New York Review of Coffee

2 beans out of 5.

Of the psychoactive substances discussed in Michael Pollan’s This Is Your Mind on Plants (Penguin Press, 2021), opium and mescaline are the scariest, caffeine the most benign. Yet, he argues, no other stimulant has had a more perverse impact on the modern psyche. Caffeine dosed out in cups of coffee loosened human behavior from the grip of natural circadian rhythms and fastened thinking to the linear logic of capitalism. It all started in seventeenth-century London coffeehouses, which became places of trade themselves: Lloyd’s Coffee House begat Lloyd’s of London, the insurance brokerage, while the London Stock Exchange is said to have emerged from business done in Jonathan’s Coffee House.

Hoping to place myself in this analeptic arc, I dropped by Conwell Coffee Hall at 20 Exchange Place, which formerly housed the City Bank Farmers Trust, now known as Citibank. Even in the early morning, the café was moody and low-lit. The décor borrows heavily from the visual language of finance—a reversal of the historic trend observed by Pollan, perhaps. I ordered a double espres…

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