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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What Do Modern Cafes and the Enlightenment Have in Common

This newsletter is the first in a two-part series about coffee in history and its parallels to modern coffee advancements. This week we’ll explore the Enlightenment and the Second Wave of coffee. Keep an eye out for next week’s issue about the Industrial Revolution and the Third Wave of coffee. 

What's the Link?  

What do the modern cafe and the Enlightenment—the period from the late 17th to the early 19th centuries where new thought exploded and age-old religious beliefs were overthrown in favor of scientific study—have in common? Keep reading to find out! 

It’s no coincidence that coffee’s arrival in Europe coincided with the start of the Enlightenment. In fact, many historians believe that the arrival and adoption of coffee, in favor of the perennial favorite, beer, helped fuel the revolution by sharpening people’s minds, filling them with ideas and loosening their tongues. 

The arrival of coffeehouses in Europe paved the way for a collision of ideas to ignite the Enlightenment. With these new “penny universities,” as they were often called because of the penny cost of admission to a coffeehouse, men of all backgrounds, education and careers, met for the first time to debate new thoughts. This meeting of the minds led to an explosion of new ideas that fueled the intellectual revolution of the Enlightenment. 

Coffeehouses Today 

Fast forward to the mid-twentieth century: most people know coffee as something out of a can and it means little more than that sorely needed morning jolt. The coffeehouses of the 16th to 18th centuries are a distant memory and most innovation is coming out of independent projects conducted by a select few. Along comes Howard Schultz with the idea to revive the coffeehouses of yore and bring back the communal atmosphere of the café. 

As Starbucks, and later Peet’s, Costa, Nero and more, spread across the world, reigniting that communal spark and opening the door for innumerable more community cafes and gathering spaces, the idea of the third space—a communal place outside of home and work—took root. As coffee shops continue to grow in popularity and scope—some are experimenting with combining bars, bookstores and more within cafes—the modern coffeehouse mirrors the coffee shop of Enlightenment. And indeed, ideas, projects and new collaborations emerge out of connections formed or nurtured in coffee shops. 

The Next Revolution: Collaborating with Producers 

The next step in collaboration will take place between importers, roasters and consumers, and origin. The lightning-fast communication methods in the age of the Internet combined with a greater understanding of the needs of farmers should pave the way to better communication and collaboration. People in coffee shops in consuming countries will only continue to become more connected with the farmers who grew their coffee.