Sexual Alchemy in the Coffee-House

  • E. J. Clery
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


Coffee was first introduced into Europe as a drug, reported to have extraordinary powers of transformation. In the early seventeenth century travellers to the Near East told of an aromatic drink made by infusing a powdered black berry, and related strange tales of its invigorating effects. Various legends involved the endorsement of Kahveh (meaning ‘stimulating and invigorating’) by the Prophet Mohammed. In one version he says of his exhilarated state, ‘I felt able to unseat forty horsemen and to possess fifty women.’1 Forbidden to touch alcohol, Muslims drank quantities of the hot black liquor. There were descriptions of coffee-houses in Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, where men sat and talked for much of the day; a travel book of 1609 explained, ‘Their Coffa houses are more common than Ale-houses in England; but they use not so much to sit in the houses as on benches on both sides the streets … if there be any news, it is talked of there.’2 From the start, coffee drinking was understood to be primarily a homosocial experience. As such, it raised questions that were physiological and social: What was the nature of the product’s effect on the male body? How might the institution of the coffee-house alter existing conventions of masculine behaviour? In addition, there was the association of coffee with news and public discussion, preserved intact in the establishments transplanted to the West.


Public Sphere Protestant Work Ethic Masculine Behaviour Coffa House Travel Book 
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  1. 1.
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© E. J. Clery 2004

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  • E. J. Clery

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