Coffee drinking punishable to death during the Ottoman Empire in 1600s

Coffee drinking punishable to death during the Ottoman Empire in 1600s

January 11 - 2023

Coffee Geography Magazine

As much as coffee was very much liked and accepted by the citizens during the Ottoman Empire, it was punitively criticized by the Sultan leaders who considered it a substance causing opposition at the coffeehouses in Istanbul. Coffee drinkers were frequently known as dissident to the empire which rules much of the Mediterranean. 

The coffee drink has been popular since the 9th century throughout the Arabia where it was initially reported as a common drink in Yemen and later in Jeddah where the first café was opened in 12th century. By the 16th century, the regular people where the Ottoman Empire reigned had taken a liking to the beverage, and the first coffeehouses were opened in the 1550s. The coffeehouses became a place where people gathered to exchange ideas and debate freely with out fear of the Sultans. After the assassination of Osman II in 1622, his brother Murad IV became ruler from 1623 to 1640. To control his power and defeat Safavid Empire in Iran, he went after all the people at the coffeehouses where many criticized him for his brutal rule. The Ottoman authorities believed, like many other rulers in Europe and Western Asia at the time, that coffee was something of a narcotic.


Murad IV

Murad IV had alleged the indecency, disunity and social decay that was caused by drinking the coffee. He believed coffee and coffeehouses led to mutinous plotting and stimulated dangerous thoughts among his people. 

In 16th-century Istanbul, coffee was brewed slowly in a special pot for around 20 minutes, then served so hot that it could only be consumed in tiny sips. Hence, many people sat around sipping on hot coffee for a long time while talking social issues concerning their lives. The sultan then declared his discontent of the coffeehouses and the gossips coming out of them. Murad IV also found out that the group that assassinated his brother and uncle, gathered in the coffee houses to converse privately.

ottoman empire

His fury against coffeehouses grew gradually and seized the moment and made coffee houses illegal. Anyone caught drinking coffee publicly could be beheaded immediately. Some stories claim that Murad IV himself scoured the streets of Istanbul, walking in disguise with a 50-kilo broadsword in hand, looking for sinners to behead. But his interest was in stopping coups and plotters. Murad IV did not actually ban coffee and enjoyed the black brew himself. He allowed the consumption of the beverage in "decent" households. He died in 1640 of cirrhosis, but his policies were embraced by his successors for another century or more.