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The Coffee House: A Cultural History
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The Coffee House: A Cultural History

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  19 reviews
When the first coffeehouse opened in London in 1652, customers were bewildered by this strange new drink from Turkey—hot, bitter, and black as soot. But those who tried coffee were soon won over, and more coffee-houses were opened across London, America, and Europe. For a hundred years the coffeehouse occupied the center of urban life, creating a distinctive social culture ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 1st 2004 by Orion Publishing
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Karen Brooks
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Living in the modern world, it’s hard to imagine a time when people didn’t start the day with coffee or that we didn’t consider meeting someone in a café or inviting them over for a cuppa one of the sweetest of leisure time activities. Yet, until travellers explored the Ottoman Empire and encountered the Coffa-Houses in Constantinople, and trade between nations flourished during the Renaissance, coffee was unknown in the western world.
In his book, The Coffee House: A Cultural History, Markman El
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2015
A fascinating anthropological look at coffee culture, I was amazed by some of the early findings and descriptions of coffee throughout the middle east. It seems so obvious now -- of COURSE coffee houses started in countries that didn't allow alcohol/pubs for social gatherings -- but reading the early history was really quite fascinating.
The book is incredibly well researched, with good portions of first-hand accounts included in the text. The journey from the Reformation of Europe to modern time
Dec 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, finished
Quite an interesting account of a place where people drink coffee throughout history.

This book is a bit British oriented, especially in the beginning. The early chapters are a bit "impenetrable" because of the historical sources with their "old(er?)" English. I was put off the first time because of that. Suddenly it reads much better when it gets to the 1900, especially the one about Starbucks.
Did not finish.

Found the writing somewhat boring to be honest.
Jun 01, 2009 rated it did not like it
I was not particularly impressed by this book. The idea behind it, a history of the coffee house, does sound interesting, but the book itself is a very slow and dry read. A lot of the late 17th century into the 18th in Britain, when the coffee houses were flourishing, simply does not make for engaging reading. At least not with this author who seems to get bogged down in a lot of minutia that is honestly not very interesting. The book will then move to how the coffee houses lost their appeal in ...more
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
"The value of the coffee traded on international commodity markets is surpassed only by oil." (xi)

"[T]he legacy of the early coffee-house is not simply to be found in Starbucks and other modern retailers of coffee, but also in the stock market, in insurance companies, in political parties, in the modern regard for public opinion, in the institutions of literary criticism, in the research cultures of modern science and in the Internet." (xii)

"In this period, 'wit' meant much more than mere humour
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, long-18thc, history
What Ellis is really interested in is the way English (and, to some extent, American) coffee house culture from the 1650s to the later eighteenth century created a space for a new kind of public sociability that had a demonstrable effect on politics, cultural history, and the development of business life and urban culture. He includes some useful background to the introduction of coffee to England, and he briefly extends the discussion past the peak of that coffee house culture (the most interes ...more
Lauren Albert
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-world
Did you know that coffee was popular in England before tea? This was in large part because tea was very expensive and so a luxury item. The book covers much more than the history of the coffee house. Ellis narrates the discovery of coffee, features of the early coffee trade and the lore of coffee's medicinal qualities. The book teaches you how the coffee house came to be associated with Republicanism and sedition (because it, well, was associated with republicans and the seditious). The belief t ...more
Wendy Knerr
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
I haven't managed to finish this book, but dip into it from time to time, usually over a nice cup of jo. It's got some fascinating historical insights into the place of coffee and, especially, the coffee house, in modern democracies and Britain in particular -- which was drinking coffee (and banning it) before tea made its way into our cups. I'm always intrigued to read about the cultural and social importance of food and drink, which is one of the things this book does well, even if it's not a ...more
Christopher Flynn
Mar 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent study of the coffee house in Western history. It traces the emergence of the first coffee houses in London in the 17th century, with the involvement of Turkish immigrants - sometimes in fairly powerful roles, often in marginalized ones. It's good on the development of discussion and debate in the coffee houses as well, but I would have liked more development of this aspect of the book. Still, all in all it's probably the best discussion of the social impact of the coffee hou ...more
Lissa Notreallywolf
This is a British book about the history of coffee, and as a coffee lover and a historian I very much enjoyed it. I think there are other such histories that might give a better view of coffee as an institution in America, however. The best part was the discussion of Soho in the 1950's. He also makes the accurate and insightful observation about the Seattlization of coffee-houses which is a milk based business, geared toward the American palatte disinclined toward bitter flavors. It also notes t ...more
Jul 15, 2013 rated it liked it
This was an interesting read that also had some frustrating elements. As for positives, Ellis' book is well researched, very informative and exudes a passion for the subject. The negatives are the inclusion of endless details which cause the narrative to slow at times. It also focuses almost exclusively on British coffee houses despite the rich legacy of other European traditions. That said, there aren't many books on a topic I love so I'm glad I read it. ...more
Dec 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fantastically well-researched and referenced work. The author's painstaking yet vivid reconstruction of the role that coffee played in the construction of Western cultural norms and institutions (the concept of public opinion and Lloyds of London, for example) will delight and surprise lovers of the now-quotidian drink. ...more
Tim Robinson
Apr 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: society
The coffee house is a pivotal institution in European (and especially English) social history. It is the origin of political parties, gentlemen's clubs, the Masons, the Royal Society, joint stock companies and insurance. And yet this book fails to grip. Too much detail, I suspect. ...more
Sarah Logan
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Could be very interesting but way too long and unnecessarily detailed, so it becomes boring relatively quickly
Scott Dyball
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
A very well written and researched book on a phenomenon that has interested me since I first heard about Lloyds Coffee Shop.
Mar 30, 2020 rated it liked it
I liked this book, but it has some serious flaws.

Clear organization
Somewhat informative
Penetrable prose

Not a lot here that is not mentioned in other books on the subject (or wikipedia for that matter). This makes for a good first book on the subject but repetitive for anyone familiar with it.
Very much a narrative history without an interesting methodology of clever way to relate new insights.
Despite the title, this book is about the Western coffee house, particularly the English coffee h
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53 likes · 12 comments
“As he noted in his pocketbook, Although they are destitute of Taverns, yet have they Coffa-houses, which something resemble them. There sit they chatting most of the day; and sippe of a drinke called Coffa (of the berry that it is made of) in little China dishes, as hot as they can suffer it: blacke as soote, and tasting not much unlike it.” 1 likes
“Coffee-house conversations, Pepys had discovered, presented a fascinating panoply of philosophical puzzles. The attraction of the place was never simply the coffee, which Pepys did not seem to like much, but rather the potential he found there for social intercourse and companionship with one’s fellows – what his age called ‘sociality’ or ‘sodality’, the quality of fellowship, brotherhood and company.” 1 likes
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