The Coffee-House: A Cultural History

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Orion, May 12, 2011 - History - 352 pages

How the simple commodity of coffee came to rewrite the experience of metropolitan life

When the first coffee-house opened in London in 1652, customers were bewildered by this strange new drink from Turkey. But those who tried coffee were soon won over. More coffee-houses were opened across London and, in the following decades, in America and Europe.

For a hundred years the coffee-house occupied the centre of urban life. Merchants held auctions of goods, writers and poets conducted discussions, scientists demonstrated experiments and gave lectures, philanthropists deliberated reforms. Coffee-houses thus played a key role in the explosion of political, financial, scientific and literary change in the 18th century.

In the 19th century the coffee-house declined, but the 1950s witnessed a dramatic revival in the popularity of coffee with the appearance of espresso machines and the `coffee bar', and the 1990s saw the arrival of retail chains like Starbucks.

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About the author (2011)

Markman Ellis was educated at the universities of Auckland and Cambridge, and now teaches 18th-century literature and culture at Queen Mary, University of London. He has published books on the sentimental novel and gothic fiction, and articles on many topics in 18th-century studies, including georgic poetry, slavery, kangaroos and lap-dogs.

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