Bracha on Coffee and Tea

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There’s nothing like a freshly brewed cup of coffee in the morning (or if you’re English, a fresh pot of earl gray). Although it’s not necessarily so that you’ll cry over the last drop, but it definitely is part of a good American morning.[1] Since we are a grateful nation who are always looking to pay homage to Hashem for all the good that he constantly gives us, we certainly would like to recite a meaningful berachah on that delicious cup of coffee, but what is the correct blessing on that cup of joe? Now, if you’ll ask, what in the world is the basis for such a question? Everyone knows that you recite the berachah of Shehakol on coffee/tea! Well, that is not necessarily so.

The Panim Meiros[2] was once visiting the city of Worms, Germany [3]and he saw the great Chasid and Gaon Rav Shmuel Shatin [4]reciting the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’adomah on a cup of tea. He approached Rav Shmuel and questioned his choice of blessing based on the general custom of everyone else, who usually recited a Shehakol on tea. Rav Shmuel responded that “a custom based on a mistaken notion is not a valid custom or law.” The Panim Meiros goes on to rule in two separate responsa [5] that although the general custom is to recite a Shehakol on tea/coffee, the correct Berachah on tea is, in fact, a Borei pri Ha’adomoh[6].

This whole issue originates in a Gemarah in Berachos. The Gemarah in Berachos (daf 39a) refers to various blessings recited on different types of foods. The berachah on water, as we all know, is a Shehakol. However, it is possible for water to change its status and require a person to recite a different blessing over it. One such example, the Gemarah says, is Mei Silka K’silka-the water that beets were cooked in has the same berachah as the beets themselves. Basically, this means that when you cook vegetables in water, the water itself is infused with the essence of the vegetable [7] and changes berachos- It transforms from requiring the berachah of Shehakol to now needing the berachah of Borei Pri Ha’adomah. In essence, the water in which the vegetables were cooked has taken the identity of the vegetable onto itself and it now requires the same berachah as the vegetable. For example, if you have a nice vegetable soup waiting for you at home, but by the time you get home all the vegetables were gone leaving you with only a vegetable-free broth, you would need to recite a borei pri Ha’adomoh over the broth. [8]

If this is the case, shouldn’t the Berachah on brewed tea be a borei pri Ha’adomoh[9]; Shouldn’t the Berachah on coffee be borei pri ha’eitz[10] and Shouldn’t the Berachah on beer be a borei minei mezonos?[11] This is not a new question. In fact, the Rashba, the Rosh, Tosafos and many Rishonim have already broached this subject and have offered several suggestions that would help us answer our question.[12] The Rosh [13]writes that this Halacha of the Gemarah is not an absolute rule. The water does not always take the identity of the vegetable itself, and in some cases the Berachah on the water would remain a Shehakol. Rosh explains that the water will only acquire a new Berachah-identity if, and only if, one is cooking the soup in order to eat the vegetables also. It is then that the water can be viewed as being one with the vegetables and allow it to be viewed as having become part of the “greater soup”. It is in such a case that the Berachah will be the same as the vegetable itself. However, if one is only cooking the vegetable so that the water should be infused with its taste, and not because he also wants to eat the vegetables, then he would only recite a Shehakol on the water as the water retains its own identity, albeit with a better taste; it’s just a cup of flavored water.

Perach Mateh Aharon[14] writes that it is based on the reasoning of the Rosh that we recite a Shehakol on coffee, tea and even beer because the tea leaves are not being eaten, the coffee grinds are definitely going to be thrown out and nary a hop will ever be found in a bottle of beer. The whole intention of the cooking process in solely for the resultant drink and not for the tea leaves, beans and hops at all. So while it is true that the tea leaf and the coffee bean and the hops are boiled in the water, and it is true that from the simple understanding of the Gemarah the water should have required an upgraded berachah. However, when you apply the Rosh’s qualification of this Halachah it allows for, and even encourages, the general custom to recite a Shehakol on a nice steaming cup of a morning Starbucks coffee[15](see footnote) as one is only focused on the drink itself and not anything else. On the other hand, the Panim Meiros counters that tea and coffee are in a different class when it comes to this Halachah. Tea leaves and coffee are planted, cultivated, roasted and ground in order to produce this drink. This is the end result and the bottom line for the tea and coffee; it was produced for just this purpose and is only edible in this state. So, of course the water in which the coffee/tea was boiled will take on a greater significance than just being flavored water, whereupon it will take upon itself the berachah of the tea leaf or the coffee bean, as this is what they were grown for.

Halachic epilogue

The Panim Meiros has put forth a seemingly strong halachic argument and brought many proofs to support his case[16]. However, he ends off his responsa by stating that the beracha on coffee and tea still remains a Shehakol as this has been the minhag of the Jews for as long as he can remember and the minhag is not going to change, therefore, he too only recited a Shehakol on coffee and tea. In addition, many of the gedolim of his era, such as the Beis Meir[17], and the Shvus Yaakov[18]differed with the Panim Meiros’ understanding of the Rosh and were of the opinion that the correct berachah on these beverages are a Shehakol. Therefore, when you sit down in the morning, afternoon or evening to a freshly brewed steaming cup of coffee, recite a Shehakol and enjoy!

Sources

  1. Of course, there are many halachos in regards to drinking and/eating before Shachris or before Kiddush on Shabbos. Based on Shulchan Aruch 89:3, there are many Poskim who permit drinking coffee or tea before davening. Among them are the Maharsham (Daat Torah 89:3), Aruch Hashulchan 89:23, Kaf Hachaim 89:31, and many other prominent Poskim. While the Mishneh Brurah 89:22 seems to only permit black coffee without sugar, most permit coffee even with sugar and cream since the drinking is necessary to enable one to daven in a better manner, it is common, and isn't considered an act of arrogance. See further Eating_before_Davening#Shacharit.
  2. Rav Meir Eisenstadt, 1670-1744. Famous Gaon, Rov and Rosh Hayeshiva in Eisenstadt, Austria.
  3. The city, known in Medieval Hebrew under the name Vermayza or Vermaysa
  4. Rav Shmuel Shatin, the Kos Hayeshuos (died 14 Tammuz 1719). Rav of Dramesht
  5. Shu”t Panim Meiros. Chelek Aleph siman 95, chelek Beis siman 190.
  6. And the coffee would need a Borei Pri Ha’eitz, as the coffee grows on a perennial tree. See Gemrah Berachos daf 40a and Ritva and Rabbeinu Chananel
  7. Rosh Berachos perek Keitzad mevorchim
  8. See shulchan aruch Orach chaim Siman 205, sif 2. This is only if the soup was originally a pure vegetable soup. If there was chicken or meat in the soup, the blessing on the leftover broth would be a Shehakol as the primary part of the soup would be the chicken flavor and not the vegetables
  9. Tea is the agricultural product of the leaves, leaf buds, and internodes of various cultivars and sub-varieties of the Camellia sinensis plant and as such the Berachah should be a Borei Pri Ha’adomoh.
  10. As the Coffee is a brewed beverage prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees and the Berachah therefore should be a borei pri ha’eitz.
  11. The Berachah on the boiled hops/barley would be a borei minei mezonos, so too, the water it was boiled in should retain that very same Berachah according to this Gemarah! Of course, we recite Shehakol- see Tosafos- Berachos- daf 38a for 4 reasons why we do so.
  12. They all ask on this Gemarah from the Berachah on squeezed juice. Juice that is squeezed from a vegetable or fruit would only require a Shehakol since it is only the by-product of the fruit and not the actual fruit itself. If that is the case, what is the difference in this Gemarah that the water with just the taste of veggies has a din of the Vegetables themselves, whereas by squeezed juice it is only a Shehakol? The Rashba, Rosh and Tosafos feel that there is enough of a basis to make a distinction. In the above article we will only discuss the contention of the Rosh.
  13. Shaalos U’Teshuvos HaRosh Klal 4, siman 15. Also in the Rosh’s Halachos in Masechta Berachos on Daf 39a.
  14. Rav Aharon Hakohen Perachia (1627-1697). Wrote the Sefer- Perech Mateh Aharon, appointed chief rabbi of Salonika in 1688.
  15. This is referring to home-brewed Starbucks coffee. As of late there has been much written about the kashrus of the general Starbucks stores since that they have started to serve non kosher, indeed treif, heated items in their stores. Although the unflavored, and some of the flavored, ground coffee is under a very reliable hashgacha, the treif elements of the store might affect the kashrus of various special drinks the stores have to offer. For an excellent overview of the kashrus concerns and solutions see their article [1]. The Star-K kashrus organization have also published their recommendations and guide to Starbucks coffee is the latest issue of their “Kashrus kurrents” publication. You can view it at their website www.star-k.org.
  16. See Panim Meiros chelek 2, Siman 190 for an extensive Torah essay on this subject.
  17. Beit Meir 205:2
  18. Shevut Yacov 2:5