On monks and large coffees

When it comes to coffee, I don’t do large. That Venti at the American chain Starbucks is just gauche! There’s something about excess in coffee that disrespects the genius (and potency) of the espresso shot. No thank you. My regular will do me just fine. That said, the monks of the 18th century might disagree.

The French philosopher of the kitchen, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, once described his visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Saint-Sulpice, north-east of Lyon. It was in the summer of 1782 and on the occasion of the Feast of Saint Bernard, founder of the Cistercian order. Famed for their early austerity, the Cistercians had by this time developed a reputation as the most gourmand of the monastic orders.

Brillat-Savarin writes eloquently of a dinner at the Abbey in all its delicious detail. As the feast moved toward its conclusion, out came the liqueurs and the coffee.

“There was no absence of liqueurs, but the coffee deserves a special mention … It was clear, aromatic and wonderfully hot, above all, it was not dished up in those base receptacles which we have the effrontery to call cups on the banks of the Seine, but in lovely deep bowls into which the thick lips of the reverend fathers could slobber to their hearts’ content, sucking up the life-giving liquid, making a noise which would have done justice to a school of sperm whales before a storm.”

Imagine a mini-van full of slurping Cistercians at the Starbucks drive-thru. It would be Ventis all round.

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