In Praise of Coffee

Anwar AlKandari
6 min readJun 1, 2022

“Coffee should not be drunk in a hurry. It is the sister of time, and should be sipped slowly, slowly. Coffee is the sound of taste, a sound for the aroma. It is a meditation and a plunge into memories and the soul.”

— Mahmoud Darwish

17th century coffeehouse

It’s not only about the coffee itself — it’s about the secular spaces we’ve built with this drink, the conversations we’ve had around it, the excuses invented to meet loved ones, the aroma that wakes our sense of smell up in the mornings, or the futures that it predicted to some believers. It can open us up to have bigger conversations with more enthusiasm and daydream with more courage.

A new buzz in town

Back in history, people in Europe mainly consumed two drinks: water and alcohol. And because water was contaminated, alcohol was safer to drink. It was served with breakfasts and farmers took beer breaks frequently, and most of the time those people won’t end up thinking rationally or linearly when they’re tipsy all day. Until coffee became widespread — giving people a new buzz and exciting the nervous system in a different way.

However, as exciting as it can be to drink this amazing stimulant, some religions banned this drink and considered it to be sinful. In Islam, one of the many political leaders who banned this drink was Murad IV. He deemed that drinking coffee is an immoral activity and coffee drinkers are punished by death if witnessed. In Christianity, coffee was called “The Devil’s drink” until Pope Clement VIII tried it and changed the history with saying: “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it!”

Gatherings, conversations, and intellectuality

Human beings seemed to love to mingle around a drink, whether it was alcohol or coffee — each one impacting conversations, work flow, and our brains differently.

Back in the 17th century, coffeeshops in London were called “Penny Universities” since it allowed people who only had a few pennies to enter this space and have access to: newspapers, conversations, company of others, and gossip (women were unfortunately banned from entering).

There were coffeehouses dedicated to literature, science, political discussions, stock exchange — all of these were seeds to great revolutions and later institutions in the future.

The Greats and Coffee

J. S. Bach

It is said that Bach used to consume 30 cups of coffee a day. He wrote a caffeinated cantata called “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211” (Keep quiet, don’t chatter, BWV 211).

Liesgen, the daughter, is scolded and threatened by her father Schlendrian because of her coffee addiction. He threatens her not to wed her to a man, not to go out walking, not to even stand by the window, and no silver or golden ribbon to put on her bonnet if she doesn’t stop her coffee addiction. With all that, she sweetly replies: “That’s fine! Just leave me my pleasure!”.

“If three times a day I can’t
drink my little cup of coffee,
then I would become so upset
that I would be like dried up piece of roast goat.”

“Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
smoother than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I must have coffee,
and if anyone wants to give me a treat,
ah!, just give me some coffee!” ¹

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[1]: You’ll surely miss out if you don’t take a minute to read the full text of Bach’s beautiful cantata. You can read it here while listening to the music.

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Beethoven

It was said that Beethoven drank coffee religiously. He had his 60 beans recipe which he used counted out by hand 60 coffee beans (with a double-check), for each cup, to make his coffee every time.

Voltaire

“I believe it. I’ve been drinking it for 65 years and I’m not dead yet.” Voltaire once said in an unfazed manner when his doctor warned him that coffee is a slowly working poison as Voltaire used to drink 40–50 small cups of chocolate and coffee mixture. He successfully lived into his eighties (taking a very biased, non-reliable measurement tool)!

What has been said about Voltaire and his coffee addiction:

“Voltaire is never in better humour than when he has taken his coffee.” ²

“Nothing exhilarated his spirits so much as the smell of it; for which reason he had what he was about to use in the day roasted in his chamber every morning.” ³

“The philosopher took as high as fifty cups on some days. This would perhaps explain the nobility of Voltaire’s mind and its sudden bursts of enthusiasm, for, according to Condorcet (Vie de Voltaire) he passed in an instant from wrath to tenderness, from violent indignation to sunny pleasantness.” ⁴

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[2]: The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 25; Volume 179, 1846, p. 565.

[3]: The Naturalist, Volume 1, 1831, p. 373.

[4]: Cincinnati Lancet and Clinic, p. 15.

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Parfit

As Parfit wanted to spend as little time as possible away from his work, he couldn’t ignore his intellectual stimulant. He would fuel himself with instant coffee with hot tap water so that he doesn’t waste time on waiting for the kettle to heat the water — his concentration power was prodigious.

Søren Kierkegaard

According to the biographer Joakim Garff, Kierkegaard had a peculiar way of preparing his coffee: he fills the cup with a white pyramid of sugar until it reaches above the rim, and then he dissolves it with his strong black coffee. He guples it entirely down in one go, and stays up all night writing.

Elif Shafak

To Shafak, her coffee cups symbolise two main things: her invovlement in politics and her love for rituals. People in Turkey gather in coffee houses which she describes as hotbeds of political conversations, and these places are male-dominated. She says that when she was a student in Istanbul, it was important for her take part in those political discussions happening in the coffee houses there. As for her love for rituals, she loves to have caffeine as her company while writing in her dark blue ornamented cup.

Honore de Balzac

“As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.”, said Balzac. Most of what he did throughout his day was drinking coffee, around 50 cups a day, and writing.

Alfred Renyi

Renyi the Hungarian mathematician once said “a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems”. When working with numbers, he kept himself fortified with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso and caffeine tablets. No warnings ever stopped him from this heavy caffeine consumption — he replied to his friends’ warnings: “There’ll be plenty of time to rest in the grave”.

In the end…

Illustrated by Giselle Dekel

I believe that most of great ideas in history came from walking and coffee drinking. Now that we’ve seen correlations of the greats and the habit of coffee drinking, we can shoot this question: Would great ideas still have come into this world if there were no coffee or coffeehouses?

I’ll end this with Theodore Roosevelt’s, who drank a gallon of coffee everyday, quote: “Good to the last drop”. May you enjoy your good cup of coffee to the last drop!

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Anwar AlKandari

Industrial engineer and a pianist continuously falling into rabbit holes.