There is little doubt in scholarship that the European expansion of the early modern period led to significant changes in consumer behavior in Europe. At the Athenaeum Workshop in Liverpool from June 4th to 6th 2015, early stage researchers met to discuss how beverages like coffee, tea and chocolate impacted culture and society in different parts of the continent. As the workshop’s subtitle suggests, the underlying assumption was that these drinks “fueled modernity” by providing new ways of socializing and displaying status and wealth. At the same time, they were often closely linked to exploitative economic structures – in particular New World slavery. To fully grasp the reach and wide-ranging impact of these beverages, the conference brought together scholars from Liverpool, Uppsala and Salzburg with their own unique perspective on “exotic” beverages in the early modern period. Despite regional and topical diversity, some underlying themes reoccurred consistently, illustrating some trends of current and future research in the field: gender, material and political culture.
One of the most prominent issues of the workshop was that of gender. Already in the opening Athenaeum lecture, in which MARKMAN ELLIS (London) presented the book Empire of Tea (co-written with Richard Coulton and Matthew Mauger), Ellis illustrated how drinking tea – a luxury product in the 17th century – had become a common practice in Britain by the second half of the 18th century and explained how the acquisition of knowledge about tea was constructed as a “narrative of discovery.” He also mentioned that tea – as a domestic and private affair – was associated with femininity while drinking coffee in a coffeehouse was a more public, “masculine” event. The question of “gendered beverages” continued to pop up the next day, e.g. in DAVID BRAZENDALE’s (Liverpool) talk about the Athenaeum’s coffee room. The Athenaeum’s primary function as a place to maintain information (in the form of newspapers and books) also made its coffee room a purely male space that women were not allowed to be a part of. In her talk about coffee house culture in Salzburg, MARLENE ERNST (Salzburg) confirmed this by pointing out that women were only allowed into public rooms (such as coffee houses) in 1891. This sparked the discussion whether the lack of women in these establishments was a matter of convention or regulation and whether this prohibition excluded all women from the scene (e.g. prostitutes). To the contrary, in her discussion of Carl Linnaeus’ attitude towards these beverages, ANNIKA WINDAHL PONTÉN (Uppsala) mentioned that the first coffee houses in 17th century France were especially popular among women. In addition, according to Windahl Pontén, Linnaeus was much more positive about chocolate than he was about tea and coffee, lauding its medicinal qualities especially for women. What this discussion reflects is that these “new” early modern beverages were not perceived as gender-neutral, but actually fueled quite a lot of discourse about femininity and masculinity that also influenced the reality of gendered behavior in private and in public. Consequently, EVE ROSENHAFT (Liverpool) suggested that scholarship would benefit from specific case studies about the (changing?) relationship between consumption and gender in the early modern period.
The already mentioned importance of the coffee house as a place for political discussions and gathering information was another recurring theme. PHILLIP SARGEANT (Liverpool) even suggested that one could speak of “coffee politics” in that coffee houses served as political think tanks in a similar fashion as salons and clubs. This of course encouraged the practice of spying in coffee houses which in turn, as Sargeant further explained, led to increasing “privatization” of coffee culture. In Salzburg, as discussed by Marlene Ernst, coffee houses also had a reputation for political discussions and – in contrast to pubs – provided newspapers and especially the Salzburger Intelligenzblatt that was read in many segments of society. This raised the question of access to coffee houses. MARTINA RAUCHENZAUNER and SIMON EDLMAYR (Salzburg) suggested that, while coffee and chocolate were restricted to nobility and upper classes at the Salzburg court, the bourgeoisie had the possibility of accessing these beverages both at coffee houses and during festivities. In addition, the fact that the Salzburger Intelligenzblatt that also included job offerings and other information relevant for “lower” segments of society could only be read in the coffee house suggests that coffee houses had quite a broad clientele.
Another recurring theme was the material culture inspired by drinking coffee, tea, and chocolate. These beverages needed to be served in representational dishes, preferably porcelain or silver. While many presenters encountered difficulties when trying to trace the origin and quantities of imported coffee, chocolate, and tea, the utensils are easier to trace thanks to inventories. BEVERLY TJERNGREN (Uppsala) found that clergymen in the 18th century Swedish countryside possessed the tableware needed for serving these “exotic beverages”, which she interpreted as a sign of status and hospitality. Windahl Pontén also found that Linnaeus – who wrote treatise about the dangers of coffee – possessed all necessary items to make coffee, some of them more than once. KARIN BERNER (Uppsala) confirmed that Swedish diplomats who were confronted with coffee during their stay in Constantinople also brought back utensils for drinking coffee, indicating a possible cultural exchange that does not seem to be well-researched. Marlene Ernst found out that the Caffée Gwölb in Salzburg possessed 101 cups for coffee but only 30 for tea and chocolate each, which provides some insights into consumer preferences. HELGA MÜLLNERITSCH (Liverpool) confirmed that 18th century Austrian inventories mention more coffee than chocolate pots, though she suggests that coffee pots could also have been used for making chocolate because of the similarities between the two. This aspect of the workshop profited immensely from a joint visit to the National Museum of Liverpool Decorative Arts Department, where PAULINE RUSHTON (Liverpool) competently introduced the participants to different types of cups, pots and saucers used for serving coffee, tea, and chocolate. Not only can this help researchers to understand the differences and similarities between the utensils used to serve these three drinks; the presentation also provided a better grasp of the different types of materials used to produce the utensils (e.g. porcelain, ceramics, stoneware).
Although the other side of these processes – namely the production of chocolate and coffee in the Americas through slave labor – was not explicitly discussed in most papers, NICHOLAS FUQUA’s (Liverpool) comparative approach to English and American slave ports (namely Liverpool and Charleston) brought the system of transatlantic slavery into focus and encouraged the discussion of the “production side” of European consumption and sociability. This was also addressed in the last paper, in which JUTTA WIMMLER (Frankfurt an der Oder) introduced the research project “The globalized periphery” (funded by the German Research Foundation) that attempts to reconstruct the integration of Central Europe into the early modern Atlantic economy from both the production and the consumption side. When arguing that chocolate, tea, and coffee “fueled modernity”, we should certainly keep in mind that this does not just imply significant societal changes in Europe, but also the establishment of worldwide economic structures that were built on the exploitation of African labor. Although the CFP had explicitly called for a discussion of slavery and other contexts of production, the workshop’s focus was certainly on the European side of things. Nevertheless, the discussions made it clear that the participants were very aware of this larger context and kept it in mind. For future research in this direction, scholars should try to find a balance between these two sides in order to prevent promoting an outdated view of “modernity” as a purely positive, progressive concept that Europe somehow “accomplished.”
Overall, the workshop was an enriching experience that illustrated that MA and doctoral students provide innovative and highly relevant research that should find its way into mainstream scholarship. The Athenaeum provided a delightful and comfortable setting and the organizers did a wonderful job encouraging fruitful discussions and exchanges. The workshop profited immensely from the atypical regional distribution of speakers and topics. Sweden, Austria and England are not usually discussed in the same context and the fact that very similar concerns and patterns emerged from all three areas confirms that we should look beyond national boundaries when assessing early modern culture and economy and the changes brought by the 18th century in both areas. Eve Rosenhaft and the organizational staff seem to have intended this, in an effort to bring the so-called “hinterlands” of the early modern economy into focus – illustrating of course, that “hinterlands” are often peripheral in historiography rather than in history itself.
Markman Ellis (London), 'A Most Civilizing Juice’: Tea between China and Britain in the Eighteenth Century
Welcome: Eve Rosenhaft (Liverpool)
David Brazendale (Athenaeum Liverpool), The Establishment of a Coffee Room in the Athenaeum Club 1797
Marlene Ernst (Salzburg), Coffesieder im Caffeé Gwölb: Coffee House Culture in 18th Century Salzburg
Phillip Sargeant (Liverpool), A Storm in a Teacup? Politics over Coffee in the Age of Walpole
Beverly Tjerngren (Uppsala), Tea-table Tactics and Representations of Refinement: Coffee, Tea, and Hospitality in the 18th Century Clergy Residence
Annika Windahl Pontén (Uppsala), Luxury or Beneficial Everyday Habit? Carl Linnaeus on Coffee, Tea and Chocolate
Nicholas Fuqua (Liverpool), Project Presentation - Architectures of Slavery in Britain and America
Visit to the National Museums Liverpool Decorative Arts Department
Karin Berner (Uppsala), The Meaning of a House with a View. Coffee, Slaves, Desserts and other Status Markers in Constantinople
Helga Müllneritsch (Liverpool), Chocolate Recipes in Austrian Manuscript Cookery Books
Martina Rauchenzauner / Simon Edlmayr (Salzburg), Coffee, Tea and Chocolate in 18th Century Salzburg
Jutta Wimmler (Frankfurt an der Oder), Project Presentation: “The Globalized Periphery: Atlantic Commerce, Socioeconomic and Cultural Change in Central Europe (1680-1850)”