Black, white and brown

In both pieces, “War” and Coffee Poems the color of the coffee is significant. The Coffee Poems talk about coffee’s blackness, with the color of ink. It is contrasted with milk by color, but not in meaning – the authors imply that milk and coffee share the same “purity” – in fact, the color is the seal of its purity. In War, there is an extensive discussion about the use of milk to turn coffee brown – the exact color of a monk’s robe. The exact color is known only to a select few who must know in their mind the brownness of the robe, and match the color by balancing the amount of milk against the strength of the brew. We might expect the authors of coffee poems to find the kapuziner impure. In War, Allen tells the reader that Turks believed milk added to coffee caused leprosy.

What is interesting here is not the presence of milk, but rather the appeal to coffee’s color. The coffee poems appeal to the blackness of the coffee as evidence of its purity – and by implication, its holiness. The writers of coffee poems imply the purity of the coffee imparts God’s favor or blessing – the drinker also experiences enlightment, by the pursuit of wisdom. The addition of the milk to make the coffee brown in the kapuziner would therefore be an adulteration of the beverage. And yet, being able to make the kapuziner is evidence of one’s depth of knowledge of Vienna’s coffee culture – you have to know the exact color of the monk’s robe. So in the case of the kapuziner, the knowledge was required to change the coffee’s color. The enlightenment (or state of enlightment) of the coffee drinker/brewer is significant.

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