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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