Credit: George Hodan /

On Monday at the Penn Museum, coffee addicts explored the connections between Egyptian coffeehouses and politics, social culture and even gender relations.

At this edition of Penn Museum’s “Making Workshop” event series, doctoral student Alon Tam offered his audience a glimpse into 1920s coffeehouse culture in Cairo.

“I wanted to show how rich a topic studying coffeehouses can be and how much you can learn from it [about] many different subjects,” said Tam, who is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Tam lectured at the onset of the workshop, and when the coffee was ready he quickly concluded his statements as he and event attendees made their way to the museum’s Egypt exhibit, which had been modified to resemble a traditional coffeehouse in Cairo. Here, workers from local restaurant Manakeesh Cafe Bakery demonstrated how to make different types of coffee.

Traditional pastries including baklava were served alongside samples of the coffee, and floor cushion seating arrangements resembling those common in Middle Eastern coffeehouses were set up for guests to use. Markers and coloring book outlines of Islamic art were made available to entertain students as they sampled the food and coffee.

The workshop attracted a diverse audience, ranging from java connoisseurs to graduate students looking for somewhere to unwind.

Wharton junior Matt Pearring, a self-described coffee fanatic, discovered the event while doing research on how to start his own coffee club.

“I couldn’t register because [a coffee club] already existed, so I figured I’d just go to the event and see what it’s about,” he said.

Pearring was surprised by the structure of the event.

“I didn’t expect there to be a presentation,” he said. “I thought we were going to come here and just mess around, but this was nice.”

Ashley Baker, a doctoral student studying physics, also enjoyed Tam’s lesson.

“I liked seeing the process of how he does his research. Coming from a science department, that’s very interesting to me, and how he was so excited to find that picture [of an Egyptian crossdresser],” she explained, referring to Tam’s explanation of nontraditional gender roles sometimes present in Egyptian coffeehouses in the early twentieth century.

Tam felt the event was successful and advised students to “keep coming to events like this and enrich yourself, especially about cultures and societies that are not your own.”

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