Caffeine Nation

Last week I attended a discussion and book signing for Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America by historian Benjamin Carp.  History might not run as deep here in Massachusetts as it does in Sicily, but it's pretty thick in Boston and the event was held at the Old South Meeting House, a site of major interest to the topic of the 1773 Tea Party.

I will not attempt to summarize the book, largely since I have not read it, but I do have to highlight something Carp mentioned in his talk: tea, coffee, and chocolate - all hot, bitter, caffeinated beverages - all hit the European scene around the same time (the 1580s) and some say they they fueled the enlightenment in Europe and then the revolution in America.

That's a big claim, but I'm not one to underestimate the power of coffee, tea and chocolate.  Europeans gradually figured out that they liked their chocolate, coffee and tea with both milk and sugar, the latter another product of the transoceanic trade that somehow made these goods widely if not cheaply available hundreds of years before GPS.

The colonists dressed as Indians who dumped tons of tea into the harbor in 1773 had autonomy and self-determination on their minds more than a particular choice of beverage, but it would be as interesting to hear their take on 21st century Americans arguing about patronage of small independent coffee shops or multinational megacoffeechains as it would to know what they think of today's tea party movement.

4 Responses

  1. i would love to hear the colonists take on both those subjects....and would like to be sipping a black coffee as i listen to their perspectives. :)
  2. I think they would be pretty appalled at what gets labeled a Tea Party movement today. As for the battle over chain vs indie coffeeshops, well, such arguments are a product of the relative privilege many Americans share- and irrelevant to those Americans who don't share in that kind of prosperity.
  3. Thanks Kel and Marie - lots of interesting ground(s) to cover on coffee vs tea in colonial times and now. Carp (no relation) points out both the sins of the East India Company in Bengal and the unavoidable connection of sugar to the slave trade in the 18th Century, and we can ponder our decisions about Fair Trade and local products today. I'll note that then and now, most tea comes from Asia but a lot of coffee and chocolate also comes from as close to home as Central America. In other news, check out Seamus Heffernan's wonderful sketch of the Old South Meeting House event:
  4. "This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder." — Honoré de Balzac

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