Tracing Coffee’s Travels From the East to the West

A new exhibition examines how the caffeinated beverage spurred theological debate as well as technological advancement.
The intriguing history of coffee is the subject of a new exhibition at Jerusalem’s Museum for Islamic Art.

To some, coffee is nothing more than a boost of energy to get them through the day. However, as a new exhibition at Jerusalem’s Museum for Islamic Art illustrates, the beverage has long been a source of political and theological disputes, cultural interchange, and culinary creativity.

According to Judy Lash Balint of Jewish News Syndicate, “Coffee: East and West” features coffee-making equipment from more than 30 nations (JNS). A cup with a feature that protects the drinker’s moustache is also on display, as are miniature ornamental Turkish cups, big china cups used by aristocrats in France, and a cup with a feature that protects the drinker’s moustache.

The curator Yahel Shefer tells Haaretz’s Ronit Vered, “From my view, these things are the element that links the articles of food and drink themselves with the human tales, rituals, and traditions that were built around them.”

Coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, then moved to Yemen and beyond, eventually reaching Mecca and Cairo by the end of the 15th century. Coffeehouses sprang established all across the Arabian Peninsula thanks to the Ottoman Empire’s control.

“People’s hunger for a place where they could simply meet and talk was one of the reasons that the institution of the café was so successful in the Middle East, a region heavily populated by Muslims who are prohibited from drinking wine,” Amnon Cohen, an Islamic and Middle Eastern studies scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tells Haaretz.

Coffee has been used by religious authorities in a variety of ways. According to John McHugo of BBC News, coffeehouses posed a challenge to mosques as primary gathering sites for some Muslim authorities. However, coffee assisted Sufi worshipers in remaining attentive throughout prayer services. Meanwhile, Jewish religious experts have argued whether coffee should be drank on the Sabbath and if Jews should attend coffee shops owned by Christians.

According to History Extra’s Paul Chrystal, coffee was controversial in both the Middle East and Europe, where it was denounced by certain Catholics as “‘the bitter creation of Satan,’ bearing the smell of Islam.” According to legend, after Pope Clement VIII drank it and remarked, “The devil’s drink is so wonderful… we should trick the devil by baptising it!” the drink gained popularity.

Read more •

Suggested Reading