.

Did you notice the common theme running through each of history’s haphazard swings to ban coffee? Throughout the centuries, despite the obstacles at hand, people loved what they loved. Coffee just couldn’t be kept down.

It’s hard to believe, as we sit sipping a latte in a cup the size of a small barrel, that our enjoyment of our favorite brew was not once, but multiple times, in danger of being snuffed out. It’s equally liberating to know that today, we can have our coffee any way we like – without needing to worry about being sewn up in a burlap sack and tossed into the nearest body of water.

Orinoco Coffee & Tea custom roasts daily to deliver the best that coffee has to offer to our customers. And lucky us, they are every bit as passionate about their drink of choice as we are when making it. No coffee bans here! Just coffee beans. You deserve to have your cup of coffee your way. And you can start right here!