Coffee houses have not always been places with patrons hunched over electronic screens doing work or playing games or sending messages to people across the room. Coffee houses used to be a place where citizens gathered to discuss and argue about current events. Often the discussion was about the government. Naturally, some kings and emperors didn’t appreciate criticism of their laws and morals and tried to shut them down.
In 1511, coffee was banned by the Governor of Mecca. He rightly believed that drinking coffee caused citizens to socialize, which led to seditious discussions. However, his boss the Sultan of Cairo overruled him and coffee was taken off of the Mecca do not drink list.
In 1632, Murad IV the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire banned coffee. The punishment for a first offense was decapitation. Murad’s successor Ibrahim I continued the ban on coffee but reduced the penalty. Under Ibrahim, the punishment for the first offense of drinking coffee was a beating. Two time offenders, however, were sewn into a leather bag and thrown into the Bosporus. Coffee drinking in the Ottoman Empire declined dramatically.
In 1675, Charles II King of England issued a proclamation banning coffee houses. He changed his mind two days before the proclamation’s effective date at the urging of his ministers, probably preventing a mass rebellion.
In 1746, Gustav III King of Sweden banned coffee drinking. He also confiscated all coffee pots and coffee cups. Today. Sweden is one of the largest per capita consumers of coffee in the world. Gustav would be upset.
In 1777, Frederick the Great of Prussia tried to suppress coffee by issuing a manifesto claiming that he believed beer was better than coffee. He hoped that loyal subjects would be impressed and forgo coffee. It didn’t work.
Perhaps William Ukers’ quote about coffee sums it up, “Wherever it has been introduced it has spelled revolution. It has been the world’s most radical drink in that its function has always been to make people think. And when people think, they become dangerous to tyrants.”