Starbucks is an exemplary market innovator without actually invent anything new. It combined centuries old café culture with an easily replicable, fast-food model. Yet it has transformed the way people work, making coffee a destination, rather than a functional accessory to work. It turns out, this transformation has deep historical roots.
Having become a coffee aficionado over the past decade or so, I was fascinated to learn the important role coffee houses played in the advancement of society and culture. It is noted that the ascent of cafes in the 17th century directly contributed to the Age of Enlightenment. In his book ‘The Coffee-House: A Cultural History’, Markman Ellis writes: "For a hundred years the coffee-house occupied the centre of urban life, creating a distinctive social culture by treating all customers as equals. Gossip, dissent and sedition were exchanged and debated around their egalitarian tables. Merchants held auctions of goods, writers and poets conducted discussions, scientists demonstrated experiments and gave lectures, philanthropists deliberated reforms. Coffee-houses thus played a key role in the explosion of political, financial, scientific and literary change in the 18th century. The stock market, insurance companies, political parties and the scientific symposium had their birth in the coffee-house."
For a short, witty talk on the topic as well as Ellis’ book, follow these links: