The Hilarious Crusade Against Coffee
Coffee consumption is no stranger to controversy. In fact, it was once so controversial that the women of London attempted to ban it outright for interfering with their sex lives.
It all goes back to 1600s England and a time when coffee was seen as a novel and exotic drink. Brought to the British Isles by Turks, it was largely consumed by men in one of the popular coffeehouses that had sprung up all over London. These were places where men could gather to discuss the news, the politics and business of the day, and sometimes stay late into the night.
Women of good standing were discouraged from entering these parlors, or else their reputations would suffer.
Not surprisingly, the wives of London who were left out and wanting were miffed. They protested by circulating “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee.” And they didn’t hold back.
Coffee was described as a “Drying, Enfeebling Liquor.” The men who enjoyed too much of this “Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor” could expect to become delinquent in domestic duties and as prone to gossip as women.
"...that Men by frequenting these Stygian Tap-houses will usurp on our Prerogative of tattling, and soon learn to exceed us in Talkativeness: a Quality wherein our Sex has ever Claimed preheminence: For here like so many Frogs in a puddle, they sup muddy water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at a Gossipping, talking all at once in Confusion, and running from point to point as insensibly"
Taking shot after shot against coffee (and the men who loved it), the wives of London were firm in their contempt against the “ugly Turskish Enchantress,” a beverage which did nothing but deflate men’s passions and leave women famished.
"...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"
Our favorite modern day stimulant was blamed for male impotence and low performance in the most colorful and often hilarious language: “They [husbands] come from it [coffeehouses] with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears”
Apparently, drinking that “base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous Puddle-water” could even dampen the mood on a wedding night:
"For can any Woman of Sense or Spirit endure with Patience, that when priviledg'd by Legal Ceremonies, she approaches the Nuptial Bed, expecting a Man that with Sprightly Embraces, should Answer the VIgour of her Flames, she on the contrary should only meat A Bedful of Bones, and hug a meager useless Corpse rendred as sapless as a Kixe, and dryer than a Pumice-Stone, by the perpetual Fumes of Tobacco, and bewitching effects of this most pernitious COFFEE"
The “well-willer” of this petition claimed to be speaking on behalf of the “several thousands of buxome good-women, languishing in extremity of want.” But was this pamphlet really written by group of sex-starved wives?
Not necessarily. According to a Smithsonian article, it’s more likely that the pamphlet was satire created to defame coffeehouses and discourage men from frequenting them. Because these salons were hotspots of political discourse and learning (at one point coffeehouses were called “penny universities''), they were considered a threat to the crown. Charles II would try to shutter them later, in 1675.
Whether women truly were behind the scandalous petition or not, a rebuttal was issued in response. In it, the men fought back by saying coffee “rather assists us by drying up those crude flatulent humours, which otherwise would make us only flash in the pan.”
As entertaining as these writings are, it seems the trash-talk had no teeth in the end. The coffee ban never came to pass. We agree with the many coffee lovers who note that it takes more - a lot more - than a few choice insults to separate people from their favorite coffee fix.