what do you put in your coffee?

[cross posted at The Jew and the Carrot]

Pharisees of course

A Tiny Vial of Pharisäer

A Tiny Vial of Pharisäer

Ever-sensitive to appearances of Jewish references in popular culture, I was a bit surprised to read Maureen Dowd’s headline in The New York Times on Sunday, July 19, 2009: “Pharisees on the Potomac

I did not see any mention of late antiquity in her column and it was not until a number of hours later that I realized she had used the Christian allusion to Pharisees as hypocrites! Shame on her and shame on her editors (I wonder if William Safire saw the column). As the Wikipedia makes quite clear:

Because of the New Testament’s frequent depictions of Pharisees as self-righteous rule-followers, the word “pharisee” (and its derivatives: “pharisaical”, etc.) has changed in meaning and has come into semi-common usage in English to describe a hypocritical and arrogant person who places the letter of the law above its spirit. Jews today (who subscribe to Pharisaic Judaism) typically find this insulting if not anti-Semitic.

but what does this have to do with coffee?

When Debbie and I traveled in Europe in the spring of 2006 our route took us from Mainz to Hameln. We climbed out of the Rhine valley and spent the night at a lovely campsite outside of Alsfeld.

camping near Alsfeld

camping near Alsfeld

The following day, we had the entire day to accomplish a two and a half-hour drive. So when we found ourselves in downtown Alsfeld we took advantage of the situation. We had a couple of errands to accomplish and needed to purchase some food for lunch so we stopped and explored the market square, the old wood-beamed buildings and a couple of the small shops along the main market street.

In one of the tiny shops we found a small bottle of Heimbs Kaffee labeled PHARISÄER. It turned out to be a bit of coffee-flavored rum (or perhaps rum-flavored coffee).

Needless to say, I bought a couple of bottles as souvenirs. I have added a drop or three to my own coffee periodically. I could not find any other references to it at the time, but Maureen had me thinking more about the Pharisees, so I began a search. The story is told by Christina Geyer, an American expatriate in Germany on her blog which I reproduce here:

The weather-beaten coastal residents of the North Sea have always had a passion for freshly-brewed, strong coffee — as opposed to their tea-drinking cousins from the beaches of the Baltic Sea. Especially appreciated was the black brew with a rich ingredient that was a hallmark of Flensburg: Rum! Nothing weighed on the brave people more though, than to bother their watchful preacher with this small vice. And so they camouflaged the feel-good cup — in the form of an airy dollop of cream. Naturally, it didn’t take long for the man of God to discover their tactic and in his outrage he cried: Oh, you pharisees!

I’m fascinated by the etymology of the name for this drink and would like to learn more about it. I’ve yet to find a more authoritative source.

no more “Pharisees”

My bottle is nearly empty. I have not found any source for importing more Heimbs Kaffee PHARISÄER to New York to stock on my shelf. However, even if I can replenish my supply, I hope that Maureen Dowd removes the word from her shelf of available pejoratives.

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