The Social Life of Coffee The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse Brian Cowan

Publication date:
22 Feb 2011
Yale University Press
384 pages: 229 x 152mm
43 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

What induced the British to adopt foreign coffee-drinking customs in the seventeenth century? Why did an entirely new social institution, the coffeehouse, emerge as the primary place for consumption of this new drink? In this lively book, Brian Cowan locates the answers to these questions in the particularly British combination of curiosity, commerce, and civil society. Cowan provides the definitive account of the origins of coffee drinking and coffeehouse society, and in so doing he reshapes our understanding of the commercial and consumer revolutions in Britain during the long Stuart century.

Britain’s virtuosi, gentlemanly patrons of the arts and sciences, were profoundly interested in things strange and exotic. Cowan explores how such virtuosi spurred initial consumer interest in coffee and invented the social template for the first coffeehouses. As the coffeehouse evolved, rising to take a central role in British commercial and civil society, the virtuosi were also transformed by their own invention.

Brian Cowan holds the Canada Research Chair in Early Modern British History at McGill University. He lives in Montreal.

"Cowan’s scholarly yet very readable study offers a fascinating insight into how changes in British society gave us our taste for this hot black broth’."—The Guardian

"A well-researched, wide-ranging and fascinating book... Cowan adds rich colours and shades to a picture we had hitherto only in outline." -Kevin Sharpe, Times Literary Supplement

"Because the modern world was washed into existence on a tide of caffeine, the subject is too important to be left to historians of food and drink... Cowan is concerned with the political history of coffee houses and points to the heterogeneity of coffee house culture." -London Review of Books

"Erudite and persuasively argued, this work is based on a truly impressive range of primary and secondary sources, as demonstrated in the extensive bibliography." -William Clarence-Smith, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Institute of Historical Research