J.S. Bach’s Comic Opera, “The Coffee Cantata,” Sings the Praises of the Great Stimulating Drink (1735)

From the time that a name­less genius in either Ethiopia or Yemen decid­ed to dry, crush and strain water through a berry known for mak­ing goats ner­vous and jumpy, cof­fee has been loved and wor­shiped like few oth­er bev­er­ages. Ear­ly Arab doc­tors pro­claimed the stuff to be a mir­a­cle drug. Thor­ough­ly caf­feinat­ed thinkers from Voltaire to Jonathan Swift to Jack Ker­ouac debat­ed lit­er­a­ture, phi­los­o­phy and every­thing in between at cof­fee hous­es. Author Hon­oré Balzac even report­ed­ly died because of exces­sive cof­fee drink­ing (it was either that or the syphilis.)

Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach (1685–1750) was also appar­ent­ly a cof­fee enthu­si­ast. So much so that he wrote a com­po­si­tion about the bev­er­age. Although known most­ly for his litur­gi­cal music, his Cof­fee Can­ta­ta (AKA Schweigt stille, plaud­ert nicht, BWV 211) is a rare exam­ple of a sec­u­lar work by the com­pos­er. The short com­ic opera was writ­ten (cir­ca 1735) for a musi­cal ensem­ble called The Col­legium Musicum based in a sto­ried Zimmerman’s cof­fee house in Leipzig, Ger­many. The whole can­ta­ta seems very much to have been writ­ten with the local audi­ence in mind.

Cof­fee Can­ta­ta is about a young viva­cious woman named Aria who loves cof­fee. Her killjoy father is, of course, dead set against his daugh­ter hav­ing any kind of caf­feinat­ed fun. So he tries to ban her from the drink. Aria bit­ter­ly com­plains:

Father sir, but do not be so harsh!
If I could­n’t, three times a day,
be allowed to drink my lit­tle cup of cof­fee,
in my anguish I will turn into
a shriv­eled-up roast goat.

Ah! How sweet cof­fee tastes,
more deli­cious than a thou­sand kiss­es,
milder than mus­ca­tel wine.
Cof­fee, I have to have cof­fee,
and, if some­one wants to pam­per me,
ah, then bring me cof­fee as a gift!

The copy­writ­ers at Star­bucks mar­ket­ing depart­ment couldn’t have writ­ten it any bet­ter. Even­tu­al­ly, daugh­ter and father rec­on­cile when he agrees to have a guar­an­teed three cups of cof­fee a day writ­ten into her mar­riage con­tract. You can watch it in its entire­ty below, or get a quick taste above. The lyrics in Ger­man and Eng­lish can be read here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”: London’s First Cafe Cre­ates Ad for Cof­fee in the 1650s

The His­to­ry of Cof­fee and How It Trans­formed Our World

How Cli­mate Change Is Threat­en­ing Your Dai­ly Cup of Cof­fee

A Short, Ani­mat­ed Look at What’s Inside Your Aver­age Cup of Cof­fee

Black Cof­fee: Doc­u­men­tary Cov­ers the His­to­ry, Pol­i­tics & Eco­nom­ics of the “Most Wide­ly Tak­en Legal Drug”

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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Comments (5)
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  • vinz says:

    Actu­al­ly, the linked video is NOT the “whole thing”. The full can­ta­ta is made of 10 num­bers, while the video shows only the final trio.You can lis­ten to it all here:


  • Elisabeth Coleman says:

    The daugh­ter in the can­ta­ta is named Lieschen, not Aria.

  • Rebecca says:

    Refer­ring to the piece as an “opera” is not com­plete­ly accurate–a can­ta­ta is its own genre. This was not per­formed at a the­ater with scenery and cos­tumes, and was in fact one exam­ple of what Christoph Wolff calls “moral” can­tatas. It has recita­tives, arias, and duets, but it would not like­ly have been seen as an “opera” in the 1730s. And yes, “aria” is the des­ig­na­tion of the style of some of the num­bers con­tained with­in the cantata–not the pro­tag­o­nist.

  • Jack Blair says:

    Sec­u­lar works by Bach weren’t exact­ly “rare.” By my count, near­ly 25% of his can­tatas were sec­u­lar in pur­pose.

  • h says:

    Won’t refer this as an edu­ca­tion­al resource to any­one due to mis­takes. If i did­n’t know any­thing about music, i might have made a fool of myself and used this infor­ma­tion. As i’m not an author­i­ty on oth­er forms of art, this is a use­less plat­form for me, as i won’t know which infor­ma­tion to trust or not.

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