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Coffee Matters

Johann Sebastian Bach loved his coffee. Had we been alive in 1734 and regular patrons of Gottfried Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig at 14 Katharinanstrasse, we might have been privileged to be one of the first to hear his Coffee Cantata performed by the Colegium Musicum, which he directed. As well as composing his sacred Cantatas, Bach wrote about fifty secular cantatas, his Coffee Cantata being one of them.

Bach wrote his Coffee Cantata as a response to the mocking by much of the press about the citizens of Leipzig’s love of coffee. Wherever coffee was introduced, it aroused great passions. Lovers of coffee were great supporters enjoying the social interaction it stimulated. However, coffee's detractors cited coffee drinking as unseemly, and leading to all kinds of reprehensible and dangerous practises.

In England, there was a Women’s Petition against coffee. Published in London 1674, the petition claimed that men were spending so much time in the Coffee Houses, not at home until very late and then not fit for anything. I will leave you to work out what it takes great pains to imply.

In Bach’s libretto, Lieschen, daughter of an overbearing father Schlendrian, sings “The sweet taste of coffee is lovelier than a thousand kisses and milder than muscatel wine, I simply must have coffee to put me in a good frame of mind, just pour me out some coffee”. Her father is promising to find her a husband but on condition that she gives up drinking coffee!

In our collection of artefacts relating to the history of coffee and tea, we have a facsimile reproduction of Bach’s original manuscript. It was produced as a limited edition in Vienna in 1923. There is also a copy of The Women’s Petition against coffee and the Men’s answer.

Coffee still arouses passions. It matters to so many people. I have stood behind the counter for nearly seventy years and heard you saying, in so many ways, “Mr Higgins I must have my coffee”.  I know exactly what you mean.

From the moment my father poured me out my first bowl of coffee when I was six, and visiting him in the attic workroom where he began H. R. Higgins Coffee-man, coffee has beguiled me, intrigued, fascinated, made me strive to unlock its secrets. Like the BBC’s time travelling Tardis, what appears on the outside is merely the beginning of the start of a journey that it seems can go on indefinitely.

It can excite us with its aroma, charging our imaginations, dance on our palates, always leaving us more to experience. Tempting us to find new flavours even in varieties that we think we know because they are old favourites. It doesn’t throw a tantrum if our preference is to enjoy it with hot or cold milk or cream. Of course, it doesn’t need either of those additives to perform for us, reminding us that there is so much more to discover when we learn to enjoy it just for itself. It makes a great companion to face the day with, or when we need a moment to consider some knotty problem or decision. Having a coffee somehow gets things into perspective. It happily joins us when we meet our friends in celebration, and at the end of a dinner sending our guests home happy and contented. It is very forgiving and understand with the various methods we use to make it, though personally I think it has its preferences, but it leaves it to us to make that decision.

“Mr Higgins, you are a life saver. Without my coffee I am not part of the human race”.

Customer at Duke Street 2019.

It is no stranger to controversy or crisis, but has inspired our forebears to overcome those challenges come what may. I think in our time, we are just as passionate. We may not express ourselves quite like Lieschen in Bach’s Coffee Cantata, but we are just as determined. Determined to bring you the coffees and the teas that you love. Because they matter. They are part of the very fabric of our lives. Incidentally Lieschen lets us know that “No suiter comes into my house unless he firmly promises that even at the expense of marriage that I shall be able to brew coffee whenever I want!”.

The challenges we have all faced in the year that has passed are the global pandemic Covid 19, and our coming out of the EU. Thank you for bearing with us. For all your custom throughout these challenging times. When Covid 19 struck last year, our supplies had arrived or were arriving in the United Kingdom. This year the situation has been so different. The spread of the virus, sometimes almost unchecked in producing countries has resulted in shipments being delayed, and delayed. For many of you, it has meant us having to talk to you about alternatives to some of your most favourite varieties.

With restrictions now easing, we are looking forward, planning for the Autumn well aware of the challenges that may come.

In his recent blog, David spoke of the last 38 years he and I have worked together saying “Much has changed in that time, but the love of what we do has grown every stronger”.

Our dedicated staff at our Roastery in Whitby and the shop in Duke Street have all caught the spark of that love. The love that has inspired coffee and tea lovers down the ages. With our team, we shall face the challenges and push the boundaries of how we operate. We are always available to serve you to answer your questions, and to meet you face to face at 79 Duke Street.

Your coffee and your tea matter to us. I realised a long time ago that we are all part of a story that began in the mists of time and goes on into the future.

With my very best wishes

Tony Higgins


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