The Coffee Revolt of 1674: When Women Campaigned to Prohibit “That Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor Called COFFEE”

We denizens of the craft-roast­ing, wi-fi-con­nect­ed 21st cen­tu­ry know well how to drink volu­mi­nous quan­ti­ties of cof­fee and argue our opin­ions. In 17th-cen­tu­ry Lon­don, how­ev­er, such pur­suits could look shock­ing and dan­ger­ous, espe­cial­ly since they hap­pened in cof­fee hous­es, the new urban spaces where, accord­ing to Res Obscu­ra’s Ben­jamin Breen, you could “bet on bear fights, warm your legs by the fire, wit­ness pub­lic dis­sec­tions (human and ani­mal), solic­it pros­ti­tutes (male and female), buy and sell stocks, pur­chase tulips or porno­graph­ic pam­phlets, observe the activ­i­ties of spies, dis­si­dents, mer­chants, and swindlers, and then read your mail, deliv­ered direct­ly to your table.”

The patrons, while engag­ing in all that, par­took of “a new drug from the Mus­lim world—black, odif­er­ous, fright­en­ing, bewitch­ing — called ‘cof­fee.’ ” Quick­ly find­ing itself sub­ject to a great deal of sci­en­tif­ic research and every­day argu­ment as to its mer­its and demer­its, the drink set off the satir­i­cal “Cof­fee Revolt of 1674,” which began that year with a pam­phlet called “The Wom­ens Peti­tion Against Cof­fee,” pur­port­ing to offer “The Hum­ble Peti­tions and Address of Sev­er­al Thou­sands of Bux­ome Good-Women, Lan­guish­ing in Extrem­i­ty of Want.”

It seems that Eng­land, once “a Par­adise for Women” thanks to “the brisk Activ­i­ty of our men, who in for­mer Ages were just­ly esteemed the Ablest Per­form­ers in Chris­ten­dome,” had, for the non-cof­fee-drink­ing sex, become a deeply unsat­is­fy­ing place:

The dull Lub­bers want a Spur now, rather than a Bri­dle: being so far from dow­ing any works of Super­erre­ga­tion that we find them not capa­ble of per­form­ing those Devoirs which their Duty, and our Expec­ta­tions Exact. The Occa­sion of which Insuf­fer­able Dis­as­ter, after a furi­ous Enquiry, and Dis­cus­sion of the Point by the Learned of the Fac­ul­ty, we can Attribute to noth­ing more than the Exces­sive use of that New­fan­gled, Abom­inable, Hea­then­ish Liquor called COFFEE, which Rif­fling Nature of her Choic­est Trea­sures, and Dry­ing up the Rad­i­cal Mois­ture, has so Eunucht our Hus­bands, and Crip­ple our more kind Gal­lants, that they are become as Impo­tent as Age, and as unfruit­ful as those Desarts whence that unhap­py Berry is said to be brought.

Cof­fee, so insist the Bux­ome Good-Women, ren­ders the men of Eng­land “as Lean as Famine, as Rivvel’d as Envy, or an old mea­ger Hagg over-rid­den by an Incubus. They come from it with noth­ing moist but their snot­ty Noses, noth­ing stiffe but their Joints, nor stand­ing but their Ears.” These charges drew a response in the form of the “Mens Answer to the Wom­ens Peti­tion Against Cof­fee, Vin­di­cat­ing Their own Per­for­mances, and the Vertues of that Liquor, from the Unde­served Asper­sions late­ly cast upon them by their SCANDALOUS PAMPHLET.” In it, the “men” ask the “women,” among oth­er ques­tions,

Why must inno­cent COFFEE be the object of your Spleen? That harm­less and heal­ing Liquor, which Indul­gent Prov­i­dence first sent amongst us, at a time when Brim­mers of Rebel­lion, and Fanat­ick Zeal had intox­i­cat­ed the Nation, and we want­ed a Drink at once to make us Sober and Mer­ry: ‘Tis not this incom­pa­ra­ble set­tle Brain that short­ens Natures Stan­dard, or makes us less Active in the Sports of Venus, and we won­der you should take these Excep­tions, since so many of the lit­tle Hous­es, with the Turk­ish Woman stradling on their Signs, are but Emblems of what is to be done with­in for your Con­ve­nien­cies, meer Nurs­eries to pro­mote the petu­lant Trade, and breed up a stock of hope­ful Plants for the future ser­vice of the Republique, in the most thriv­ing Mys­ter­ies of Debauch­ery; There being scarce a Cof­fee-Hut but affords a Tawdry Woman, a won­ton Daugh­ter, or a Bux­ome Maide, to accom­mo­date Cus­tomers; and can you think that any which fre­quent such Dis­ci­pline, can be want­i­ng in their Pas­tures, or defec­tive in their Arms?

“The extrav­a­gant claims for cof­fee made by men’s-health hand­bills exposed the com­mod­i­ty to satire,” writes Mark­man Ellis, author of The Cof­fee-House: A Cul­tur­al His­to­ry, but “that cof­fee might have a dele­te­ri­ous effect on male viril­i­ty was a the­o­ry accord­ed con­sid­er­able sci­en­tif­ic respect.” Still, pam­phlets like the “Wom­ens Peti­tion” took as their tar­get less the bio­log­i­cal effects of cof­fee than “the new urban man­ners of mas­cu­line socia­bil­i­ty that cof­fee rep­re­sents. The satirist accus­es cof­fee-house habitués of being ‘effem­i­nate’ because they spend their time talk­ing, read­ing, and pur­su­ing their busi­ness rather than carous­ing, drink­ing, and whor­ing.” If any women of the 21st cen­tu­ry would real­ly pre­fer that men go back to those old ways — well, it would at least make for an inter­est­ing argu­ment.

You can read online “The Wom­ens Peti­tion Against Cof­fee,” and “Mens Answer to the Wom­ens Peti­tion Against Cof­fee.”

For more back­ground on the ear­ly days of cof­fee, see The Pub­lic Domain Review’s arti­cle, “The Lost World of the Lon­don Cof­fee House.”

via Res Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Virtues of Cof­fee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethar­gy, Scurvy, Drop­sy, Gout & More

If Cof­fee Com­mer­cials Told the Unvar­nished Truth

How Cof­fee Affects Your Brain: A Very Quick Primer

A Rol­lick­ing French Ani­ma­tion on the Per­ils of Drink­ing a Lit­tle Too Much Cof­fee

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.