By Larry Teren
What if the government decided to make the public vote on which of two beverages – coffee or beer- would be banned from use? Which would you be willing to give up?
You laugh off the notion of a ban on drinking coffee but it actually did happen in Eighteenth Century Germany during the reign of Frederick The Great. Fredrick II (1712-1786) happened to like coffee. He drank it boiled in champagne. He just didn’t like the fact that it was imported from England and other European countries and that it was killing the Prussian foreign trade balance, such as oil used to do here in the late 20th Century.
So Freddie put a ban on the common folk owning coffee makers and grinders. Only the nobility could own coffee houses. The commoners could only purchase ground coffee in 50 pound sacks, quite difficult for them to afford as well as lug around. There were tax collectors who imposed hefty fines and went about their business no different than Eliot Ness and his Untouchables during the Prohibition Era of the Roaring Twenties. Imagine that in the Roaring Twenties party-goers hid beer in their coffee mugs. In 18th Century Rhineland, they were hiding coffee in their beer steins.
The ban was issued in 1777 and went like this:
“It is disgusting to note the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence.
If possible this must be prevented. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer. And so were his officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer; and the king does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be depended upon to endure hardships or to beat his enemies in case of the occurrence of another war.”
If you haven’t figured it out, Freddie boy had a piece of the action on a brewery or two. It’s good to be king, yes?
Eventually the Prussian dictator figured out that decaffeinated coffee was better for his health which made him less jumpy. The coffee edict obviously ran its course after a few years and the commonfolk stopped drinking beer while reading the morning newspaper. Subsequent German leaders stopped worrying about their nation’s trade deficit and learned to live peacefully with their neighboring countries and to stop dictating stupid rules to their populace. Yeah, right- and I have a Starbucks to sell you on the Brooklyn Bridge.
If it ever did come to a real vote, I’d be neutral as I do not drink coffee or beer. Okay, maybe a handful of cups of java during the course of a year but only when I am at a client site and I need to jump start to a new level energy. Those few times the beverage trickles down my throat it is of the decaffeinated variety, naturally. It’s not that I have anything against coffee. In fact, there was a time in my twenties and thirties that I drank it regularly. The decaffeinated kind, naturally.
One time I was sitting in the kitchen with my grandmother and as she was holding a cup of coffee in her hand, she asked if I liked coffee. I told her that I did. She replied, “ah, you don’t know what you are missing.” Like a hearing aid, maybe?
Remember now- don’t drink and drive. Especially driving while holding a cup of hot coffee in your lap. I have it on good word that when you spill it- and you will- all you’ll earn from it is a scalding.