Brian Cowan: The Golden Age Isn’t Over

Source: NYT, 3-9-11


Brian Cowan is associate professor of history and classical studies at McGill University. He is the author of “The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse.”

I love coffee, and I have gone to extraordinary lengths to obtain good coffee. When I was a graduate student in the early 1990s, I would have Starbucks send me their premium roasted whole beans from Seattle to Princeton, N.J. because I couldn’t find any decent coffee on the east coast at the time. Of course, all of that changed very quickly as the Starbucks empire expanded eastwards. By the late 1990s, I had no trouble finding great coffee even in England.

The Ottoman coffeehouses of the 16th century were the model for similar drinking houses throughout Europe in the later 17th century.

While it seems like coffee has always been with us, it has been around for less than 600 years and has been commonly consumed for little more than about 300 hundred years. In world historical terms, this is a very short history indeed. But what an influence this magical bean has had in those last three centuries….READ MORE


Coffee, the New Shaky Commodity


Leah Nash for The New York Times Stumptown coffeehouse in Portland, Ore.

Coffee prices are going up and up, as fast-rising demand in China and India puts pressure on the world’s growers to increase their supplies. But, as detailed in a Times article by Elisabeth Rosenthal, farmers in a prime growing region of Colombia are finding that more intense rainstorms and warmer temperatures are making it harder to produce enough Arabica, the high-grade shade-grown varietal prized by those societies that can afford it.

While “peak coffee” may not be the same as peak oil, coffee is a commodity like no other. How will the heated market affect the ever evolving culture of coffee connoisseurship? What does history tell us about the role of coffee in unifying communities and advancing civilization, let alone in keeping everyone awake?

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