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Coffee - Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate

Fritz Allhoff (Series Editor), Scott F. Parker (Volume Editor), Michael W. Austin (Volume Editor), Donald Schoenholt (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-4443-3712-9
264 pages
March 2011, Wiley-Blackwell
Coffee - Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate (1444337122) cover image


Offering philosophical insights into the popular morning brew, Coffee -- Philosophy for Everyone kick starts the day with an entertaining but critical discussion of the ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and culture of coffee.
  • Matt Lounsbury of pioneering business Stumptown Coffee discusses just how good coffee can be
  • Caffeine-related chapters cover the ethics of the coffee trade, the metaphysics of coffee and the centrality of the coffee house to the public sphere
  • Includes a foreword by Donald Schoenholt, President at Gillies Coffee Company
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Table of Contents

Foreword (Donald Schoenholt).

Editors' Introduction (Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin).


1 Coffee: Black Puddle Water or Panacea? (Mark Pendergrast).

2 The Necessary Ground of Being (Michael W. Austin).

3 The Unexamined Cup Is Not Worth Drinking (Kristopher G. Phillips).

4 Sam. sara in a Coffee Cup: Self, Suffering, and the Karma of Waking Up (Steven Geisz).

5 The Existential Ground of True Community: Coffee and Otherness (Jill Hernandez).


6 Sage Advice from Ben’s Mom, or: The Value of the Coffeehouse (Scott F. Parker).

7 The Coffeehouse as a Public Sphere: Brewing Social Change (Asaf Bar-Tura).

8 Café Noir: Anxiety, Existence, and the Coffeehouse (Brook J. Sadler).

9 The Philosopher's Brew (Bassam Romaya).


10 Three Cups: The Anatomy of a Wasted Afternoon (Will Buckingham).

11 Is Starbucks Really Better than Red Brand X? (Kenneth Davids).

12 The Flavor of Choice: Neoliberalism and the Espresso Aesthetic (Andrew Wear).

13 Starbucks and the Third Wave (John Hartmann).

14 How Good the Coffee Can Be: An Interview with Stumptown’s Matt Lounsbury (Scott F. Parker).


15 More than 27 Cents a Day: The Direct Trade (R)evolution (Gina Bramucci and Shannon Mulholland).

16 Higher, Faster, Stronger, Buzzed: Caffeine as a Performance-Enhancing Drug (Kenneth W. Kirkwood).

17 Green Coffee, Green Consumers – Green Philosophy? (Stephanie W. Aleman).

18 Coffee and the Good Life: The Bean and the Golden Mean (Lori Keleher).

How to Make it in Hollywood by Writing an Afterword! (The Coffee Bean Guys).

Notes on Contributors.

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Author Information

Scott F. Parker has contributed chapters to Ultimate Lost and Philosophy, Football and Philosophy, Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy, Golf and Philosophy, and iPod and Philosophy. He is a regular contributor to Rain Taxi Review of Books. His writing has also appeared in Philosophy Now, Sport Literate, Fiction Writers Review, Epiphany, The Ink-Filled Page, and Oregon Humanities.

Michael W. Austin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, where he works primarily in ethics. He has published Conceptions of Parenthood: Ethics and the Family (2007), Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), and Football and Philosophy: Going Deep (2008).

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“This is not going to be an impulse buy or something to necessarily give to that special coffee-lover in your life, but if you take the time to examine the book with an open, curious mind it might be something that can keep you company with, of course, a good cup of something during a long journey.”  (Yum.fi, 2012)

"A delightful book for philosophically minded coffee drinkers ... Philosophically minded coffee drinkers will find the contents of their cup enhanced by the contents of the book." (Network Review, 1 June 2011)

"And so, the book devotes itself to coffee and philosophy from varied perspectives, some seemingly frivolous, and others deeply analytical . . . I suspect that the book will appeal most to coffee devotees who enjoy lively conversation and see the world, as well as that black liquid in their cups, from a dialectical point of view." (Metapsychology, 9 August 2011)

"Grounds for Debate is a fantastic read-providing insights into the coffee culture that even a tea drinker can appreciate. The collection encourages readers to consider their relationship to larger social practices that have resounding effects on daily life." (Anthropology in Practice, 30 June 2011)

"This may possibly be the most unusual coffee book you will read. Instead of just the usual history of
it, this is the latest in a long series of titles written by philosophicalheavyweights, discussing subjects
from Christmas to cycling." (Boughton's Coffee House magazine, 1 March 2011)

"In interesting, educational, and often funny selections, we learn facts both surprising (most coffee farmers and people living in coffee-growing regions have no idea why anyone would want to drink the stuff) and rudimentary. . . this is more sociology than philosophy, but a smattering of deep (enough) thoughts from the likes of Hume, Bourdieu, Kant, and others will keep true addicts--of both coffee and philosophy--stimulated". (Publishers Weekly, 18 April 2011)

"The book - a part of the Philosophy for Everyone series - takes on all sides of the debate, historical and contemporary, over coffee's meritstates." (Jezebel, ,14 April 2011)

"The book will also stimulate those seeking to understand the aesthetics and ethics of coffee." (The Guardian, 14 April 2011)

"A varied compilation of musings on the beverage that has hooked countless people since its discovery in the 15th century by Ethiopian Sufi monks. The authors ... take on the history, taste and ethics of coffee in 18 essays likely to elicit much dialogue and debate. The book also includes engaging discussions of caffeine's classification as a drug, the emergence of green coffee and the evolution of the coffehouse into a public forum. A blend of humor and thought-provoking content guaranteed to stimulate readers' intellect." (Kirkus Reviews, March 2011)

"In this addition to an accessible and substantive series, 18 new essays, with coffee and coffee culture as their shared theme, relay the relationship between the coffee-related contemporary and everyday and the ideas and ideals on which the history of formal philosophy has been built. Recommended for coffee and philosophy aficionados. This entry in the series may well also be of interest for book discussion groups." (Library Journal, March 2011)

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Press Release

February 16, 2011
Coffee: Grounds for Debate (Philosophy for Everyone)

The world consumes 500 billion cups of coffee per year. Caffeine is one of the most widely taken psychoactive drugs on earth, and coffee is its foremost delivery system. Coffee: Grounds for Debate (March 2011) asks how and why we have come to prefer the infused beverage as one of our most popular drinks and how our chief indulgence and symbol of “the good life” has become a source of full-bodied ethical, aesthetic, and environmental philosophical debate. 

Coffee has suffered a chequered history, and was banned from ancient communities, including Mohammed’s Mecca, for its “sinful” qualities. Pope Clement VIII once said upon tasting coffee for the first time, “Why this Satan’s drink is so delicious.” It has been accused of having the ability to stunt growth, cause cancer, and weaken bones. Just as certain tropical plants have evolved with caffeine as an ingredient to protect themselves against predators, coffee has developed delicious and economically viable qualities that has allowed it to withstood and outgrow its naysayers.

Perhaps you have had the pleasure of musing philosophy over a cup of Turkish coffee and pain au chocolat in a local café on a rainy day, as Will Buckingham recalls in his essay “Three Cups: The Anatomy of a Wasted Afternoon.” Or perhaps you have stood dumbfounded while looking at a coffee label on a bag of fresh roast, thinking what is the difference between fair trade and direct trade, is it shade-grown and organic, or is it from a Robusta or Arabica? The aesthetic, practical, and ethical concerns of coffee have been cultivated throughout history, starting with its roots in Ethiopia with the ingestion of its energy giving seeds,  to the first practice of roasting in the 15th century, and through to the present-day third wave, boutique, specialty coffee movement (as recounted in John Hartmann’s “Starbucks and the Third Wave.”)

In “Black Puddle Water or Panacea” Mark Pendergrast tells us that by the 17th century coffee had staked its claim within society as a powerful intellectual stimulant and alternative to beer. Public coffeehouses, or in Britain known as “penny universities,” became the choice meeting places of activists planning the French Revolution, and later the Boston Tea Party. Well-known imbibers include Voltaire, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Sartre.

So what is the coffeehouse now? How and where do we prefer to “take” our coffee? Jill Hernandez describes the local, neighborhood coffeehouse as the ideal environment for the modern, optimistic existentialist in her essay “The Existential Ground of True Community.” Asaf Bar-Tura draws upon the philosophy of Hannah Arendt in his essay “The Coffeehouse as a Public Sphere,” and points out that the modern coffeehouse fits the mold for the contemporary need for a place between home and work, or “a private space within the public space.”

Now think of the first time you ever tried coffee. Did it taste like “black puddle water” or “frothy goodness”? Probably the former. In “The Necessary Ground of Being” Michael W. Austin relays his first experiences as a coffee drinker and how his chance meeting with the bean relates to thinking of morality within theistic or naturalistic frameworks. In “Sage Advice from Ben’s Mom” Scott F. Parker teaches us that “doing philosophy” requires nothing more than a few good friends, the neutral territory of a café, a cup of joe, an open mind, and a willingness to speak in the spirit of Socrates. So easy ‘Ben’s Mom’ can do it.

In essays such as “The Unexamined Cup is Not Worth Drinking,” and “Is Starbucks Really Better than Brand X?” Kristopher G. Phillips and Kenneth Davids decode abstract coffee jargon such as acidity, body, and viscosity with barista-like gusto, and tackle a cross-comparison of leading coffee brands using Nagel’s consciousness philosophy. In the spirit of Hume’s moral theory, Phillips also gives us an excuse to go ahead and drink the best coffee one can possibly find. Steven Geisz enlightens us on the Indian and Buddhist philosophies of sams?ra within the perspective of a coffee drinker’s excruciatingly painful but cathartic morning ritual.

Drawing upon philosophical heavyweights such as Kant, Aristotle, Satre, Socrates, Wittgenstein, and Nietzsche, philosophers, journalists, experts, historians, and coffee insiders consider how the ethics of coffee agriculture, processing, retail, and consumption connect to the aesthetics, metaphysics, and cultural implications of one of the world’s most popular drinks.

Featured writers include Mark Pendergrast, Ken Davids, and the Coffee Bean Guys James Kirkland and Dan Levy. Coffee insiders such as  Matt Lounsbury of Stumptown Coffee (in an interview with editor Scott F. Parker) and Donald Schoenholt, President at Gillies Coffee Company, offer insights into the pioneering spirit and background of coffee’s ‘third wave’ coffee movement. Essays cover broad ground such as the ethics of coffee agriculture, caffeine as a performance-enhancing drug, and the centrality of the coffee house to the public sphere.

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