Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffee House

 

by Brian Cowan
Yale University Press, 2005
364 pages
ISBN: 978-0300171228

Review by Brittany Claytor

I'm just going to say it: I don't like coffee. I own a coffee maker, and keep a large, red tub of Folgers (probably expired) for houseguests, but I would much rather begin my day with an icy cold Diet Coke than with a hot, bitter cup of coffee. Perhaps my dislike stems from the summer I spent working at a Barnes & Nobel Café in the Chicago suburbs. I poured espresso, steamed milk, and brewed coffee: dark roast, light roast, house blend, coffee from Sumatra, coffee with caffeine, coffee without caffeine. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get rid of the smell. It was on my hands and in my hair, it coated my skin and seeped into my pores despite all my washing, scrubbing, and rinsing.

But before Barnes & Noble Café and Starbucks, before Caribou Coffee and Keurig, there was Britain's first coffee house, which opened in 1650 in Oxford, England. And before there was dark roast and light roast, lattes and cappuccinos, there was the coffee of the early modern period: unfiltered, often made with Thames' river water, and weaker than the beverage as we know it today. The spread of coffee, coffee houses, and their changing social, political, and economic significance between 1600 and 1720 is the subject of Brian Cowan's The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffee House. The early coffee houses offered a place for virtuosi—elite gentlemen interested in science, the natural world, and everything curious and exotic—to gather and discuss the latest political events, scientific theories, and discoveries from around the globe. Public inns, alehouses, and taverns still did a brisk business, but the coffee house offered a more “civil” alternative by providing a beverage that was not associated with intoxication and disorder, as was alcohol and the places that served it. Though Cowan reminds us, "Of course, coffee houses were not necessarily in practice more civil and sober locales than taverns or alehouses, but by and large they were perceived to be so by contemporaries. And that made all the difference." Coffee and coffee houses made the new and exotic safe for British consumption.

Coffee drinking and coffee houses began multiplying, and by the end of the seventeenth century London had between several hundred to over one thousand such establishments, many with their own distinct clientele. Amsterdam and Richard's for Whigs, Sam's for Tories, Lloyd's for those in the maritime and insurance businesses, and Child's for clergymen and physicians, not to mention the smaller neighborhood establishments. The early modern coffee house wasn't all cream and sugar though. The government tried to exercise financial and political control through taxes, licensing, and closures; women proprietors and servants were often viewed as crossing the period's social and sexual boundaries; and there was concern that instead of fostering informed, intellectual debates, coffee houses were becoming forums for mere gossip and self-promotion.

Though Cowan presumes a strong knowledge of early modern England—especially its politics—he presents a well documented, compelling case that despite the growth of coffee houses during this period, they served largely as a venue for the country's elite gentlemen to gather and maintain their position at the top of British society.

Despite my summer job's olfactory drawbacks, it made for great people watching. Based on my observations, Cowan's connection of early modern British coffee houses with society's elite rings true, as the modern day coffee house also tends to showcase a privileged population: The suburban mom, perfectly coiffed hair and make-up, latest Coach purse, small toddler in costly jogging stroller: "Skim, grande zebra mocha with an extra shot and no whip." The college student, artfully torn jeans, expertly distressed t-shirt, Jansport backpack: "Venti cappuccino with extra foam, soy milk, two pumps of vanilla and one pump of hazelnut." The business man, expensive looking suit, expensive looking shoes, and even more expensive looking briefcase: "Tall, skinny, pumpkin spiced chi latte with one shot, extra hot. And I'm in a hurry." Of course you are.

December 2012