Pope Clement VIII did much to change popular opinion about coffee in Europe when he tried it and found it “delicious”.
Coffee has been around for over a thousand years. As early as the 9th century Ethiopian shepherds had discovered the energizing effects that coffee seemed to have on their sheep and some Islamic monks had begun cultivating coffee beans. In time, the drink proved hugely popular throughout the Arab world despite the objections of orthodox Muslims who condemned it as a stimulant. From the Islamic world, coffee spread to Europe where it met fierce resistance from the clergy who considered it the drink of “Islamic infidels.” Pope Clement VIII did much to change popular opinion about coffee, however, when he tried it and found it “delicious.”
In the late 1500s, coffee had reached Europe and Vatican officials were clamoring to condemn it as Satanic. After all, it came from the Islamic world, so the Catholic church was understandably loath to embrace anything that came from the “land of the infidels.” According to legend, Vatican officials asked Pope Clement VIII to impose a ban on coffee, but he refused to do so before trying it first himself. Thus, he ordered that some coffee be prepared for him. He evidently enjoyed it very much because legends says that he remarked “This Satan’s drink is delicious…it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it.”
Clement VIII’s fondness for coffee, made him unwilling to ban it, so he instead gave it his blessing by “baptizing” it in 1600. That action removed the biggest potential obstacle for the popularization of coffee in Europe. Less than 50 years later, coffee houses began popping up in Italy and by 1675, there were some 3,000 coffee houses in England. By that time, coffee drinking was also quite popular in France where coffee houses soon became the meeting places for like minded individuals to discuss new (often revolutionary) ideas. Indeed, the French Revolution was perhaps as much the product of the simple coffee bean than it was anything else.
Certainly, coffee still had its opponents. Many still rejected it because of its bitter taste or on moral grounds because of its stimulating properties. To this day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prohibits Mormons around the world from drinking coffee. The church claims that it is both physically and spiritually unhealthy. The Mormons are probably the largest group which maintains a ban on coffee, however, because it is enjoyed by billions around the world. Coffee is now a multi-billion dollar business and almost 7 million metric tons of coffee beans are harvested every year. While coffee would certainly be popular in many parts of the world today if it had not been for Pope Clement VIII, it probably would not have come to be so widely enjoyed and Pre-Revolutionary France would have had to develop very different social structures than those that contributed to the French Revolution. Could Western history have been very different without coffee? Perhaps.