Coffee and Revolution

Is coffee a word you would normally associate with the term revolution? For most people, it is not. However, all throughout history, revolutions have been stirred up while their creators stir their hot drinks. Coffee houses and cafés have served as birthplaces for countless ideas that have had revolutionary outcomes, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it is still happening today; many activists have used coffee house as places to gather throughout the Arab Spring. Here are a few examples of coffee-fueled revolutions.

Coffee Ban

Though this example might not count as a revolution, the seeds are there. In 1511, coffee was considered a dangerous, intoxicating drink by some. For fear of its potential to cause sedition, in this year the governor of Mecca shut down all of Mecca’s public coffee houses. Luckily for the citizens of Mecca, the sultan of Cairo decided that this proclamation was not a good one, and soon after overturned the movement. What is interesting here is that, though there may not have been proof at the time, the governor was partially correct. Maybe it wasn’t the coffee itself causing unrest, but those houses where people could exchange ideas can brew a lot more than just coffee.

The American Revolution

A coffee house in Philadelphia, ironically named “The London Coffee House,” was used as a meeting place to discuss revolutionary ideas in the 18th century. In the late 1760’s Americans would meet to exchange political ideas (many of them involving dissatisfaction with taxation). English conservatives even had a habit of referring to American coffee houses as “seminaries of sedition.”

The French Revolution

On July 12th, 1789, Camille Desmoulins stood on a table waving two pistols in his hands at the Café de Foy. Though watched by police spies, he shouted to his fellow Frenchmen, “Aux armes, citoyens!” Only two days later, the French Revolution had begun with the fall of Bastille. This is just one small anecdote, too. French coffee houses were the go to place for French intellectuals to share their political ideas and express their various dissatisfactions.

If you think about it, this all make a whole lot of sense. Though nothing can compare to the internet for information exchange, coffee houses used to serve as a sort of hub for people to share news, gossip, ideas, and information of all kinds. And, in an environment where the patrons are unsatisfied with political conditions, this type of mass information exchange can be the perfect breeding ground for revolution.


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