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Coffee can be interpreted as one of the biggest contributors to the progression of academic thought within Europe. Although coffee helps us wake up for the day, focus better on our work, and has a unique taste that is craved world-wide, it also had a big impact upon the health and thinking of European academia, particularly in the 17th-century. It was first discovered in around the 9th century in Ethiopia, and travelled through the middle east. The psychoactive ingredient of caffeine started to become addictive and word of this new type of beverage had reached Europe around the middle of the 17th-century. It is undeniable that this effect from coffee was not only experienced in Europe. It is very limited to claim that scholarly thought in the Middle East and Africa was not also heavily influenced and catalysed by the consumption of coffee. Academic and scholarly extension was not idiosyncratic to Europe during the 17th-century, but for the sake of demonstrating how coffee impacted scholarly thought, I will mainly discuss the reactions of coffee upon European critical thinking.

When considering the state of academia in Europe before the 17th-century, it was mainly fuelled by a different beverage; alcohol. Water in Europe during this time was not consumed in such large quantities as it is today due to lack of sanitisation. Illnesses were easily transmitted through dirty water as it was hard to sterilise due to limited knowledge on hygiene. Therefore, it was extremely common to consume alcohol as the main form of hydration. Alcohol was reliably sterile due to the antiseptic properties of ethanol, and so, beer with breakfast was an ordinary practice in 17th-century Europe. With alcohol being a depressant, and its intoxicating effects, it must be obvious that it limited the extent of academic theory and thought. This is not to say that everyone in Europe during this period was running around madly drunk, but it cannot have been complimentary to the critical thinking of the brain. Although there had already been many works of greatness by this time that arose during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, such as scientific discoveries, flawless works of art, and many astonishing philosophical theories, the everyday consumption of alcohol cannot have been commendatory. Therefore, it would seem logical to assume that scholarly thought and conversations were very limited in their ability to transcend effectively, but it can be argued that coffee impacted this problem. 

As an antioxidant and a stimulating alternative to the dulling effects of alcohol, coffee started to become widely consumed and offered a whole new catapult to the progression of scholarly thought. The buzz of caffeine spread across Europe and triggered a rise of coffee houses. With the adrenaline from coffee surging through their bodies, swarms of people would gather at these coffee houses to converse on the popular politics, literature, art or science of the time. Scholarly conversations excelled and groups of people formed into coffee clubs to meet at these houses occasionally and extend their academic discussions. One example of these coffee clubs was the Oxford Coffee Club which is now better known as The Royal Society. 

Not long after this emergence of coffee culture in Europe, the Enlightenment Period of the Long Eighteenth century arrived. This period was also known as the Age of Reason, which was a movement of literary and philosophical thought that dominated Europe. Works from this period tended to share emphasis on “art for art’s sake” and strongly advocated for the repositioning of traditional thoughts surrounding religious faith, individualism, the rise of empiricism, and, of course, the emergence of reason. It paved the way for the period of Romanticism in the 18th-century that followed on from the Enlightenment. This ultimately led to countless literary and philosophical movements including Realism, Victorian, Modernist and Postmodernist, which leads into the critical thinking of today. It is a given that coffee was not the only reason for the course of history taking this path of critical thinking. The spectrum of respective critical and scholarly journeys is far too broad to make such a universal claim, as there are countless reasons for the paths that history has taken. But, without a doubt, coffee has certainly helped in providing the energy for it. 

Categories: Features

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