5 Historical Attempts to Ban Coffee

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Coffee may seem harmless, but its historical rap sheet is a mile long.

1. Mecca

Coffee was banned in Mecca in 1511, as it was believed to stimulate radical thinking and hanging out—the governor thought it might unite his opposition. Java also got a bad rap for its use as a stimulant—some Sufi sects would pass around a bowl of coffee at funerals to stay awake during prayers. (Note to Starbucks: Time for a new size, the Funeral Bowl.)

2. Italy

When coffee arrived in Europe in the 16th century, clergymen pressed for it to be banned and labeled Satanic. But Pope Clement VIII took a taste, declared it delicious, and even quipped that it should be baptized. On the strength of this papal blessing, coffeehouses rapidly sprang up throughout Europe.

3. Constantinople

After Murad IV claimed the Ottoman throne in 1623, he quickly forbade coffee and set up a system of reasonable penalties. The punishment for a first offense was a beating. Anyone caught with coffee a second time was sewn into a leather bag and thrown into the waters of the Bosporus.

4. Sweden

Sweden gave coffee the ax in 1746. The government also banned “coffee paraphernalia”—with cops confiscating cups and dishes. King Gustav III even ordered convicted murderers to drink coffee while doctors monitored how long the cups of joe took to kill them, which was great for convicts and boring for the doctors.

5. Prussia

In 1777, Frederick the Great of Prussia issued a manifesto claiming beer’s superiority over coffee. He argued that coffee interfered with the country’s beer consumption, apparently hoping a royal statement would make Prussians eager for an eye-opening brew each morning. Frederick’s statement proclaimed, “His Majesty was brought up on beer,” explaining why he thought breakfast drinking was a good idea.

Emmy Blotnick is a writer and comedian in New York. She's a blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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December 14, 2013 - 8:12am
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