J.S. Bach’s 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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Cof­fee Pot That Fueled Hon­oré de Balzac’s Cof­fee Addic­tion

The Birth of Espres­so: The Sto­ry Behind the Cof­fee Shots That Fuel Mod­ern Life

The Hertel­la Cof­fee Machine Mount­ed on a Volk­swa­gen Dash­board (1959): The Most Euro­pean Car Acces­so­ry Ever Made

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 (6)
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  • Jan Wolitzky says:

    And now, tomor­row you should fea­ture P.D.Q. Bach’s San­ka Can­ta­ta, in mem­o­ry of the late Peter Schick­ele.

  • Peter Crosby says:

    Nice to see some­one loves the Kaf­fee Can­ta­ta.

    Great atri­cle.

    Peter Cros­by.

  • Paul Gottlieb says:

    You might con­sid­er doing a bit more reseach about Bach’s music before writ­ing more. There is a ton of sec­u­lar music in his port­fo­lio (e.g., his work for cel­lo!).

  • Paul Gottlieb says:

    You might con­sid­er doing a bit more research about Bach’s music before writ­ing more. There is a ton of sec­u­lar music in his port­fo­lio (e.g., his work for cel­lo!).

  • Eric Koenig says:

    It may tell a sto­ry, but Bach’s Cof­fee Can­ta­ta is by no means an “opera.” Operas are writ­ten for the stage where­as can­tatas are works per­formed in the con­cert hall. Bach wrote at least one type of com­po­si­tion in every form known in his day, with one excep­tion: opera.

  • Jose Gaskill says:


    Enjoy it with a cup of cof­fee!

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