The Role of Coffee in the Major Religions

Coffee is perhaps the most influential drink today (at least in the western world) and, along with tea, one of the two most important in human history.

The relationship between coffee and religion

If we want to understand how coffee and religion are related, we must first analyze how the major religions perceive coffee.

For this reason, let us now take a look at the role coffee has played in the lives of those who profess these teachings.

Coffee and Christianity

Coffee is often a staple in Christian communities, and in many places, it is customary to drink coffee after the Eucharist. In fact, coffee has been an accepted beverage for those professing the Christian religion for several centuries.

Thus, in the 17th century, Pope Clement VIII proclaimed that “although coffee seems to be a drink of Satan, it would be a pity to leave it exclusively to infidels “, i.e. Muslims.

It was the Muslims who controlled the monopoly of this product. It is also said that the same pontiff blessed the coffee beans to make Christians choose coffee over alcohol.

Even today, the drink is a staple of the gatherings of most denominations and branches of Christianity. The only exception is The Church of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

This is because caffeinated drinks are banned in this community because of their stimulating effects on the brain.

Historical facts about coffee and Christianity

The origin of the cappuccino

The story goes that Brother Marco D’Aviano helped prevent an Ottoman invasion of Austria in 1683 and that the Franciscan invented the “cappuccino” to commemorate this Catholic victory over Islam.

According to various historians, after the battle many of the Ottoman raiders left behind sacks of coffee beans so bitter that the Viennese added sugar and milk to make a sweet, frothy drink.

Legend has it that the “cappuccino” got its name from the group of Capuchin priests led by D’Aviano, as their robes were the same color as the new coffee drink.

Was there coffee in Jesus’ sermons?

Biblical scholars know that it is highly unlikely that Jesus ever drank a cup of coffee in his life. However, it is speculated that he (Jesus) may have predicted the stimulating effects of coffee.

Because Jesus is said to have said in one of his sermons: “Blessed are the sleepless, for they drank from Joseph’s cup”.

This statement has led some to claim that Jesus already knew about the effects of coffee (if that’s what was in Joseph’s cup anyway).

Could this be true? At least nobody knows that until now.

Coffee in Modern Christianity

In countries with a Christian majority, it is common for believers to meet in church cellars to drink coffee together. In fact, coffee is so ingrained in church culture that at least in the orthodox Christian tradition there is a “coffee hour”.

And coffee time is a special time when that hot drink is served, when church leaders make plans and reflect on past or upcoming events affecting their congregations.

In addition, the coffee hour is a place of exchange in the community, where neither political issues nor things that could cause controversy are discussed.

In this way, the coffee serves as a means for people to come together, connect and share stories.

Coffee and Islam

Coffee was officially discovered in Ethiopia in East Africa almost 1000 years ago (although it was probably known thousands of years ago).

It is said that a young shepherd boy noticed the stimulating properties of the coffee beans when he saw his goats get restless (almost dancing) after eating the fruit of the coffee tree.

Soon after, the Ethiopians had already developed a culture of drinking coffee, which was discovered by several Yemen Arab merchants who introduced the crop to Asia.

This is how coffee became a popular product in the Arab world, mainly because it kept people “awake” during evening prayers.

Coffee or “Gahwa” then spread rapidly throughout the Islamic world, so that the drink was consumed everywhere, even in the holiest mosques in Mecca.

Muslims even refer to coffee as “Islamic wine”.

The climate on the Arabian Peninsula was ideal for growing coffee

The climate typical of southern Arabia and Yemen was ideal for growing coffee, which is why the most popular type of coffee is also called “Arabica”. Thus, for centuries, the Yemeni ports became the center of coffee exports and the coffee traders became very wealthy.

In addition, many traders, pilgrims and students traveled throughout Asia, Africa and Europe, praising the properties of coffee. For this reason, the first specialized coffee shops appeared in big cities like Cairo in Egypt.

But not all Muslims shared a love of coffee

In the centuries that followed the coffee boom in the Muslim world, there were several attempts to ban the drink, mostly by fanatical and radical Islamists.

However, these attempts to sabotage coffee were mostly unsuccessful as religious leaders generally loved coffee and would not stop drinking it.

Coffee as a means of connecting with God

Some of the earliest documented coffee drinkers were Sufi mystics in Yemen. These Muslim clergymen drank coffee to stay awake during their ceremonies and to strengthen their spiritual connection to God while reciting sacred chants.

Thus, the Muslim mystics loved coffee because it helped them stay awake during their nightly ritual chants, which lasted for hours. This is how the Sufi mystics are said to have brewed coffee and kept it in clay pots.

So, the priests drank coffee during the day and didn’t get tired because they served each other so that no one fell asleep. For many Muslims, coffee was therefore much more than just a drink to keep them awake.

They also believed that by consuming coffee in a certain way, it was possible to contemplate the hidden mysteries and attain the great revelations of Islam.

According to historian Stephen Topik, during the rituals, men and women shared a common cup, which they handed to each other. The goal was to transcend the material world and find peace.

Coffee and revolution?

While coffee’s popularity grew exponentially throughout the Muslim world, the drink also served to reinforce people’s beliefs.

That is, people began to question many of the rules and laws of the time, which did not please the religious and political elites at all.

For this reason, the effects of coffee have been compared to alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam. This made the procurement of coffee more difficult and the coffee trade went underground.

Coffee and Judaism

The relationship between coffee and the Jewish faith developed in parallel with events in the Islamic world. Thus, religious devotion was the main reason behind coffee’s popularity, as the drink helped Jewish believers stay up later and pray to God.

In addition, coffee was considered kosher from the very beginning, i.e. suitable for consumption by believers in the Jewish faith. The Jews then began spreading the drink to several major cities such as Damascus, Cairo, and Constantinople.

In fact, the first coffee house was opened in Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey).

The arrival of coffee in Europe

On the other hand, the first coffee house was founded in Italy in 1632, and its founder was a Jewish coffee merchant. A few decades later, another Jewish merchant founded the first coffee house in England, and the same happened in countries like France and the Netherlands.

Thus, Jews were responsible for introducing coffee to Europe, and many of these merchants made great fortunes. In Germany, however, the coffee wasn’t as welcome, mostly because the breweries didn’t like the competition from the coffee.

Therefore, there were several attempts to shut down the Jewish coffee trade. Nevertheless, the coffee trade was able to assert itself.

Coffee and the rise of thought

In the 19th century, coffee houses in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague were at the forefront of social change.

Viennese coffeehouse culture flourished as Jewish scholars, writers, and artists ordered their coffee, sat down, and talked for hours about politics, literature, and other subjects.

In this way, coffee houses became places of philosophizing and thus symbols of thought and intellect. In the United States, the first coffee shops were Jewish-owned and set up in several major port cities such as San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York.

Today Howard Schultz, an American businessman and politician of Jewish descent, is CEO of the multinational Starbucks until 2017, confirming the great Jewish tradition of the coffee industry.

Coffee and the Hindu religion (Hinduism)

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world and is estimated to be over 5,000 years old. Therefore, this religion, whose roots are mainly in India, has a large number of believers.

However, there is no mention of coffee or tea in the rituals of the Hindu tradition, despite the fact that coffee is almost as popular as tea in the vast South Asian country.

Coffee and Buddhism

According to Buddhist teachings, moderate coffee consumption is considered positive. That’s because coffee consumption does not violate the fifth commandment, which is a moral guideline for practicing Buddhists.

This commandment warns that intoxication with drugs, alcohol and other mind-altering elixirs can interfere with the attainment of nirvana, the highest state of equilibrium of the mind.

Today, however, most Buddhists are less strict about what they consider to be intoxicating substances. Although coffee has a mild effect on the brain, social and daily consumption of coffee is not believed to have any negative effects on belief.

As you can see, what unites people of different religions, despite their differences, is the love of a hot cup of coffee, almost a thousand years old.