A History of the World in Six Glasses

Coffee Symbol Analysis

Coffee Symbol Icon

As Standage argues, coffee has long symbolized intellect, creativity, and “just a streak of revolution.” During the Enlightenment, coffee—and the coffeehouses where it was served—represented a form of free, open discourse in which new ideas could be discussed without prejudice. Even today, it might not entirely be a coincidence that Seattle, a center of Internet development, is also the birthplace of Starbucks, the most popular coffee chain in America. Coffee continues to symbolize the thrill of creativity and entrepreneurship.

Coffee Quotes in A History of the World in Six Glasses

The A History of the World in Six Glasses quotes below all refer to the symbol of Coffee. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Walker Publishing Company edition of A History of the World in Six Glasses published in 2006.
Introduction Quotes

In some European nations, and particularly in Britain, coffee was challenged by tea imported from China. Its popularity in Europe helped to open lucrative trade routes with the East and underpinned imperialism and industrialization on an unprecedented scale, enabling Britain to become the first global superpower.

Related Symbols: Coffee, Tea
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

The diffusion of this new rationalism throughout Europe was mirrored by the spread of a new drink, coffee, that promoted sharpness and clarity of thought. It became the preferred drink of scientists, intellectuals, merchants, and clerks—today we would call them “information workers.”

Related Symbols: Coffee
Page Number: 134-35
Explanation and Analysis:

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But of even greater significance than [coffee] was the novel way in which it was consumed: in coffeehouses, which dispensed conversation as much as coffee. In doing so, coffeehouses provided an entirely new environment for social, intellectual, commercial, and political exchange.

Related Symbols: Coffee
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

French coffeehouses highlighted the paradox that despite the intellectual advances of the Enlightenment, progress in the social and political spheres had been hindered by the dead hand of the ancien regime. The wealthy aristocracy and clergy, a mere 2 percent of the population, were exempt from taxes, so the burden of taxation fell on everyone else: the rural poor and the wealthier members of the bourgeoisie, who resented the aristocracy’s firm grip on power and privilege. In coffeehouses the contrast between radical new ideas about how the world might be and how it actually was became most apparent.

Related Symbols: Coffee
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

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Is it any surprise that the current center of coffee culture, the city of Seattle, home to Starbucks coffeehouse chain, is also where some of the world’s largest software and Internet firms are based? Coffee’s association with innovation, reason, and networking—plus a dash of revolutionary fervor—has a long pedigree.

Related Symbols: Coffee
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

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Coffee Symbol Timeline in A History of the World in Six Glasses

The timeline below shows where the symbol Coffee appears in A History of the World in Six Glasses. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction: Vital Fluids
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
...can understand important things about human culture. He singles out six drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. Each one was “the defining drink during a pivotal historical period.” (full context)
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
Another milestone beverage was coffee. Coffee became popular throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages, when Europeans began trading and... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Great Soberer
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
...argues that the rise of the European Enlightenment was closely paralleled by the rise of coffee in Europe among middle-class workers and intellectuals around the same time. (full context)
Imperialism Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
...Standage argues, “Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.” Coffee, a drink that became popular in Europe in the middle of the 17th century, was... (full context)
Imperialism Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Europe borrowed coffee from the Arab world. Coffee was probably invented in North Africa, or possibly Yemen. According... (full context)
Imperialism Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
At first, the Christian world rejected coffee and viewed it as a pagan, Muslim drink. But in the early 1600s, Pope Clement... (full context)
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
Coffeehouses first appeared in England during the time of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan dictator of England.... (full context)
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Within less than a century, coffeehouses had become a central part of social and political life in England. While some disapproved... (full context)
Imperialism Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
Through the 17th and 18th centuries, Arabia was the only supplier of coffee beans for England. This changed as England, along with Holland and France, became an imperial... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Coffeehouse Internet
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
In the 17th century, educated and wealthy men would go to coffeehouses to learn about business news, politics, gossip, and literature. Businessmen often negotiated new deals over... (full context)
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
Coffeehouses were public places, except that they excluded women and the poor. Gentlemen and tradesmen (people... (full context)
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
The first coffeehouse in Western Europe was established at the University of Oxford—a sure sign of the relationship... (full context)
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
Perhaps the greatest book of the Age of Enlightenment was published because of coffeehouse conversation. Robert Hooke, the noted physicist, was drinking coffee with Halley, Wren, and Newton. Hooke... (full context)
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
Standage argues that science and commerce became heavily intertwined in coffeehouses. Many coffeehouses were patronized primarily by explorers and sailors, and sometimes these patrons would hatch... (full context)
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
...aristocracy. Voltaire’s books were banned for their supposedly immoral content, yet Voltaire continued to frequent coffeehouses, spending time with such French luminaries as Rousseau and Montesquieu, whose political writings Voltaire influenced. (full context)
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
French coffeehouses were similar to their English counterparts in many ways: they welcomed wealthy and middle-class men... (full context)
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
In contemporary times, coffeehouses remain popular, though they’re far tamer than their ancestors. Coffee is still the drink of... (full context)
Chapter 9: Empires of Tea
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
...garden was popular with women in part because it provided a gender-equitable alternative to the coffeehouse. Tea consumption trickled down through English society, to the point where, by the late 18th... (full context)
Chapter 10: Tea Power
Imperialism Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
...the U.S. drinks relatively little tea. While tea was fairly popular in the 19th century, coffee has been far more popular ever since lowered tariffs in the 1830s made it cheaper... (full context)
Epilogue: Back to the Source
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
...reiterating that ordinary drinks like beer and Coke “tell stories” about history. Although drinking a coffee or a glass of wine is an ordinary act, this act was made possible by... (full context)