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Pharisee - a Coffee with Spirit

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High up in the north of Germany, on the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's most northern federal state, there is a small island called Nordstrand1. It's what was left of the large island Strand after De grote Manndränke2, a huge storm surge in 1362, when great parts of the island were lost and 50,000 people died, and the next huge storm tide on 12 October, 1634, where another 6,123 people died and the whole Strand was destroyed.

So now you've got an idea about the climate and conditions the people there have been living in for centuries. Who could criticise them for being quite partial to a hot beverage with an extra something to warm them up on the long, cold, stormy and dark winter days? Classics are Grog3 (rum and hot water), Tote Tante (hot chocolate with rum and (optional) whipped cream, elsewhere known as Lumumba), Teepunsch (hot tea with Köm - caraway schnapps), and, last but not least, Pharisäer.

Take some North Frisian islanders and an occasion to celebrate, add a bit of religion in form of a reverend who was a teetotaller (or at least expected the community to be teetotal) to the mixture, and you've got the frame for the invention of the Pharisäer.

A teetotal baptism?

According to legend, a peasant by the name of Peter Georg Johannsen celebrated the baptism of his seventh child in 1872. Amongst the guests was the reverend Bleyer, who had strictly forbidden that his fold should imbibe alcohol. No true baptism was complete without some alcohol to celebrate the baptised, however, so the cheeky farmer had an idea: he mixed rum with sugar, poured hot coffee on the mixture and put whipped cream on top, thus preventing the rum from evaporating and giving this neat trick away through its aromatic smell. The reverend just got plain coffee with the whipped cream on top. The guests got merrier and merrier by the minute, and a good deal noisier, too. Fate took its due course, and eventually the reverend got hold of a 'wrong' cup. On realising what had been going on, he exclaimed:

Oh ihr Pharisäer4!
This is how the Pharisäer was invented and got its name. It soon became the 'national' drink of Nordstrand, but you'll get it in any café and most restaurants along Schleswig-Holstein's west coast.

Making your own

Before you make your own Pharisäer, some words of warning:

Despite the common belief that alcohol is good when you're cold: alcohol does not warm you up. On the contrary: after an initial quickening of the pulse, and the subjective impression that it warms from within, the effect is quickly reverted. Alcohol distends the blood vessels, resulting in warm blood from within the body core being diverted to the cold outer regions like hands, feet, and face, making them warm. However, this warmth soon gets lost to the cold surroundings.

Other problems arise with chronic drinkers. The loss of temperature because of drinking alcohol is the reason for the death of many homeless people who just freeze in winter. There's an average drop of body temperature by 0.5°C per 50g of alcohol intake.

That said, here's the recipe:


  • 1/2 litre of water
  • Four spoons powdered coffee (no instant)
  • 80ml brown rum
  • sugar
  • 200g whipped cream


  • Bring the water to boil and brew a strong coffee.
  • Take four mugs and put two tsp of sugar in each.
  • Warm rum, pour 20ml into each mug.
  • Pour hot coffee into each mug.
  • Top with whipped cream.
  • Serve and enjoy.


  • The Pharisäerhof Nordstrand claims that Peter Georg Johannsen was the owner of the house back then.
  • Pharisäer is usually served in special slim, high cups or mugs.
  • Some say, that if you manage to drink eight Pharisäers you can keep the cup.
  • Pharisäer is not stirred, but has to be drunk from beneath the top of whipped cream. If you stir it, you have to pay a round.
1It is now connected to the mainland by an embankment, and is commonly known as a peninsula.2The closest translation would be: the great drowning of men.3This was introduced - with cold water - into the Royal Navy by British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon in 1740, and became known in Germany at the beginning of the 19th Century.4Oh you Pharisees! This is a reference to the Pharisees in the Bible, and is another expression for a hypocrite in German.

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