Is life without coffee imaginable?
A few months ago I decided to go on a diet, and this diet required the giving up coffee and milk. It was like entering a long period of Lent. But unlike Lent, drink coffee in coffee shops did not count. Hardly a loophole, but there you go. So yesterday, while not-working in my favourite coffee shop, I recalled an editorial I wrote a couple of years ago about the drinking habits (non-alcoholic) of the Cape’s early settlers. The old koffiekan on a wood stove springs to mind.
Carl Thunberg (1743-1828), a Swedish naturalist, wrote that the Dutch drank weak bitter coffee on the ships – between 10 and 12 cups at a time. Otto Menzel who visited the Cape between 1733 and 1741 wrote that nobody left the breakfast table without drinking at least half a dozen cups of weak tea or coffee. Women especially, he observed, had poor teeth because it was the custom at the time to sip tea through a lump of sugar held in the mouth or between the teeth. In 1798, Lady Anne Barnard wrote about coffee-drinking habits at the Cape. “We found here what is universal in this country – a constant drinking of coffee.”
In the 18th century, Western Europe’s love affair with the cocoa bean had just started. It is interesting to see how many of the old estate inventories included chocolaatkopjes. Crockery dedicated to the cocoa bean.
Simon van der Stel, the Cape’s governor during the late 17th century, had a sizeable collection. We know this because archival documents show that he instructed Abraham Vijf to sell chocolaatkopjes met pierings, theegoed and coffigoet on his behalf. In 1734 Anna de Koning’s inventory of household goods showed that she owned two chokalaat kannen and twenty-three chokalade kopjes. I recently found another cocoa drinker in Simondium – the former heemraadslid, Jan Christoffel Schabort of the farm Meerrust; when he died in 1746, his possessions included a chocolaat cannetjie.