Ippolito Aldobrandini was born into a prominent Florentine family in 1536. As a child he was told that any little boy could grow up to be Pope. And didn’t he just do it, becoming a noted canon lawyer, a Cardinal Priest, and in 1592, Pope Clement VIII. He led the church until his death on March 3, 1605. VIII’s enduring papal legacy for most of the world is not his bringing France back into the Catholic fold or leading the opposition to the Ottoman Empire, but rather his blessing of a certain beverage.
“The grain or berry called coffee groweth upon little trees only in the deserts of Arabia,” an English handbill of the mid-17th century proclaimed. “It is a simple, innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dried in an oven, and ground to powder, and boiled up with spring water . . . and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured.”
Coffee had been around for centuries from the time when shepherds noticed that the beans when eaten by their sheep caused those sheep to become rather frisky. Naturally, the shepherds were anxious to try it themselves. Eventually, after a lot of broken teeth, they learned to roast it, grind it and brew it.
It didn’t take long for coffee to become wildly popular throughout the Muslim world. Not so in Europe however, no civilized Christian could share the drink of those infidels they had been battling practically forever. The beverage came to be known as “Satan’s drink.” and Christians pleaded with Pope Clement to ban the evil liquid and declare that anyone who drank it would be destined to burn in Hell or some other nasty spot.
Clement considered this request, but being reasonable as well as infallible, would not condemn the drink without a fair trail. Thus a steaming cup of coffee was placed before him. He took a sip, and immediately became as frisky as those Muslim sheep.. “This devil’s drink is delicious.” he declared . “We should cheat the devil by baptizing it.”
And then came Starbucks.
Note: The popular folk song that came much later was not named for Clement VIII. It was “Oh My Darling Clement X.”