Coffee and Tea: The Architects of Modern European Culture

The introduction of various ‘benign’ drugs such as coffee and tea in the 17th century created houses and salons where people could gather and exchange ideas whilst enjoying their favorite beverage. This led to the gradual development of forums and individuals who preoccupied themselves with science and philosophy. As certain members of these societies became prominent more books were written and expeditions were undertaken in the name of knowledge.

Indeed, in the process of becoming richer and greater in power the European empires of that time had sown the seeds for an enlightenment to take place. However, as this new movement started to bear fruit, scholars found that the practices and ways of the empire were incompatible with the high ideals they discussed.  As a result, the way the Europeans perceived the world started to change, and evolve into a series of ideologies that would challenge the very foundations of the existing empires.

To begin with, the understanding of the world became the main preoccupation for many scholarly men. Many European explorers took it upon themselves to travel to the farthest reaches of the planet and bring back samples of plants, animals and minerals for the purpose of scientific examination. In turn, the scientists who examined these specimens undertook the task of systematizing, classifying, storing and disseminating the newly acquired knowledge for the mass consumption of the population.

This sudden bombardment of vast amounts of new knowledge and information would prompt the learned European to become more skeptical about the world. The discourse of this era gave birth to an important dilemma in the minds of many people of that time: “How does one believe in universal reason and at the same time rule over people who are supposedly not capable of being civilized”.  In order to provide justification for the employment of colonialism and slavery many scholars embarked on researches which were later called scientific racism and which tried to taxonomize different peoples into races and dictate who was civilized and who was a savage.

On the other hand, a new concept was rapidly increasing in popularity: The image of the noble savage, a natural man whose nurture was devoid of the corruption and vices brought about by ‘civilized’ cultures. This concept allowed thinkers to envision their entire political system as a corrupt, barbaric, power-hungry machine that betrayed the ideals of civilization it purported to instill. Suddenly, a rising number of people were ready to accept that there was wrong in the enslavement of other peoples. This marked the beginning of the abolitionist movement which would do away with the slave trade in Europe and the colonies.

To sum up, coffee and tea as beverages allowed humans to expand science and philosophy and were the very grease which set the thought mechanisms in motion that eventually paved the path for not only slaves but also non-European subjects and women to pursue their rights as imperial power slowly diminished.


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