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Old Fritz and the smell of coffee

a person riding a horse

Have you ever heard of the job “Coffee smeller”?

These were people in Prussia smelling the streets for illegal coffee roasting, but let’s go back a little.

King Frederick II. (1712-86, also Frederick the Great or Old Fritz) was rather fond of conquering parts of his neighbour’s realm – and pretty successful at it.

Nonetheless wars cost money – a lot of it. One way to get more, was to debase the currency, which he did, another, more universal way was to think up new taxes. And Fritz was pretty good at this as well or more exactly his French tax guy Marcus Antonius de la Haye de Launay was, pretty name isn’t it?

Luxury items like spirits or periwigs were among the most heavily taxed items in Prussia – and coffee. The king’s manufactury was the only institution allowed to import and roast coffee. Problem was, people back then were already super-fond of a good brew – and not just the 1%, but the middle classes as well. Meanwhile in Hamburg, just a few days ride away, coffee was to be had at a fraction of what it cost in Berlin. So naturally smugglers sensed a great opportunity to import green, unroasted coffee. De Launay couldn’t have that, after all, his own considerable fee was tied to Frederick’s taxes. Another side effect of war are reams of invalids looking for jobs. So he got hundred unemployed French soldiers to patrol the streets of Berlin and other Prussian cities to smell for illegal coffee roasting.

To take off some of the edge off, there were numerous exceptions for the nobility, military officers, the clerus, citizens that were rich enough not to work etc. But like I said, coffee was a mainstream thing, smuggling ubiquitous and the tax guys (Regies) attacked so frequently that at least this particular tax was cancelled after just a few years, even though Prussia remained one of Europe’s highest taxed principalities.

Ride Safe!