When I first had the idea to write a recurring blog for Nate’s Coffee, I was hoping to use my degree in intercultural communications to explore the world of coffee. I wanted to see how we at Nate’s fit into that rich narrative. I thought I might call the series “Coffee Chronicles” as I do have a love for alliteration, but along the way, I think I’ve found the perfect name – Kaffeeklatsch. It’s a little quirky, a little hard to say, and very German, but it fits the spirit of what I’m trying to accomplish perfectly.
Coffee Makes Its Way to Austria
I first came across the term kaffeeklatsch when researching the early migration of coffee to new regions. I read this story of how coffee took root in Vienna. It was July of 1683 and the Turkish army had surrounded Vienna on it’s way to threaten Europe. They were outnumbered and had no hope of defeating the Turkish troops. The person in charge of the Viennese army needed help and needed help fast. He went to Georg Franz Kolschitzky, who had lived in the middle east for a while. He dressed him in Turkish garb and sent him to break through the Turkish lines and get help from the nearby Polish troops.
It worked. When the Polish arrived they conquered the Turks and caused them to flee quickly. They left behind everything – grain, honey, oxen, camels, tents, and more. They also left 500 sacks of strange looking beans. The Viennese thought this was food for the camels, and with no use for such things, they decided to just burn and destroy them. The hero of the hour, Kolschitzky, smelled the burning beans and knew the odor immediately. He intervened and took the coffee, roasted it and opened up one of the first Viennese cafés, The Blue Bottle.
The Origin of Kaffeeklatsch
From there, coffee took over Vienna and soon everyone was drinking it. Cafés were popping up left and right and by the 1700s it would spread to the entire Germanic region. Coffee houses became the hubs of intellectual thought and discussion. Writers, journalists, and artists all found inspiration in these cafés. People gathered to speak in foreign languages with each other or just to sit and gossip about the day. The Fruen (or high society women) were especially fond of these caffeinated gab sessions, which they called kaffeeklatsch. It literally translates to gossiping while drinking coffee. Kaffeeklatsch gave a time for women to share their ideas with each other. It also gave them a new place to be free-thinkers and speak openly.
A Ban on Coffee
These women kept the love and spirit of coffee alive in the region when Fredrick the Great banned the beverage in 1777. Frederick hoped to divert the money leaving the country for coffee back to the traditional German beer. He hired a team of secret police called the “coffee smellers” to seek out anyone in possession of the beans. He also got doctors to say that coffee caused fertility issues in both men and women. Johann Sebastian Bach saw the absurdity of these claims and wrote a short opera about it.
Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” tells the story of a father and a daughter arguing about whether or not she should be allowed to have coffee. It’s quite humorous and the daughter goes as far as to say she would be like a “dried up piece of roast goat,” without her three small cups of coffee a day. The persistence of kaffeeklatsch amongst the female aristocracy, as well as loud demands from the middle class, eventually led to the end of such a ridiculous ban.
What’s in a name?
I latched onto this idea of gossiping over coffee and saw the parallels to what I was trying to accomplish with these blogs. I want it to feel like chatting with friends about tales of coffee and what’s going on in our lives, while enjoying a good cup of Nate’s finest. My love for research and history and have uncovered some of the most unusual and hilarious tales of how coffee became what it is today. I can’t wait to share more about the world of coffee with you, as well as information about our newest roasts in the upcoming issues of Kaffeeklatsch.
Translation to J.S. Bach’s Coffee Cantata in English here
Illustration of the Coffee House is by Meri Seufer Shardin, Copyright 1975, 1982