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Coffee, Politics, News, and Fine Foods

Romancing the Bean Series
by Caffeine Cowboy

Tales from the Old County

Coffee Cantata by Johan Sebastian Bach


  “No daughter of mine will drink coffee!” declares Schlendrian. (Stuffy in German)  “­­But father, if I don’t have at least three small cups a day, I’ll soon be as dried-out as an un-basted roast!”

  Cleverly, Schlendrian proposes, “Fine, then make your choice, a husband or coffee!”  His willful daughter seemingly demurs to her fathers restriction but with a stage-whisper tells the audience, “Any man who wishes to win my hand must first promise to supply all of the coffee I want!”

  Amused by the Parisian fad for coffee, Bach asked the famed poet and satirist Picador to write a libretto with coffee as its theme.  The story mirrored the attitude of the German elite toward women and the middle-class. Coffee was too special for the commoner and coffeehouses were no place for a lady!


  Before public music halls existed in Germany, cafés attracted music lovers by sponsoring performances by collegia musica (the association of private musicians).

  From 1720 to1740, Bach performed for the public and experimented with new pieces at Zimmerman’s Kaffeehaus in Leipzig.  The Coffee Cantata was first performed there in 1734.  It was a musical and community success.

The most famous coffee snob:


  
  I studied classical music for over a decade in my youth and still find myself breaking out with an Italian or German aria on occasion, mostly in the shower now a days.  But my all time favorite composer is without a doubt Beethoven! 
  I was especially delighted when I learned of our mutual love, no, obsession with coffee. I am certainly as well grounded in the coffee world as anyone. I earned the aka Caffeine Cowboy. 

  Beethoven considered the making of coffee so personal an undertaking that even though the great man was waited on hand and foot by his devoted manservant Schindler, he wouldn’t trust the preparation of his coffee to anyone. 

  He personally performed the preparation as if it were a sacred ritual.  Many, many times a day, he would count out exactly 50 perfectly roasted coffee beans and then grind and brew one cup at a time.

  He showed no consideration for even his most notable guest. Beethoven ignored everyone during his coffee times.  It was his personal indulgence.  He was known to have used a vacuum pot, which dates the device to pre-1827, the year of the maestro’s death.

  The vacuum pot is now better known by its British brand name, the Cona Pot.  It consists of two glass globes, one above the other, with an alcohol fed wick below as its heat source.  The ground coffee is placed in the upper chamber and a measured amount of water is in the lower globe.  As the water comes to a boil, it surges thru the tubing to the upper chamber.  A vacuum is created when the flame is removed which draws the steeped brew back to the bottom.  It is a clever device, but cleaning it is tedious.

  The most notable scientist, philosophers, musicians, and writers of the German empire consumed copious amounts of coffee. In 1825, the Kranzler Café was founded in Berlin.  It was established by Johann Georg Kranzler, and became a favored gathering place for the intellectuals and the elite.

  For the middle class and lesser citizens, Zeltes (tent type kiosks) were prominent throughout many public places. These businesses provided boiling water and the accessories necessary to prepare coffee.  Most patrons brought their own coffee. Used grounds were often resold to the less fortunate.


Bliemchenkaffe (little flower coffee)

  The Germans became the source for a gentle joke concerning their coffee frugality.  For those who couldn’t afford or access coffee easily, many substitutes, fillers, and clever grinding and brewing methods were devised.

  You never knew what might be coloring and flavoring the hot brew, but they called it coffee and pretended it was!     

  This trend began when the servants of the fortunate saved the used grounds of their masters, but this was just a prelude to hard times when coffee availability became the issue.  Especially during post war times the lack of availability reached every class and drew them to another common bond. 

  The nation of Germany as a whole drinks more coffee per capita than any other and this ranks them as the #1 coffee consumer in the world. In the latest world reports, 94% of the population drinks coffee.  They drink 50% more than the Italian or the French.  Germans will have coffee at any time of the day.   

  There is no coffee time as is common with many other cultures.  Any time is coffee time!  It is always the first thing offered to a guest and must be shared for fear of being rude.  Theirs is an emotional need to have and to provide coffee that surpasses all other nationalities.  To the German, coffee is served very hot to warm the body and the soul. It is the accompaniment to companionship and intellectual stimulation.

  To understand this unmatched devotion, one should know some German coffee history.

  In 1582, a German botanist from Augsburg, Leonhardt Rauwolf, traveled to Arabia and reported his discovery of quischr in his chronicles.  This likely makes Germans the first Europeans to even know of coffee.  It would be several more years before the other Europeans would have evidence of its existence. 

  In 1673, the first known German coffeehouse was opened by Jan Dantz in Breman.  1677 is the year the second known café was opened. This one was in Hanover.  By the early 1700’s there were several cafes in Leipzig.  By now, the exchange of news, politics, and culture was filtered to the entire nation by way of coffee talk.

  The tri-monthly journal Il Caffe was founded in 1764 and was quickly translated and then distributed at coffeehouses throughout Germany.  Societa’de Caffe and dozens of other publications were obtained by way of these cafés. Their themes dealt with the spirit of enlightenment.  Coffee became the common denominator of intellectual exchange for all classes. Because of this developed relationship between coffee and social awareness, the Germans have never separated the two to this day.

  During the 18th century, coffee consumption grew to such importance and volume that the Fredrick II became concerned about the economic impact of coffee in relationship with the other beverage of choice, beer.  The Kaiser saw a national obsession developing, and feared its effect on the local agriculture.    

  Although coffee cannot be grown in Germany and therefore could never challenge the growing of hops and barley, its consumption has amazingly far surpassed that of beer.



When Government steps in:

  In order to gain some control of coffee, and to preserve its availability to the nobles, Fredrick the Great imposed heavy fees by way of import licenses and roasting permits.  These fees could only be issued or even afforded by the privileged aristocracy and clergy. In order to enforce these sanctions, official ‘coffee sniffers’ were employed.  These snoops would roam the streets and countryside in order to catch illegal coffee roasting.

  Besides the illegal roasting, ingenious methods of importing coffee were also documented.  One band of illicit traders apparently smuggled the green coffee beans in coffins that they passed off as containing the bodies of lepers.  Such was the extent of the emotional need for coffee, that women were said to weep in the streets when coffee was transported past them, knowing that none of it would reach their cups.

  Decaffeinated coffee was invented by a German, Lugwig Roselius in 1905.  The Swiss took over the dominance of decalf mostly because the Germans didn’t see the sense of taking anything away from coffee.

  Maybe the other greatest effect on the coffee world also came from a German.  In 1908, Melitta Benz invented the paper coffee filter. To say that this innovation was significant is an understatement.  The Americans use these filters for drip coffee to the virtual exclusion of all other methods.  The Germans and most other coffee purist prefer gold filters, French presses, vacuum pots and espresso machines as well as several other ingenious devises.   

  Paper filters absorb and hold much of the cafeoils that provide body and many of the delicate flavor tones. Like their disdain for decalf, the Germans cannot abide the thought of taking anything away from the bean. They want everything they can get out of every bean.

 

  All of this leads us back to Bliemchenkaffe (little flower coffee).

  It was said that a German will suspend a single coffee bean over a pot of boiling water and steep the shadow it cast.  The coffee is so weak you can see the little flowers painted inside their cups. But at least there is some coffee in the cup!

  Their reputation for drinking weak coffee developed because of two factors; the many periods in their history when coffee was either unavailable or unaffordable, and their emotional and spiritual need to have coffee.

  Since the times of the ancient Turks, no other nationality has shown a higher devotion to coffee accessories.  Nymphenberg and Meissen are just a couple of highly respected companies that have produced fine works of art that serve as coffee service and personal cups.  Many of these have little flowers painted inside!
 Their devotion to personal cups exceeds even the British devotion to tea service. You will often find dozens or even many more designs and styles of coffee cups and mugs in their homes.
  They have engineered more styles of roasters, grinders, and brewing methods than any of their European counterparts. If you have some inherited German coffee cups, the spirits of your ancestors are in your hand.

- J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Collin County in North Texas. Advertise with J.B. by calling 469-334-9962.

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