Book Review: Filtered: Coffee, the cafe and the 21st century city by Emma Felton

A book about cafés and cities is a great addition to my growing collection of coffee and café culture books. ‘Filtered: coffee, the café and the 21st century’ by Dr Emma Felton is a book which discusses so many of the issues that are at the heart of my research, and is in many ways a book I would have loved to have written. The book begins with a quote from Merry White’s ‘Coffee life in Japan’ –“The café is a shape-shifter. Its persistence is due to it malleability” – and this is an important starting point for examining café culture, and the role of the café in different places around the world. The book takes the reader on a global journey around different café cultures with particular emphasis on Australia, Japan and China, although lots of other places are also discussed.

Chapter 1 sets the scene for the remainder of the book by considering the developments of cafés in cities, the rise of specialty coffee culture, the implications of this for some cities, and consumer culture. Chapter 2 explores the social and community aspects of the café, and how this has changed over time. It highlights how the concept of the café as a ‘third place’ as termed by Ray Oldenburg, is not a new concept, with cafés as social gathering sites dating back to 16th century. It moves on to discuss has cafés can be places of sociality, consumption and the extent they can be hospitable places in cities. The author makes interesting observations about how socially inclusive cafés can be – as is noted throughout the book there is a great diversity in types of cafés and the people that inhabit them, which has implications for what activities take place their position in the city’s consumptionscape.

The book then moves onto focus more specifically on coffee, exploring production and consumption patterns, the rise of specialty coffee and various aspects of the coffee production process. Important sections highlight the problems facing coffee producers, issues around inequalities faced at different stages of the coffee industry as well as environmental issues facing the industry.


Chapter 4 moves on to focus on café culture in Australia, it’s history and development, and how the concept of Australian café culture has itself been exported to other cities around the world inspiring places such as Bluestone Lane in New York to Kaffeine in London. Chapter 5 shifts to explore cafés in Japan acknowledging how like many other countries ‘Japan’s café history is clearly linked to it’s metropolitan development’ (p.90). The chapter provides an in-depth look into Japan’s coffee and café history. Moving across the continent to China and Hong Kong chapter 6 considered some of the different coffee and café development trajectories experienced on the Asian continent. There is an acknowledgement of the role of international chain coffee shops in the development of urban café cultures in China, as well as the importance of technology in the development of the industry in this area of the world. The book then moves onto discuss different aspects of café interiors and the importance of café ambience and environment for affecting interactions in the café space, and how the aesthetics of a café can affect its appeal. The book touches upon the importance of technology for the café at various points, but makes it a core focus in chapter 8 to examine how technology has shaped modern café cultures – from Wi-Fi provision to social media, virtual reality and café as a place of work.

Arabica Berlin Coffee
This book takes the reader on a global journey of café culture, covering different aspects of café histories to more recent developments. The author brings the café spaces to life with vignettes of different visits to cafés in multiple cities, and excerpts of interviews with various people related to the cafés. It helps the reader understand how the café has become an important element of the global urban fabric in different ways, and the various approaches that can be taken for understanding the café phenomenon. While the presence of cafés may be a global phenomenon, and very much one that is centres in urban areas, the nature of these cafés, and café cultures is varied, and this book provides great insights into some of this diversity and the important elements of it, for cities and their inhabitants. This book represents not only an important addition to scholarship on café culture, but about a particular element of urban life, and the various roles that a café can play in the development of urban spaces.

This entry was posted in Australia, Book Review, Cafe Culture, China, Coffee, coffee culture, Consumers, Japan, Urban spaces and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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