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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

coffeehouses- a place to brew good ideas

From inebriation to tee-total was not a swift change in the UK

The story of the early teetotal movement in the UK is fascinating. In the 1800s, England was seemingly in a drunken stupor.  Good drinking water was scarce, and beer the safest, most palatable drink. Children drank beer, hospitals give it to patients, and workers received daily quotas. In 1827, Robert Macnish documented that the average worker consumed anywhere from 7 pints to 2 gallons of beer a day.

Beer was bad, but gin was far worse and its use was spreading. Gin drinking was addictive and carried to excess it led to illness, poverty, violence, and death.

The Grand Café

Thé -Coffee

The site of the first coffee house in England (according to Samuel Pepy's Diary, 1650): The Grand Café has now become an Oxford institution. During the day serving lunch, cream teas and high teas all perfectly at home in the opulence of the marble-pillared, gold-leafed building. 
At night The Grand Café is buzzing with locals, visitors and Oxford University students, taking advantage of the half price cocktails on offer.
- See more at:

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from

FILMED JUL 2010 • POSTED SEP 2010 • TEDGlobal 2010

TEDGlobal 2010
Just a few minutes ago, I took this picture about 10 blocks from here. This is the Grand Cafe here in Oxford. I took this picture because this turns out to be the first coffeehouse to open in England in 1650. That's its great claim to fame, and I wanted to show it to you, not because I want to give you the kind of Starbucks tour of historic England, but rather because the English coffeehouse was crucial to the development and spread of one of the great intellectual flowerings of the last 500 years, what we now call the Enlightenment.
And the coffeehouse played such a big role in the birth of the Enlightenment, in part, because of what people were drinking there. Because, before the spread of coffee and tea through British culture, what people drank -- both elite and mass folks drank -- day-in and day-out, from dawn until dusk was alcohol. Alcohol was the daytime beverage of choice. You would drink a little beer with breakfast and have a little wine at lunch, a little gin -- particularly around 1650 --and top it off with a little beer and wine at the end of the day. That was the healthy choice -- right -- because the water wasn't safe to drink. And so, effectively until the rise of the coffeehouse, you had an entire population that was effectively drunk all day. And you can imagine what that would be like, right, in your own life -- and I know this is true of some of you -- if you were drinking all day, and then you switched from a depressant to a stimulant in your life, you would have better ideas. You would be sharper and more alert. And so it's not an accident that a great flowering of innovation happened as England switched to tea and coffee.

But the other thing that makes the coffeehouse important is the architecture of the space. It was a space where people would get together from different backgrounds, different fields of expertise, and share. It was a space, as Matt Ridley talked about, where ideas could have sex.This was their conjugal bed, in a sense -- ideas would get together there. And an astonishing number of innovations from this period have a coffeehouse somewhere in their story.

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