The Devil’s Cup

The Devil’s Cup by Steward Lee Allen

I love books focused on a single food item. After Milk, of course I had to do coffee. Maybe sugar next?

1) Harrar, Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee.

It’s hard to verify these claims. Allegedly, the Oromos from Kefa liked to eat coffee balls before battle. When they lost, they were sent as slaves to Harrar.

2) The first cup of coffee was likely kati, brewed from coffee leaves.

A related plant is qat, an addictive chew.

3) Coffee arrived in Yemen from Ethiopia at the port of al-Makkha, or Mocha.

Al-Shadhili of Mocha, a Sufi mystic, is considered the first to make coffee from beans.

4) Baba Budan brought coffee from Yemen to India.

Indian coffee is milk-based, but the author later said that Hindus believed adding milk to coffee caused leprosy?

5) Sema ceremonies feature dervishes spin dancing in white skirts.

I was confused so I googled it, and wow it is exactly what the book describes.

6) Ambergris is secreted by sperm whales and is valued for its lasting fragrance.

The Chinese translation is 龍涎香. Never heard of it.

7) Murad, a sultan in the 17th-century Ottoman Empire, banned coffee because coffee drinkers were sober and could plot against the rulers.

Murad would disguise himself, visit coffeehouses, and execute people.

8) Coffee was brought to Vienna when the Turks tried to invade Vienna but were defeated by the Poles.

The Viennese found coffee beans in bags left behind with thousands of Ottoman camels. Kolschitzky, a spy crucial to the victory, took some beans and opened the first cafe in Vienna: Blue Bottle.

9) The Viennese cappuccino (kapuziner) used milk to match the color of the brown robe of Capuchin monks.

The order was founded by Matteo da Bascio, who had started wearing a pointed cap.

10) The croissant also had an origin story stemming from the Ottoman invasion of Vienna. A baker created moon-shaped pastries after hearing sounds of the Turks digging underground tunnels.

When Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI, she brought this pastry with her to France. Thus, a Continental breakfast of coffee and croissant is an ironic Turkish import.

The history of coffee is fraught with apocryphal stories, but if the legends are entertaining, what’s the harm? Without these stories, this book would have been a huge dud. If anything, the travelogue was even less believable than the coffee legends.

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