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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Coffee Culture and Images of the East: The Development of Western Taste

Robert W. Thurston.

Starting with its arrival in Western Europe in the seventeenth century, coffee's attraction has been based partly on exotic, positive images of 'the East'. In contrast to claims made about Orientalism, coffee was associated with notions of good taste, sophistication, and refinement taken from eastern and particularly Islamic culture. To some extent, these aspects of coffee imagery carried over to provide a positive view of Latin America, a palliative voice regarding that region among the overwhelmingly negative discourse common especially in the United States. Elegant Turks and Juan Valdez have offered the West an alternative, positive, sometimes dominant picture of coffee and its ambience. The paper explores the complex nature of western views of coffee and its producers, drawing upon travellers' accounts, physical artifacts such as porcelain services, and advertising, to probe an important component of westerners' self-image and depictions of other cultures.


Robert W. Thurston  (United States)
Professor of History
Miami University

Professor of History, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA. Ph.D. University of Michigan in modern Russian history, 1980. Holder of grants from the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Kennan Institute, the Fulbright-Hays Program, and the American Philosophical Society. Author or editor of books on Russian urban history, Stalinist terror, European witch hunts, and World War II in the USSR.

  • Coffee
  • Globalization
  • Orientalism
  • Culture and taste
  • Islamic culture

(30 min Conference Paper, English)