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And Pope Clement VIII saw that coffee was good

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© Happy Stock Photo - Shutterstock

Aliénor Goudet - published on 07/14/21

Coffee was the forbidden "devil's drink," until a 16th-century pope gave it a try -- and loved it.

It was the end of the 16th century, and disturbing rumors were spreading in Rome. It was whispered here and there that Pope Clement VIII was about to do the unthinkable: The holy pontiff, representative of Christ on earth, guide and pillar of Catholicism, was about to drink coffee? Nonsense!  

It was Muslims and heretics who consumed this drink from Yemen. It was said that Satan himself had offered them this beverage, darker than a moonless night and bitter. He did this, purportedly, to console them for not being able to drink wine, the drink emblematic of the blood of Christ. 

Coffee in the Muslim world

However, a few years earlier, coffee was a cause of persecution even among Muslims. As it’s not mentioned in the Koran, it was considered a forbidden food. This was an astonishing concordance between the followers of Islam and Christianity. Nonetheless, this official demonization did not prevent the spread of the “devil’s drink.”

It was at this time that the kahvehane, the first coffee shops, opened. Forbidden or not, they became places of intellectual sharing in the East. People discussed literature, listened to poets and played board games.

Coffee shop lovers were often cultured and lovers of the arts. However, they were frowned upon by the religious authorities, and sometimes were even persecuted. It was not until the reign of Sultan Mehmed IV (1642-1693) that the kahvehane were officially legalized, in 1656. It was his ambassadors who introduced coffee to the European nobility.

And Clement VIII saw that coffee was good

Surprisingly, the un-demonization of coffee took place more than 50 years earlier in the West. At the very end of the 16th century, Pope Clement VIII decided to pass judgment on the “devil’s drink” himself. From the Christian point of view, coffee was a drink exclusively consumed by Muslims.

Despite its stigmatization and its allegedly diabolical origin, the pontiff decided to taste it anyway. To everyone’s surprise, the pope laughed after the experience before declaring: 

The aroma of coffee is far too pleasant a thing to be the work of the Evil One. It would be a pity if the Muslims had exclusive rights to it.

From that day on, Christians were allowed to enjoy the famous “devil’s drink.” It spread rapidly in Europe in the following centuries and became popular in all circles. Students and all those who pull all-nighters are undoubtedly grateful.

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