The Social Life of Coffee


You are viewing an older version of the Yalebooks website. Please visit out new website with more updated information and a better user experience:

The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse

Brian Cowan

View Inside Format: Cloth
Price: $45.00
Our shopping cart only supports Mozilla Firefox. Please ensure you're using that browser before attempting to purchase.

Also Available in:

What induced the British to adopt foreign coffee-drinking customs in the seventeenth century? Why did an entirely new social institution, the coffeehouse, emerge as the primary place for consumption of this new drink? In this lively book, Brian Cowan locates the answers to these questions in the particularly British combination of curiosity, commerce, and civil society. Cowan provides the definitive account of the origins of coffee drinking and coffeehouse society, and in so doing he reshapes our understanding of the commercial and consumer revolutions in Britain during the long Stuart century.

Britain’s virtuosi, gentlemanly patrons of the arts and sciences, were profoundly interested in things strange and exotic. Cowan explores how such virtuosi spurred initial consumer interest in coffee and invented the social template for the first coffeehouses. As the coffeehouse evolved, rising to take a central role in British commercial and civil society, the virtuosi were also transformed by their own invention.

Brian Cowan holds the Canada Research Chair in Early Modern British History at McGill University. He lives in Montreal.

“Cowan’s work fits the bill in many ways. It is easily the most thorough account of the social history of the British coffeehouse ever written.”—Adrian Johns, University of Chicago



"Brian Cowan's Social Life of Coffee is an engagingly written, lavishly illustrated, and meticulously researched book.  It provides the most comprehensive account of the rise and accommodation of coffee and coffeehouse culture that is currently available. Cowan's book will begin a number of important and intellectually fruitful debates about the rise and extent of virtuoso culture, about the nature and limits of the bourgeois public sphere, and about the gendered nature of social space in Early Modern England."—Steven Pincus, Yale University 

"[A] well-researched, wide-ranging and fascinating book... Cowan adds rich colours and shades to a picture we had hitherto only in outline." - Kevin Sharpe, Times Literary Supplement

"Because the modern world was washed into existence on a tide of caffeine, the subject is too important to be left to historians of food and drink... Cowan is concerned with the political history of coffee houses...[and] points to the heterogeneity of coffee house culture..." - London Review of Books

"Lively and well researched. . . . An important and beautifully produced work on the history of the coffee-house, especially in its account of the masculine cast of coffee-house sociability, the state regulation of coffee-houses, and the trade of coffee-house keeping in London."—Markman Ellis, American Historical Review

 ‘Erudite and persuasively argued, this work is based on a truly impressive range of primary and secondary sources, as demonstrated in the extensive bibliography.’---William Clarence-Smith, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Institute of Historical Research

"A well-documented book that rejects conventional scholarship that coffeehouses were an all-but-inevitable expression of post-Restoration Britain's push toward democracy, social mobility, and capitalism. Refreshingly, Cowan argues that coffeehouses were remarkably diverse and succeeded only after a long struggle against improbable odds."—Cathy Kaufman, Gastronomica

"Fascinating."—Charles Tilly, Business History Review

"Cowan's study, when compared with the extensive specialized literature, is an exemplary and innovative success and is convincing in its methodological, analytic, and didactic approach. . . . It is extremely rich in sources and presents countless hitherto unknown texts and images. Cowan enriches the existing research through his new questions, connections, and results."—Annerose Menninger, Journal of Modern History

“Cowan’s scholarly yet very readable study offers a fascinating insight into how changes in British society gave us our taste for this hot black broth’.”—The Guardian

Winner of the Wallace K. Ferguson Prize awarded by the Canadian Historical Association
ISBN: 9780300106664
Publication Date: November 11, 2005
384 pages, 6 x 9
43 b/w illus.