The Coffeehouse Mob

by Henry on August 16, 2006

I’ve just finished reading Brian Cowan’s _The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the English Coffee House_ (“Powells”:, Amazon) which I really enjoyed a lot (thanks to Rick Perlstein for the recommendation). Its structure is a little unwieldy – the first part is an essay in the history of consumption, the second a semi-related exercise in intellectual and social history – but it really lays out a very strong historical case for something that I’ve suspected and presumed was true, but haven’t seen treated systematically. The typical academic view of the coffeehouse has claimed it as the herald and avatar of a far reaching civil society of intelligent discourse. London coffeehouses have been depicted as the empirical manifestation of Jurgen Habermas’s “public sphere,” a space in which individuals could come together to discuss art and politics, free from both economic pressures and the oversight of the state. They’ve been portrayed as sites of rational and civilized argument. Cowan provides compelling evidence that this view is, to be blunt, romanticized bosh.

Coffeehouses, far from being sites for disinterested and aetherial discussion of politics and art, were hotbeds of political strife and faction. Arguments could turn violent:

bq. In the course of a heated debate in the Amsterdam Coffeehouse in 1683, the whig provocateur Titus Oates was struck several times over the head with a cane by one of his opponents. Oates could not retaliate in kind, and so he responded by throwing his dish of hot coffee in the eyes of his assailant.

Moreover, coffeehouses tended to have self-selecting clientele associated with different political opinions:

bq. Almost as soon as the labels “whig” and “tory” became identifiers of political identity in the early 1680s, there arose coffeehouses associated with each identification.

It’s hardly original to argue that blogs are the modern day descendants of coffeehouses (indeed Josh Marshall’s “TPMCafe”: builds a brandname on this identification), but the resemblances between blogs today and their actual (rather than imagined) 18th century equivalents are very nearly uncanny. Conservative hacks used coffeehouses to propagandize against any who would attack the privileges of the monarchy.

bq. Sam’s Coffeehouse remained the famous home base for Roger L’Estrange and his crew, who gathered there regularly to manage their tory propaganda machine. In L’Estrange’s words, it was a place “where a company of honest fellows meet to confound the lyes of a caball of shamming whigs that make the popish plot a stalking horse to get a shot at the king.”

There was even a contemporary equivalent of Pajamas Media. It failed. Miserably.

bq. [S]everal of the more prominent metropolitan coffeehouse-keepers attempted to band together to form their own exclusive news publishing business. They proposed to consolidate the news industry by establishing a collective system in which each of the subscribing coffeehouses would oversee the collection of newsworthy notices from their patrons and send them twice daily back to a general compiler who would then redistribute the news thus gathered back to the coffeehouses. By cutting out the middlemen, the coffeemen hoped to augment their income by reducing their expenditure on newspapers and collecting the subscription and advertising fees themselves Of course, the action simply invited the scorn of the professional newswriters, and it failed because both the coffeehouse and the news industries of the early eighteenth century were far too decentralized and freewheeling to admit the imposition of such a monopoly.

Even more interesting is how closely the modern critics of blogs track their equivalents in the seventeenth and eighteenth century English establishment.

bq. To call a piece of news “coffeehouse discourse” in post-Restoration Britain was instantly to diminish its value and its trustworthiness, for it was equated with gossip, or mere rumour. … Sir Leoline Jenkins, secretary of State for Charles II, thought it unwise “to measure the temper of the nation by the humour of our coffee houses,” for he believed that “the bulke of the nation is not so injust, nor so ill natured” as the opinionated men who dominated coffeehouse conversations. The purveyor of such rumors, the “coffeehouse statesman” or the “coffeehouse politician” was another stock figure of ridicule. And much like the newsmonger, he was seen as an inept commentator on affairs, more interested in self display than in making any substantial contribution to the formation of public opinion. He was an amateur, a veritable armchair critic who knew little of the real stakes involved in public affairs, and yet was always eager to offer his ill considered advice on these matters.

Political elites argued that the coffeehouses were centers of vulgar mob politics, and threats to the peaceful and established discourse of the kingdom. They sought to civilize them by subjecting them to rules of politesse, when they didn’t seek to suppress them altogether.

bq. For the new whigs such as Addison and Steele, just as much as for old tories like L’Estrange, coffeehouse discourse was best when it was politically tranquil. All parties, both Whig and Tory, shared an aversion to widening popular participation in the political public sphere. … Tarring his whig and dissenting opponents with the brush of vulgar popularity was a propagandistic strategy that L’Estrange could not resist using at every opportunity. For their part, Addison and Steele deplored the intrusion of the “rabble of mankind, that crowd our streets, coffee-houses, feasts, and publick tables” into the debates on the state of the political nation.

Now, I’m drawing a somewhat one-dimensional picture of Cowan’s argument here – there are many ways in which discourse about English coffeehouses was utterly alien to arguments about the blogosphere (for example, there was much contemporary anxiety about the foppishness of coffeehouse habitues; Julian Sanchez excepted, I don’t think there are many foppish bloggers) . Nor is it entirely fair to compare the propagandists of a monarch who believed in divine right with the propagandists of a President who at most has pronounced tendencies towards same. But there are some quite serious points that emerge from Cowan’s book. Complaints about the unruliness and vulgarity of non-elite speakers have a long established history as weapons used by the powerful to exclude or domesticate the unhallowed masses. When Lee Siegel and Morton Kondracke complain about the “knockabout origins” of bloggers, or how they are a fundamental threat to “civilty in American politics,” they’re appealing to traditional rhetorical tropes aimed at marginalizing awkward customers who threaten to disrupt a cosy purported political unity. The political freedoms of coffeehouse argument emerged not in spite of partisan contestation, but in large part because of it, and in the teeth of opposition from established elites, which included not only conservative Tories, but the Whigs who sought to roll back the powers of the monarchy (albeit not so far that their own privileges and sinecures would be threatened). In Cowan’s words:

bq. Public social life, and even more so, public politics were both always problematic in early modern Britain, and it is very difficult to find many normative champions of a Habermasian public sphere in the period. The public sphere in the political realm, as Habermas calls it, was born out of the practical exigencies of partisan political conflict, but it found few outright defenders in the world of early modern political and social theory. Instead of a Habermasian public sphere, we find in early eighteenth-century political culture a number of advocates for a more “civilized” public life such as Addison, Steele, and their fellow-travelers in the cooperative _Spectator_ project. This was a public life which includes the coffeehouse at its center to be sure, but the purpose of this civilization of public life was not to carve out a space for the politics of democratic reason as the Habermasian paradigm would lead us to believe. They wanted a “civil” society and this perhaps explains the growing popularity of the term among the literati of the British Enlightenment over the course of the eighteenth century, but they did not want a “bourgeois public sphere.” Their goal was not to prepare the ground for an age of democratic revolutions; it was to make the cultural politics of Augustan Britain safe for an elitist whig oligarchy.

_Plus ca change …_

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August 21st Roundup at Milinda’s Questions
08.21.06 at 4:11 pm



Ragout 08.16.06 at 10:57 pm

Wow. There have really been so many studies that one can speak of the “typical academic view of the coffeehouse” ?


ralph 08.16.06 at 11:21 pm

Henry, it was my impression that it was Habermas who argued that one example of his “public sphere” was the English coffeehouse. As a once-was-going-to-be-professional historian, I don’t recall having run across much in the way of other studies supporting his assertion. I even vaguely recall a Craig Calhoun collection in which — although Habermas was roundly loved by all IIRC — his coffeehouse idea was subtly ignored.
But having said all that, now I have to go find my dogeared copies of all that crap. I wonder if I ever got up the guts to throw it all out. Probably not….


Henry 08.16.06 at 11:34 pm

Ralph – yes it was Habermas himself – that’s a bit ambiguous in the post. Richard Sennett has some closely related arguments in _The Fall of Public Man_ (which may not be kosher history, but is brilliant social theory). Cowan discusses other historians who’ve made Habermasian arguments. He also takes a few potshots at John Brewer, in whose seminar I learned most of what I know about late 17th c early 18th c English cultural history.


ralph 08.16.06 at 11:53 pm

My guess is that Cowan probably takes shots at easy targets rather than hard ones — but your review makes me want to pick up the book and have some good old historical fun. Thanks for the mention.


Fargo North, Decoder 08.17.06 at 12:22 am

Man, this is truly commendable. I hope to go on to debunk successfully, through my own research, the props that accrue to the leading postcolonial version of this trope–the Parsi cafes of Bombay (the fact that you couldn’t call the town “Mumbai” without having your ass thrown onto the street should suffice to establish why such venues–conducive to free speech within limits–show up the Pollyannaish quality of Habermas’s bourgeois oasis).


ralph 08.17.06 at 12:30 am

I found my crap. My wife took it all to HER office so that SHE can teach it. I’ll tell her to drop the coffeehouse concept… :-)


John Quiggin 08.17.06 at 1:11 am

Obviously the idea that places where individuals gather to discuss politics would be sites of rational and civilised argument is a bit improbable, but apart from that Cowan seems to be confirming Habermas’ argument.

A proper debunking, I would have thought would be one that showed that the vast majority of people attending coffee shops were teenagers (an anachronism, I know, but you get the idea) and that most of the discussion was sexually-oriented gossip conducted in an illiterate argot.


Belle Waring 08.17.06 at 2:16 am

julian sanchez isn’t a fop, man. I know the other male bloggers are resentful of his manifest hawtness and all, but…


Maria 08.17.06 at 2:56 am

It’s not a debunking per JQ, but the biography of Samuel Pepys I’m reading gives the impression that London coffee shops circa 1650 were just that; tribal hang outs stuffed with sexually frustrated adolescents gossiping about eachother and trying to game the royalist/republican struggle so’s to get their feet on the career ladder. Of course in those days most people graduated from Oxbridge at about 17.


chris y 08.17.06 at 3:03 am

JQ, there were coffee houses that specialised in just that – King’s in Covent Garden was one such IIRC. But I suspect the truth is simply that they were too many and varied to support any meaningful generalisations.

The fact that the coffee houses which functioned as meeting places for important business sectors, notably Lloyd’s and Jonathan’s (a.k.a. the Stock Exchange) tended to become members only places before the end of the 18th century argues against the idea that they were all beacons of civilised discourse – in the end you had to keep the rabble out to get your job done.


Henry 08.17.06 at 6:06 am

I meant foppish in the _good_ sense of the term. A very well turned out metrosexual (which I think Julian would acknowledge quite happily – he’s talked about the metrosexual thing a bit on his blog unless my memory is badly mistaken). Really, the contrast that was in my head was between Julian and the avg. blogger such as myself, whom no-one could accuse with a straight face of being well turned out. My student evaluations comment on how badly I dress; nor, unsurprisingly, do I receive any hawtness peppers on ratemyprofessor.


chris y 08.17.06 at 6:23 am

What on earth did I say in in #10 that gave me comment moderation cooties?


Abi 08.17.06 at 6:25 am

Interesting. This post reminded me of something similar that appeared in the Economist in December 2003. The comparison was between coffee houses and the broader internet itself (chat rooms, discussion groups, blogs …).


Henry 08.17.06 at 6:34 am

chris y – our commenting software sometimes blocks regular commenters until someone picks you out of the queue – could be that you’re writing from a different IP address than usual, the stars aren’t right or whatever. The Cowan book talks about Kings coffeehouse (I think it reproduces an engraving of it, but I don’t have my copy to hand).


Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.17.06 at 6:47 am

I rather suspect the ‘bourgeois public sphere’ is not, in the end, that different from the the ‘civil’ society of Addison and Steele. Of course Habermas discussed coffee houses with reading and table societies, clubs, and French salons, journals–‘webs of social relationships’ (Calhoun).

Some titles relevant to this discussion:

Calhoun, Craig, ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

Craveri, Benedetta. The Age of Conversation (New York: The New York Review of Books, 2005).

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994).

Habermas, Jurgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (English tr.), 1989).

Kale, Steven. French Salons: High Society and Political Sociability from the Old Regime to the Revolution of 1848. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

Im Hof, Ulrich. Part IV, ‘The Champions of Enlightenment,’ in Im Hof’s The Enlightenment (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1994), pp. 105-154.

Miller, Stephen. Conversation: A History of a Declining Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006).

Dena Goodman reminds us that ‘Coffeehouse owners encouraged the integration of reading and conversation by providing newspapers to their customers. They took this aspect of their trade seriously enough to apply for a monopoly of it in 1729. Newspapers became the occasions and topics of the conversations that took place in the coffeehouse, filling the same role as letters did for salon conversation. The privacy of letters and the publicity of newspapers as vehicles of news marked a significant difference between the seventeenth-century Parisian salon and the eighteenth-century London coffeehouse, but the integration of the written and spoken word in an economy of discursive exchange constituted the common ground of polite conversation. Addison and Steele’s Spectator and Tatler made conversations the model and the subject matter of the printed word. They presented themselves as emanating from clubs associated with the London coffeehouses, integrated the letters of habitues into their texts, and recreated the essay as a form that both represented coffeehouse sociability and stimulated it.’

I will need to read Cowan, but I suspect he doesn’t have a very nuanced reading of Habermas’s argument. Just one example, there need be no ‘normative champions of a Habermasian public sphere in the period’ or ‘outright defenders’ of the public sphere in the political realm for Habermas’s argument, as it was how these folks acted, the consequences or spillover or by-product effects of their actions that counted, not necessarily how they themselves conceived of or understood the meaning of their actions. And I doubt a more empirically ‘messy’ description of the many coffeehouses of this period (Calhoun says London had 3,000 coffehouses by the first decade of the 18th century) can amount to a dismissal of that argument. What is more, I think there’s a tendency to read much of the later Habermas back into this early work, the argument of which is far more modest than later theories.

So, I look forward to reading Cowan and re-visiting arguments I haven’t looked at for some time.


Steve 08.17.06 at 6:53 am

“Conservative hacks used coffeehouses to propagandize against any who would attack the privileges of the monarchy.”

Ha ha. Presumably liberal haacks (sorry,liberal highly educated elites) also used coffeehouses to elevate the discourse?

Wht fcktrd. Chrls Krthmmr pprs t b n dt wh shld b stdyng t b mrn. nd, b syng tht, m bng nknd t bth dts nd mrns. “sht th fck p…”

Plus ca change indeed.




Ancarett 08.17.06 at 8:38 am

I guess I’ve always been cynical, because whenever I ran across the whole “coffehouse as a venue for public discourse and idea exchange” in my readings, I always pictured the rooms filled with overbearing louts bashing others over the head or at least threatening bodily harm. This revision hasn’t shaken my picture in the least except to suggest to people that maybe they ought to be careful when imagining the past to ensure that they don’t project their modern sensibilities and ideals where they don’t belong!


Adam Kotsko 08.17.06 at 8:51 am

Sometimes I have difficulty believing that Habermas actually espouses the ideas that are attributed to him.


bi 08.17.06 at 8:52 am

Steve: “Complaints about the unruliness and vulgarity of non-elite speakers have a long established history as weapons used by the powerful to exclude or domesticate the unhallowed masses. When Lee Siegel and Morton Kondracke complain about the ‘knockabout origins’ of bloggers, or how they are a fundamental threat to ‘civilty in American politics,’ they’re appealing to traditional rhetorical tropes aimed at marginalizing awkward customers who threaten to disrupt a cosy purported political unity.”



Steve 08.17.06 at 9:15 am

the problem with your quote is I’m not complaining about the vulgarity of non-elites; I’m complaining about the vulgarity of elites. This is an academic blog, after all. Are the best educated in our society really synonymous with ‘non-elite’ speakers, or ‘unhallowed masses?’
(perhaps you are all stopping in for a quick comment before filing off to the coal mine?)

Furthermore, who is the ‘cozy purported political unity,’ here? Are Henry and the 15 commenters who agree with him really engaged in breaking up a political unity expressed by…me alone (and if I hadn’t said anything, they wouldn’t be opposed by anybody, right)? Or is it more likely the other way around?




josh 08.17.06 at 10:14 am

I’d also quibble a bit with the mention of conservative hacks, though for rather different reasons than Steve (and I hope, therefore, not to suffer the same fate!) It may be (I haven’t fully made up my mind about this, and there are other commenters who’d know better) a bit anachronistic to identify supporters of the ‘tory’ faction in Augustan England with modern-day ideological conservatives. For one thing, as the quote Henry gives suggests, part of the ‘whig’ platform, if one can call it that, was Papist-baiting, which hardly seems a liberal or progressive stance (unless one believes Anne Coulter’s rubbish about liberalism) — and some (e.g. Hume) would claim that, at least at some points, the whigs were the religious loonies. And then, of course, there’s the view that the whigs and tories were really just factions representing different personal or group interests of the time, which can’t be translated into doctrinal terms at all. But even if they can be, I’m uncomfortable with drawing easy analogies between the ideologies of that period, and those of ours.
But this is not doubt being too literal and humourless in my reading of what Henry wrote. Please, don’t throw hot cyber-coffee in my face, anyone!


chris y 08.17.06 at 10:20 am

But what is your point, Steve? This is about the early 18th century, when nothing resembling a modern “liberal” existed, even in the economic sense. There were Tories, the church and king party, there were Whigs, who at that point favoured a narrowly defined aristocratic republic headed by a king to keep the rabble in an appropriate state of fear, and there were dissenters, who were excluded from the national debate by all kinds of vicious legislation, but who sometimes managed to get quite rich in business anyway.

Anybody with views like Henry’s would have been regarded as a Bedlamite. Henry has quoted Cowan on the l’Estrange group as an example because this is a blog, not a dissertation, but I’m quite sure there’s plenty of evidence that the atmosphere at White’s was often worse than Atrios on a bad day. Is that OK? And the Earl of Sunderland was gay, and Robert Walpole was notoriously obese and unhygenic, but none of these people came within miles of being chuffing liberals.


Shelby 08.17.06 at 11:16 am

Is there evidence that scholars used to hang out in coffeehouses arguing about whether and how they could get professional credit for their musings and coffee-throwing antics?


Walt 08.17.06 at 11:39 am

Can someone please delete Steve entirely, before this entire discussion (interesting up until now) becomes taken over with how Steve hates liberals? I mean seriously, why do you tolerate people who are entirely motivated by hatred of you?


Adam Kotsko 08.17.06 at 11:41 am

Scholars would perhaps be better off arguing that their presence in actual coffeeshops is beneficial to the public square, in order to get their institutions to subsidize their Starbucks habit. For younger scholars, I’m sure that would represent one or two student loan payments each year.


Henry 08.17.06 at 12:33 pm

Josh – guilty as charged – as I hope was clear in the post, the bits about conservative hacks and Pajamas Media are tongue-in-cheek. I am quite serious on the major point about the similarities between establishment attacks then and now. This isn’t to say that the same issues are at stake, or that the establishment then resembles the establishment now in any profound sense. But it does seen to me that there’s a structural similarity there.


bi 08.17.06 at 1:03 pm

Walt: (I’ll second that. It’s good for him too… he’ll feel motivated go off to some other blog such as Little Green Footballs, where people will constantly agree with him and he won’t feel so Oppressed(tm).)

Henry: Now all we need to do is to find citations of some classical Whigs and Tories complaining about excessive ‘political correctness’ (or something similar), and we can call it a day.


kid bitzer 08.17.06 at 1:07 pm

I agree about the cure, not the diagnosis.

I’d say it’s pretty clearly jealousy rather than hatred.


sglover 08.17.06 at 2:16 pm

How did they keep the frappucino cold in the 17th Century?


des von bladet 08.17.06 at 2:49 pm

Am I the only one who ewwwishly double-took at “tarring his whig …”?

(I am available for hitting on the head with a cane at very moderate rates, incidentally. Bring your own coffee.)


Julian Sanchez 08.17.06 at 3:33 pm

I think I prefer “dandy.”


Steve 08.17.06 at 3:49 pm

“they’re appealing to traditional rhetorical tropes aimed at marginalizing awkward customers who threaten to disrupt a cosy purported political unity.”

Ok, now I really don’t get it. Are you all suggesting that you essentially are the ones being marginalized-you are disrupting the cosy purported political unity-you are proud of being the ‘vulgar’ outsiders, or ‘mob’ who are accused of this vulgarity, but in fact are upsetting a status quo with your willingness to buck the powers that be, willingness to use foul language when necessary?

So why am I, the only dissenting voice in this conversation, the one that’s facing being banned? I’ll repeat; which of us is in a cozy situation that’s being threatened?

My original point was really just to illustrate how apparently subconscious (or conscious but irrelevant to the post) political slams sneak into posts where they aren’t even necessary (why slam Bush when talking about 18th century coffee houses?). What could have been an interesting sociological discussion just becomes another partisan which you alienate half your potential audience.

But my point after reading this comments section has certainly evolved. From the post, there’s the comment on how 17th and 18th century establishment disliked coffehouse culture because it was upsetting the status quo (“coffeehouse discourse was best when it was politically tranquil…Addison and Steele deplored the intrusion of the “rabble of mankind, that crowd our streets, coffee-houses, feasts, and publick tables”).

There’s the comparison to modern political elites treat blogs similarly (“When Lee Siegel and Morton Kondracke complain about the “knockabout origins” of bloggers, or how they are a fundamental threat to “civilty in American politics,” they’re appealing to traditional rhetorical tropes aimed at marginalizing awkward customers who threaten to disrupt a cosy purported political unity.”).

And finally, in the comments section, we get: “…Can someone please delete Steve entirely,…”

Its interesting; each culture (or sub-culture, or sub-sub-culture: after all, there’s only about 15 people here) treats dissent in exactly the same way…



greensmile 08.17.06 at 3:49 pm

well how many public spheres could we have, anyway? Or is the blogosphere something other than the public sphere? some kind of distributed cocktail party perhaps?


Walt 08.17.06 at 4:37 pm

Steve: Posting on how you hate me and my kind is not synonymous with dissent.


serial catowner 08.17.06 at 5:56 pm

So Cowan sets up a straw man to demolish, suggesting mainly that he had accumulated a largely random set of anecdotes and could find no other thread on which to hang a narrative.

Study questions-

Given that tea is the drink of the Englishman, what is the story of the rise and fall of coffee in English culture?

How did the coffeehouses resemble, and how did they differ from, the salon society of Paris in the Revolution and early Empire?

It appears intuitively obvious that the introduction of a new stimulant drug, the development of joint-stock companies and underwriting, and the birth of Fleet Street are in some way connected. Discuss.


Henry 08.17.06 at 6:40 pm

dandy it is then …


bi 08.17.06 at 10:44 pm

Steve: Here’s a clue: you know, there’s someone around here who can’t stop complaining about the use of foul language, and it’s not any of us. And another clue: you know, by your own estimate the Right takes up “half the potential audience”. And you still complain about being oppressed? What?

greensmile: For some reason I just hate the word “blogosphere”…


Chris 08.17.06 at 11:13 pm

I find the more interesting topic to be the role of the coffeehouse in, say, Sicily or Vienna – areas where there was even less of a tradition of ‘toleration’ than in England, and where loose chat could get you hanged rather than scalded or bashed (and even then, being hit with a cane isn’t necessarily a rap on the knuckles; some while later Preston Brooks nearly killed Senator Sumner with “a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs” or a “a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head”, depending).
I came across once and then mislaid a quote from Henry – or possibly John – Fielding that summed up the public/private sphere perfectly, about how the Englishman’s inalienable right to say anything he wanted to on any topic that concerned his own legitimate interests should not be confused with the totally inadmissable claim to have any right to tell his sovereign what to do on any topic that didn’t. Can anybody place it?


nick s 08.19.06 at 2:31 am

Given that tea is the drink of the Englishman, what is the story of the rise and fall of coffee in English culture?

Price and social setting, at least in the late 17th/early 18th c. Coffee appears to have delivered more bang for the bob, if you take the prices in the Gents. Mag. as representative. It was also considered a more ‘masculine’ drink than tea, which appears to have been associated with the ladies during the early 18th c. (As a very rough generalisation, you’d drink tea in your home in a more intimate social setting, and drink coffee in the coffeehouse.)

And the expansion of the East India Company probably did most to cement the place of tea in British culture.


serial catowner 08.19.06 at 11:57 am

Yes, I would guess that as the British displaced the Portugese and French in the tea-growing regions, a push to consume the more available product developed.

Notwithstanding, a local coffeehouse in Seattle used to serve a tea that had the kick of methedrine. Wary customers learned to choose the more manageable coffee they served.


MKM 08.19.06 at 1:49 pm

Coffeehouses and politics do appear a confirmed pair. As do caffeine and writing/blogging…. oops, hang on, I just spilt a Red Bull on my keyboard.

I can’t quite decide if I find some of the other people who left comments pedantic or if I want to be their friend.


Delia 08.19.06 at 7:52 pm

I don’t see how the fact that people weren’t very polite to each other inside the coffeehouses disproves their role in the rise of a public civil sphere. Habermas isn’t using “civil” in the sense of polite, but in the sense of political. Politics is dirty business and the coffeehouses provided a location in which it could develop, as well as a stimulating and mildly addictive beverage that encouraged social interaction, both in its postive and negative forms.

The big difference between the coffeehouse culture and the blogosphere is that the latter is a virtual community. It doesn’t have the actual physical contact of individuals that English coffeehouse culture or French salon culture developed. And that makes a great deal of difference.

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