Coffee and Cafes’ Effects on Society

07Mar05

Interview with Professor William “Beau” Weston – Centre College – Kentucky

In the movie Shrek 2, there is a scene that describes the power of Starbucks in America today, when the Dragon hits the coffee shop building in Far Far Away, all its customers ran from the fallen store and across the street they enter another Starbucks café.

The path to the success lies in the effects that coffee and coffee shops have on popular culture, accordingly with sociology professor at the Centre College in Kentucky, William J. “Beau” Weston. “The café has long been a storied place for creating public life, from convivial social groups to intellectual salons to revolutionary cells. A café is a “third place” – not home, not work – where people from different social groups can meet and mix. Caffeine has fueled a modern public sphere that promotes hard work and clear thinking.”

Weston is the creator of “Cafes and Public Life,” a three-week course that focus on the history of cafes and coffee and their impact on the global community. “There is a book called “Celebrating the Third Place” from a sociology teacher in Florida, Ray Oldenburg, that talks about a literal third place where people get together and have conversations about what is happening in the world. Later on they remember these conversations,” says Weston. “ The ‘third place’ a very healthy idea, considering that the kids are used to have an alcohol-based social life, I support and encourage alternative places, and the cafés happen to be a example of that place, people drink beverages that do not cause arguments and violence.”

It’s really easy to understand, with the help of professor Beau Weston, why there are over 9,000 Starbucks open nationwide and 1,500 overseas, cafes and coffee places have an impact in the society, bringing people together, provoking gathering and discussion between strangers. “Sometimes you are reading a book and someone comes to start a conversation about that book, people interact, we get to know each other.”
Weston served for three years as a research associate in the Office of Research of the U.S. Department of Education before joining the faculty staff at the Centre College, he held a local coffee shop as he’s informal office off campus drinking his mocha while helping students. That’s when he had the idea for his new Term Class.

“In the classes we discuss three important books: Weinberg and Beale, “The World of Caffeine;” Pendergast, “Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee” and Habermas, “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” that has a whole chapter about the Starbucks. We write papers about the books, Weston told me. “We discuss how the public life created by cafés is affected specifically by caffeine and how cafés are part of, but also a challenge to, the coffee industry. It’s a very active course; we do a lot of fieldwork. We visited more than 15 different coffee stores.”

The Seattle-based coffee retailer Starbucks took advantage early from this phenomenon and expanded trough all over America. Accordingly to the sociology professor, Starbucks’ customers are loyal; they enjoy the relaxed ambience the store offers. “One of our field trips was to the Starbucks and it had a very positive response from the students, everybody seemed to like a lot the place, not only from it’s well know coziness but they fought that Starbucks teaches you the different kinds of coffee,” stated Weston.



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