Saturday, December 1, 2007

Coffee and Coffee-Houses Symbols of Conquered Lands

Coffee much like other beverages in the world, has a mysticism attached to it. Much like wine and distilled beverages coffee has a unique history that links it to a time and place. However unlike many of these other beverages, coffee is a beverage of conquest, world domination and intellectual stimulation based upon superiority over other cultures. Whereas wine and other beverages already existed in Europe, coffee had to be discovered, taken and then worshiped in its own local, the coffee-house.

It is true that alcoholic beverages had their place in cafes and restaurants when coffee became popular, but the creation of the single location for coffee alone shows the subjection of the foreign drink for the civilized members of society. This subjugation of coffee was not unlike tea conquered from Asia. However, tea had already been an important part of European, especially British culture for some time. These other beverages could be enjoyed by the common man, however coffee was reserved for those of wealth and intellect.

Coffee-house such as Llyod’s Coffee-house were created where intelligent discussion could take place. Unlike the drunken conversations taking place in taverns and cafes, the conversation in coffee-houses was of a sober nature. Some noted that caffeine was a stimulant that promoted intellectual conversation. The manner in which coffee was served was special in itself; served by a barista that would custom mix blends of coffee and additives for additional flavor, one is reminded of the modern day Starbucks cafes that proliferate on college campuses with intellectuals ordering the same way today.

Other coffee-houses in the 17th-18th century, such as Tillyard’s, were havens for student’s clubs that read poems and handed out material on the intellectual culture of thetime. Political conversation was also a hot topic in coffee-houses of the time. So much so that spies would be sent into coffee houses to check up on those who were meeting behind the secretive, exclusive doors. Conjecture has been made that these gatherings gave way to secret college clubs (“invisible colleges”) and private political societies, but that idea can only be taken at face-value as many clubs come out of informal gatherings such as these.

The question that remains however is, why the coffee house for such gatherings? These gatherings were surely taking place before the discovery of coffee and the creation of the coffee-house. These locations were largely English Spanish and French, which were all world powers and land conquerors from the 17th-18th century. This leads one to the possible conclusion that coffee wasn’t just another beverage and not just another way to gather. It was a beverage to be controlled as were the conquered lands it came from.

One simply did not go to the coffee shop and order a cup of coffee, it was served in unique china which civilized the coffee which was from an uncivilized land. Next the coffee was poured and served by a barista. The barista was given an order by the patron to make the coffee the way they desired it. The barista may represent the slaves that the conquerors subjugated in the lands where the coffee was taken from. When the barista made the beverage, it had other ingredients from subjugated lands added to it, such as sugar. In addition very European additives such as honey or otherwise which civilized the beverage even further. Finally it was enjoyed in a coffee-house with all male, intellectual and political figures who were potentially in charge of theirr countries’

Coffee’s appearance in the European world was extremely unique. Unlike other beverages, it earned its own place in society. Not in main stream society however, but in the elite social, political and intellectual realms. This seat in European culture can easily be said to be offered by its symbolism for what the European countries of the time were trying to accomplish, which was the expansion of their known borders and subjugation of all lands they came into contact with. So coffee becomes a symbol of the European conquest for power and as such earned its place in separate coffee-houses during the 17th-18th centuries.

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