Coffee Monday: Caffe con panna and Bach

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A sweet Coffee Monday post today — featuring a caffe con panna I had yesterday at Kafe Bohem, plus Johann Sebastian Bach, 18th-century coffee history, and recommended readings!

Caffe con panna is a weakness. Espresso and whipped cream, yes please, no dessert is needed. Maybe the whipped cream on my coffee at Bohem wasn’t quite that frothy as it looks in the etegami here but it tasted decadent.

The words, “Lovelier than a thousand kisses, far sweeter than muscatel wine,” are from the Coffee Cantata (1732) by JS Bach. I learned about Bach’s cantata in William Uker’s All About Coffee, a book from 1922 I will surely draw on in the future.

Bach’s Coffee Cantata is a one-act operatta, drawing from a poem by Piccander (a pseudonym of Johann Georg Hager) telling the “protest of the fair sex against the libels of the enemies of the beverage, who at the time were actively urging in Germany that it should be forbidden women, because its use made for sterility!”

Uker points out that the anti-coffee crusade had its origins not solely in the supposed poisonous effects of coffee, but rather in economic and national concerns. “Later on,” he writes, “the government surrounded the manufacture, sale, and use of coffee with many obnoxious restrictions.” Doctors claimed that coffee intake stunted child-bearing for women. And on September 13, 1777, King Frederick of Prussia “issued a coffee and beer manifesto, a curious document, which recited:

It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. Everybody is using coffee. If possible, this must be prevented. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors, and 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 hardship or to beat his enemies in case of the occurrence of another war.”

Uker’s style is a highly enjoyable and sometimes florid ramble through the history of coffee. For more contemporary histories of coffee, minus Uker’s early 20th-century quirks, I highly recommend The Coffee Book: Anatomy of an Industry from Crop to the Last Drop, by Nina Luttinger and Gregory Dicum (2006), and Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World, by Mark Pendergrast (2010).

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