Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Coffee

Coffee beans! From the top left going clockwise, Arabic coffee, Medium Roast from Columbia and a 5 Country Espresso Blend.

I’m sitting in a cafe, having a latte. I had a pint of coffee this morning. I ground the beans myself and brewed it in my french press. I imbibed my coffee at my computer. I added a little half and half to it. It was really good. This latte I’m having is really good as well.

When I was growing up my grandma made ‘Spanish coffee’ with Cafe Bustelo, brewed with a small cotton sack, coffee grounds, hot water and two pots. When I worked at a church with mostly Latin@ congregants, Cafe Bustelo was what was generally made and yes, I had to heat up the whole milk for it. Milk and sugar. Generally two sugars (coffee with milk and two sugars is a ‘regular coffee’ in most bodegas). My grandma used to let me drink tiny sips of her coffee, even though some relative of mine in a moment of idiocy told her not to, claiming it would ‘make me dark.’ My grandma laughed and let me have sips of it anyway. When she was a baby growing up in Puerto Rico, I’m told the mothers put milk and coffee in the babies’ bottles. People grew coffee; you had to buy formula at the store.

When my spouse came back from the Middle East, he brought with him a bag of ‘Arabic Coffee.’ This is barely roasted coffee beans mixed with green cardamom pods. The beans and pods are ground up and steeped in hot water for a long time and resulting liquid is served with lumps of sugar. A woman from Egypt was visiting us and she brought out her totally stunning tea service to serve it. The coffee and cardamom together are totally amazing and…it will make you shake. Wow. Lots of caffeine in that.

The history of coffee starts in Africa and is tied in with the Islamic and Arabic history. Many people are familiar with the story of the dancing goats but there is also a story of a Sufi mystic who may have learned about the coffee beans qualities from birds. Another story tells of an exiled disciple named Omar who through trial and error comes upon the method of picking, roasting and boiling the beans. Already known for his ability to heal through prayer, the news of his newest finding and it’s curative properties spread. He was eventually made a saint. In the ‘dancing goats’ story, the shepherd brings the beans to a holy man who throws the beans into the fire in an attempt to destroy them but their enticing aroma drew the holy men in, who removed the beans from the fire, ground them up and boiled them in water.

Coffee was a popular drink in the Muslim world of the 16th century, imbibed by religious individuals who used it to help them stay away during their evening prayers. Coffee was banned and then again allowed in Middle Eastern culture, travelling from Yemen to the urban centers of Istanbul, Cairo, Damasus and Baghdad. The first coffee houses opened not in Europe but in Istanbul in 1554 and for a long time, coffee was considered a drink of the Middle East.

Trade brought it to India and Asia and eventually to Europe, specifically Italy where it was a concoction mostly for the wealthy. The Catholic Church tried to ban coffee but when it was brought before Pope Clement VIII, he chose not to, enjoying the drink himself. Coffee was expensive and those who grew the bushes in Africa carefully guarded them so as to control the export of the precious and delicious commodity. But eventually a Dutch merchant managed to get a few bushes out and was able to grow coffee in Indonesia, then a Dutch colony.
Eventually coffee became a less expensive beverage and coffee shops opened in Europe. The Battle of Vienna resulted in Austria receiving spoils of war from the Turks which included more than a fair amount of coffee beans which were used to supply coffee shops. The addition of milk to coffee was made popular by a Ukrainian soldier who opened the first coffee shop in Vienna. Coffee made its way into the rest of Europe, coffee shops becoming popular in most countries with profit to be made by many trading companies and colonies in the Americas were soon planted with coffee plantations alongside sugarcane and other crops tended to by slaves from Africa. At some points certain countries didn’t allow women into coffee shops while in some cases, groups of women protested the drinking of coffee, claiming it had negative effects on their spouses. Some religions to this day forbid or strongly discourage the partaking of coffee. But for many people in the past and even today, coffee shops are a place to sit and talk about the latest trends in philosophy, politics and art and congregate around their cups of caffeinated brew.

Some say coffee helped fuel the Industrial Revolution in Europe as coffee replaced beer as the beverage of choice, energizing a population forced to work long hours in unpleasant conditions. Coffee replaced yerba mate in Brazil, and became more popular in America as it severed its ties with Britain, favouring it over tea. Franchises like Starbucks has brought coffee to cultures that traditionally favor other caffeinated beverages and the world is full of traditions regarding the proper way to brew a perfect cup.

Every culture has its stimulants and coffee’s history can invigorate any campaign. Or make it shake till it has a headache and then feels like crap? Hmm.

For GMs

  • What is the stimulant of choice for the region? Is it from a plant or animal? What part is used?
  • Does the substance need to be prepared in a certain way in order to maximize its flavour?
  • How is the substance prepared? How does this differ from region to region? Do people feel strongly about a ‘correct’ way to prepare it or are people open to different permutations?
  • Where does it originate from? What kinds of events and organizations helped and hindered its spread to its present day influence?
  • Is the substance associated with any one group, movement, culture or religious organization? How does this affect its influence geographically and culturally?
  • How do other groups of people regard the partaking of this substance?
  • Is it said to have any medicinal properties? Negative properties? How contested are either of these?
  • How is it moved from region to region? Who trades it? Who controls it?
  • Who cultivates it? Are the workers treated fairly?
  • If the substance is cultivated in different regions, how does the land and climate affect the substance? Is the flavour different if it is grown in one region versus another?
  • Does it have addictive qualities? What does withdrawal look like?
  • Can it be adulterated? Has it replaced any other substances?

Plot Hooks

  • The PCs are charged with the task of opening a coffee shop in a foreign region close to the border of their homeland. The foreign region historically does not drink coffee and some members of the society feel negatively about this ‘strange drink.’ The PCs must maneuver the culture, run the shop and deal with negative propaganda and even sabotage surrounding the dark brew. What do the PCs, their employer and their country have to gain if the shop becomes popular? Which groups are the most vocal against their being there? Who supports them? Do they hire people to work the shop? How do they try to deal with the cultural differences?
  • The PCs are part of a group that believes the drinking of coffee to be evil and they are sent to destroy a coffee plantation. The drinking of coffee is on the rise and they’re hoping to destroy the supply and the influence of the bean. However, there may be more than just religious fervor brewing. Who sends the PCs? How do they plan on destroying the farm? How would the destruction of one plantation affect the supply and prices of coffee? Who would be affected the most by the destruction of the plantation, both negatively and positively? What other stances does their group have?
  • The political or financial leader of their country desires a coffee plant and sends the PCs to acquire either a plant, seeds or both as well as information as to the best way to cultivate the plants. On what premise are they sent into the country of origin? How do they plan to transport the contraband back? How highly guarded are the plants and seeds? What are the consequences if they are caught? Who do they work with within the country to acquire the plant? What would the cultivation of coffee in their homeland affect the economic relationship of the two countries?
  • The PCs are all given coffee and then sent on various tasks to see how the inclusion of this beverage in their diet affects their performance. How does it affect them?
  • Coffee shops are said to be the new hot spots of education, culture and political dissent in the population. The PCs are sent to investigate the coffee shops and gauge the cultural climates there, in the hopes of finding truly troublesome individuals before things get too serious. Who runs the coffee shops? What kind of political views are being thrown around? What kind of events are happening at coffee shops?
  • The PCs hear coffee in a certain region is cared for and picked by a marginalized group of people, taken advantage of by another group of people. The PCs go to free them. Who makes up this marginalized group of people? Are they the traditional growers and pickers of coffee? How did they come to be the go-to growers? Who is oppressing them? Why do the PCs feel it is their job to free these people? What would it mean if they are successful? What would it mean if they were to fail?

For PCs

  • Do you drink coffee or its equivalent?
  • How long have you been drinking it? Do you feel like you can start your day without it?
  • How much of it do you drink?
  • What is the ‘proper’ way to prepare it? What are other acceptable methods/permutation?
  • When is the right time of day to drink coffee?
  • What is the wrong way to drink coffee? Is there such a thing as too much or too little?
  • Would you rather drink terrible coffee or no coffee?

Coffee culture is really very interesting, for just some roasted beans steeped in water; I didn’t even get into espresso. People go nuts over it and its even included in soldier’s rations in some countries. What say you? Do we want to see your barbarian if they haven’t had their morning cup of coffee?

Also, check this out!
Six Ways To Brew Coffee Around the World
Five More Traditional Ways to Brew Coffee

Also, don’t forget we had an earlier RMtBF about smuggling, in case you needed a bit more…

4 thoughts on “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Coffee

Add yours

  1. In the case of the coffee-cardamom drink, I think the shakes come from the cardamom. The reason I say this is that I tried a new ice-cream that’s got a lot of ground caradamom in it, and it gave me the shakes. It’s a ‘don’t have it at night’ kind of ice-cream.


    1. I know that the less roasted the coffee is, the more caffeine it retains, so in the case of the Arabic coffee most of the caffeine is still there. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the cardamom helps make you more jittery. Herbs and spices are interesting things.


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