Coffee: Black as Hell, Strong as Death, Sweet as Love

It’s Monday morning and as I head to my grey cubicle in a building that houses several hundred state government employees, I am aware that I need the drink that tops all others, coffee.

Waiting in line at a coffee shop, my vacation from last week feels like it was months ago, the sun and sand of a beautiful beach merely an image on my camera and my memory. As I wait, my mind drifts off to the Turkish Proverb painted across the top of a wall at a coffee shop in Rockport, Massachusetts. The proverb reads:

“Coffee should be Black as Hell; Strong as Death; and Sweet as Love.”

It was written in artistic script at the Bean and Leaf Cafe at Bearskin neck and I immediately knew I would love this café, complete with ocean views from every angle in the small seating area at the back of the shop.

Just as Americans sometimes think they are the inventors of Christianity, they also sometimes err in believing that they were the inventors of coffee and the great idea of the coffee shop. While the likes of Starbucks and Seattle Coffee did have a great deal to do with today’s obsession with the drink, it may interest readers to know that coffee was alive and well in the Middle East as far back as the sixteenth century.

Chapter 9 of A New Introduction to Islam  takes us back to that century where coffee and coffee shops were newly introduced from Yemen and coffee was “all the rage*”. The author, Dr. Daniel Brown states

“Coffee houses punctuated the urban landscape of Middle Eastern cities like oases, as they still do”

In a section called “The Coffee Debate”  he goes on to say “Arabic accounts of the earliest uses of coffee agree that the first to drink the brew were late fifteenth-century Yemeni Sufis, Muslim mystics, who found the effects of caffeine enlivening to their late night devotional exercises“.  The author cleverly lures the non-scholar into the chapter via coffee and moves on to discuss Islamic Law. Evidently the widespread use and popularity of the drink were enough to cause alarm and debate among scholars on whether it was permissible and prudent to indulge in coffee, but that is a post that I do not have the knowledge or authority to write! My interest on this Monday morning is in the fact that centuries later in the year 2011 Americans subject themselves daily to long lines, desperate for that early morning ritual to enliven their senses and shoot some badly needed motivation, disguised as a caffeine drink, into their bodies and minds.

So as I move through the line and get my drink of choice, I join millions who have gone before and will probably come after me in getting the drink that has inspired scholars to debate, mystics to meditate, and government employees to survive budget cuts and bureaucracy – the drink that is known in the Turkish Proverb as Black as Hell, Strong as Death, and Sweet as Love.

A happy Monday and if you are a coffee drinker, enjoy, knowing that you will never be alone in your need for this centuries old drink.

*Bloggers Note: All excerpts come from Chapter 9, Islamic Law, in A New Introduction to Islam. The author also cites “Coffee and Coffee Houses” by Ralph Hattox.

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