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History of Coffee

The Rise of Coffeehouses in European Cities

Dive into the fascinating history of coffee and its journey to Europe, beginning with its discovery in Ethiopia and subsequent spread to the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula. Learn about the impact of the Ottoman Empire on coffee culture and the influence of the Dutch East India Company in its dissemination. Discover the birth of English coffeehouses in Oxford and London, and delve into Italy’s vibrant coffee scene, including Venice’s pioneering role. Explore how coffeehouses have served as centers of social interaction, politics, revolution, and art in European society, and understand the factors contributing to their decline, as well as their modern revival and global reach. A comprehensive, historical overview that coffee enthusiasts and history buffs alike will love.

Coffeehouses European Cities

The Origin of Coffee and its Journey to Europe

Discovery of coffee in Ethiopia

The origin of coffee can be traced back to Ethiopia, around the 9th century. Legend has it that a goatherd named Kaldi discovered coffee when he noticed that his goats were full of energy after eating the red cherries from a certain tree. Intrigued, Kaldi took the cherries to a local monastery, where the monks were amazed by the energizing effects of the fruit. They began to dry, crush, and mix the cherries with water, unknowingly creating the first cup of coffee.

While the legend of Kaldi is widely known, the true history of coffee is much more complex. The people of Ethiopia have been cultivating coffee for many centuries. Coffee plants are believed to have originated in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, which is where the word “coffee” comes from. The plant then spread from Ethiopia to the neighboring countries, as people traded and traveled over the years.

Spread to the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula

Historical records show that coffee arrived in the Arabian Peninsula around the 15th century. The people of Yemen were the first to cultivate and trade coffee on the Arabian Peninsula. They would grow the plant in highland terraces, dry the cherries, and trade them with traders from the Middle East and North Africa.

The expansion of the Islamic religion and the religious ceremonies that involved coffee helped its spread throughout the Middle East. Coffee became a staple in Muslim rituals, as its stimulating effects helped worshippers stay awake for long prayers.

Ottoman Empire and its influence on coffee culture

The Ottoman Empire played a significant role in the spread of coffee culture throughout Europe. As the empire expanded, so did the traditions of enjoying coffee. The first coffee houses, called Qahveh Khanehs, were opened in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) during the 16th century. These coffee houses acted as social centers where people would gather to discuss literature, politics, and the arts.

During this time, coffee was transformed into a more social and less religious beverage. The Ottoman Empire’s influence on coffee culture can still be seen today, with Turkish coffee holding a unique status in the world of coffee.

Introduction of coffee to Europe

As the popularity of coffee spread throughout the Islamic world and Ottoman Empire, it eventually caught the attention of European travelers, merchants, and diplomats. It is believed that coffee arrived in Europe through the port of Venice, where Venetian merchants bought coffee beans from traders coming from the Ottoman Empire.

Venice: First European city to experience coffee

Venice became the first European city to experience coffee in the early 17th century. The first coffee house opened in Venice in 1645, sparking something of a craze for the beverage. At first, coffee was a luxury item reserved for the upper classes, but as more coffee houses opened, the beverage became accessible to people from all walks of life.

Coffee also faced some resistance from the Catholic Church, as it was associated with Islam and perceived as a challenge to the traditional wine and spirits consumed during religious ceremonies. However, Pope Clement VIII embraced the beverage, proclaiming that it should be baptized and incorporated into the Christian culture.

Dutch East India Company’s role in the spread of coffee

The Dutch East India Company played a crucial role in the spread of coffee across Europe. In the 17th century, the company began trading in coffee beans from Yemen, making them accessible to a broader European market. By the end of the century, Dutch traders had also established coffee plantations on their colonies in the East Indies, such as Java and Sumatra, further expanding the production and distribution of coffee beans.

Coffee quickly spread throughout Europe, with coffee houses opening in major cities like Paris, London, and Vienna. These establishments became important centers for intellectual and political discussions, much like their counterparts in the Middle East and Ottoman Empire.

The journey of coffee from its origins in Ethiopia to its widespread consumption in Europe is a fascinating and complex story. The influence of trade, politics, religion, and culture — as well as the efforts of daring merchants and explorers — helped coffee become the popular and beloved beverage it is today.

Early Coffeehouses in Europe

Coffeehouses London

Oxford and London: the birth of English coffeehouses

The first coffeehouses in Europe appeared in the mid-17th century, with the opening of the Angel Inn in Oxford in 1650 and Pasqua Roseé’s Mitre and Dukes in London in 1652. These establishments became the predecessors of the modern coffeehouse and contributed greatly to the social, cultural, and intellectual development of Britain.

The concept of coffeehouses spread rapidly throughout England, with more than 80 coffeehouses in London alone by the end of the 17th century. The popularity of coffeehouses was due in part to the stimulating effects of coffee, as well as the novelty of the beverage. For a small fee, many coffeehouses provided newspapers, pamphlets, and political discussions, making them important social and political hubs.

The impact on British society

The emergence of these early coffeehouses had a profound impact on British society. Coffeehouses became centers for intellectual discourse, as they provided a space for the exchange of ideas and the development of new theories in various fields. The atmosphere was characterized by open conversation, debate, and discussion, which fostered the development of the scientific method, humanism, and other modern intellectual movements.

Early English coffeehouses also played a significant role in shaping the modern business landscape. As they were frequented by businessmen, entrepreneurs, and merchants, coffeehouses became essential networking hubs, where people could initiate partnerships, exchange ideas, and close deals. London’s stock exchange and insurance market, for instance, can trace their origins back to the coffeehouses of the era.

Coffeehouses in Italy

Coffee was introduced to Italy in the early 17th century, and the first coffeehouses began to appear in Venice around 1645. Over time, Italian coffeehouses evolved to include other services, such as the selling of tobacco and sweets or the provision of simple meals.

Venice: The first Italian coffeehouses

The first coffeehouse in Venice, Caffè Florian, opened its doors in 1720 and quickly became a popular gathering spot for artists, writers, and other intellectuals. Its appeal lay in the opulent and lavish design, as well as the fact that it was the first café in Europe to allow women to enter, making it an exclusive and fashionable destination.

The success of Caffè Florian inspired other Venetian entrepreneurs to open similar establishments across the city, cementing Venice’s status as the birthplace of Italian coffeehouse culture and fostering a vibrant hub for artistic and intellectual exchange.

Italian cultural influence on modern coffeehouses

Italian coffeehouses, particularly those in Venice, had a significant impact on the development of the modern café. Their elegant interiors and emphasis on art, music, and conversation set the standard for contemporary coffeehouses around the world.

Moreover, Italian coffeehouses played a pivotal role in the development of opera and music in general, as they often served as meeting places for composers, musicians, and other creatives. The collaborative and supportive environment in these establishments contributed to the birth of various music styles and influenced the cultural renaissance of Italy.

France and the role of Parisian cafés

Coffee arrived in Paris in the late 17th century, and the first Parisian café, called Le Procope, opened its doors in 1686. Over the years, French cafés became synonymous with the intellectual, literary, and artistic life of the city, serving as the primary meeting points for the exchange of ideas and the development of theories.

Literary and political influences

Cafés in Paris were frequented by prominent writers, poets, and philosophers, who used the space to debate, share ideas, and collaborate on works. This intellectual environment led to the development of strong connections between cafés and the literary and political movements of the time, as many revolutionary ideas were first discussed and formed within the walls of the Parisian café.

French cafés also influenced the development of journalism, as many newspapers and journalistic publications were founded and run from these establishments. As a result, cafés became sources of news and information, and the dissemination of ideas and opinions.

French café aesthetics

The design and ambiance of French cafés also left a lasting impact on coffeehouse culture. Parisian cafés are often designed with a focus on elegance and refinement, with plush seating, ornate décor, and stunning artworks, setting an unsurpassed standard for coffeehouse aesthetics.

In the modern era, French cafés continue to evolve, adapting to the tastes and preferences of contemporary society. However, the fundamental principles of elegance, intellectual exchange, and artistic inspiration remain at the heart of the French coffeehouse experience.

Viennese coffeehouses and Austria’s coffee culture

Following the Siege of Vienna in 1683, coffee made its way to Austria, where it quickly gained popularity. The first Viennese coffeehouse, Café Frauenhuber, opened in 1685, marking the beginning of a rich coffee culture in the city that continues to thrive to this day.

Impact of the Siege of Vienna

Viennese coffee culture flourished due in part to the circumstances surrounding the Siege of Vienna. Coffee beans left behind by the retreating Ottoman army were seized by Polish-Habsburg forces and used to create the first coffeehouses in the city. This unique origin story cultivated a vibrant and prosperous coffeehouse culture that quickly spread throughout the Habsburg Empire.

Viennese coffeehouse traditions

Viennese coffeehouses developed their own distinct traditions and customs. Often spacious and elaborately decorated, these establishments provided a comfortable and inviting atmosphere for patrons to chat, read, or play games.

In addition to coffee, Viennese coffeehouses are known for their extensive selection of newspapers, making them an essential resource for staying informed on current events. The concept of a dedicated reading room soon spread throughout Europe, becoming a defining characteristic of many early coffeehouses.

Viennese coffeehouses also played a crucial role in shaping the city’s artistic and intellectual scene, as they were frequented by musicians, poets, and philosophers who contributed to the vibrant and dynamic culture of the time.

Overall, the history of coffeehouses in Europe illustrates the important role these establishments played in shaping modern society. Serving as hubs for intellectual exchange, collaboration, and cultural enrichment, coffeehouses continue to carry the spirit of their beginnings and foster a lasting legacy that spans centuries.

The Role of Coffeehouses in European Society

Centers of social interaction and networking

The coffeehouse has held a unique place in European society since its introduction during the 17th century. Coffeehouses were symbols of social interaction, where people from various walks of life gathered to discuss news, politics, and gossip while indulging in the exotic new drink. At the time, coffee was quickly becoming fashionable as society started replacing alcoholic drinks like beer and wine with non-alcoholic beverages.

These early coffeehouses served as unofficial public gathering spaces where individuals could share information and engage in debate on a wide range of issues that interested them. They were often called “penny universities” because the price of a cup of coffee could buy access to such diverse conversations and the wealth of knowledge and ideas exchanged at these venues. This social aspect of coffeehouses fostered a unique environment where people could learn from one another, share opinions, and stay informed on current events.

Association with politics and revolutionary ideas

Coffeehouses were closely associated with politics and were known to host intellectual and political meetings. The French Revolution, for instance, was said to have been greatly influenced by conversations held in coffeehouses. In the years leading up to the revolution, coffeehouses increasingly became gathering points for radical thinkers and revolutionary factions, particularly in Paris. These public spaces provided a forum for progressives to meet, debate current issues, share ideas, and plot their next moves.

In Britain, coffeehouses also played a meaningful role in the political arena. They became a popular destination for political meetings and discussions, particularly in the 18th century. Politicians and their supporters often used these spaces to build their influence, engage with constituents, and formulate strategies. Some notable figures from this time even earned the moniker “coffeehouse politicians,” reflecting the prominence of coffeehouses in the political process.

Artistic and literary hubs

In addition to their political significance, coffeehouses were also home to artistic and literary movements throughout Europe. French and Italian cafés were especially known for hosting artists, writers, and intellectuals, providing them with a space to work, socialize, and exchange ideas. Places like Café de Flore in Paris and Caffè Florian in Venice became synonymous with the bohemian lifestyle, where iconic figures like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald spent considerable time during their careers.

The influence of coffeehouses on European literature and art is not to be underestimated, as they helped shape the development and dissemination of various movements, genres, and styles. The literary and philosophical discussions held in these spaces fueled creativity and fostered collaborations between artists and writers, resulting in works that are still celebrated today.

Impact on the economy and the emergence of the stock market

Beyond their influence on social, political, and cultural life, coffeehouses also played a pivotal role in the evolution of modern financial markets. One such example is the establishment of Lloyd’s of London, which traces its beginnings to Lloyd’s Coffee House in 17th century England. The coffeehouse was frequented by merchants, ship-owners, and underwriters, who met to conduct business and discuss insurance contracts. Eventually, Lloyd’s Coffee House evolved into the globally renowned insurance market we know today.

Similarly, Amsterdam’s coffeehouses played a significant role in the city’s financial sector, particularly during the Dutch Golden Age. In the 17th century, the Dutch stock exchange was born, in part, through the activity of traders and businesspeople who used coffeehouses as informal meeting places to negotiate deals and trade financial instruments. With capital flowing between investors and entrepreneurs at these venues, the world’s first modern stock market was established, setting the stage for similar financial centers to emerge around Europe and beyond.

In conclusion, coffeehouses have played a meaningful role in shaping European society over the past few centuries. They have served as hubs of social interaction, political discourse, artistic expression, and economic activity, leaving a lasting legacy that is still visible in modern-day Europe.

Decline of Coffeehouses and Their Revival in Modern Times

Factors contributing to the decline in Europe

The decline of coffeehouses in Europe can be attributed to a variety of factors. Two primary reasons behind this decline include the growing popularity of tea and chocolate as alternative beverages and the impact of political changes on the appeal of public debates.

Tea and chocolate, which were introduced to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, began to rival coffee as the preferred beverages for socializing. Tea, in particular, was more easily accessible, as it could be produced at home, unlike coffee, which required visiting a coffeehouse. The tea-drinking culture was also promoted heavily by British royalty and the upper classes, making it a fashionable choice for social gatherings. This led to the decline in popularity and significance of coffeehouses.

Additionally, political changes across Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries also played a role in the fading appeal of coffeehouse culture, specifically the importance of public debates. New political systems and public institutions, such as parliaments and organized political parties, provided alternative venues for public discussions, making the coffeehouses less essential as the sites for such events. Furthermore, with the rise of the newspaper industry, many people preferred to get their news and debates from well-reputed sources through print rather than engaging in informal discussions at coffeehouses.

Modern revival of coffeehouse culture

In recent years, there has been a significant revival of coffeehouse culture across the globe. This resurgence can be traced back to Italy, where espresso bars became popular throughout the country, later spreading to the US and other parts of Europe. Espresso bars offered customers a quick, flavorful, and affordable option for obtaining their daily coffee fixes without abandoning the social aspect of coffeehouses.

Another major aspect of the modern revival is the phenomenon of the “third wave coffee movement”. This term refers to a renewed focus on high-quality, ethically sourced, and sustainably produced coffee, and emphasizes the importance of skilled baristas and innovative brewing techniques. Specialty coffee shops, which are typically independent and locally owned businesses, have played a vital role in the resurgence by offering unique experiences and products.

The global spread and influence of European coffeehouse

European Coffeehouses

European coffeehouse culture has since spread around the world, with American coffee culture being notably influenced. Starbucks, the global coffee giant, has its roots in the European coffeehouse tradition. The company’s co-founder, Howard Schultz, was inspired by the coffee culture he experienced in Italy and sought to recreate similar experiences in the US. Today, Starbucks and other coffee franchises have locations worldwide, offering modern adaptations of European coffeehouses to customers everywhere.

Adaptations of European coffeehouses can also be found in other regions around the globe, such as Asia. Countries like Japan, South Korea, and China have all embraced different facets of the coffeehouse culture – from artisanal coffee shops to branded franchises. These local adaptations often combine Western coffee traditions with unique regional flavors and customs, demonstrating the enduring appeal of the coffeehouse model.

In summary, while the prominence of coffeehouses may have declined in Europe due to various factors, the concept has since experienced a global revival. With the rise of espresso bars, third wave coffee, and specialty cafés, the core aspects of European coffeehouse culture – socializing, intellectual discussion, and quality coffee – continue to persist throughout the world today.


FAQs on The Rise of Coffeehouses in European Cities


1. What initiated the rise of coffeehouses in European cities?

The rise of coffeehouses in European cities began in the 17th century as coffee was introduced from the Ottoman Empire. Alongside the popularization of the new beverage, coffeehouses served as social, intellectual, and political hubs, attracting different segments of society (Cowan, 2005).

2. Which European city witnessed the first coffeehouse?

The first European coffeehouse emerged in Venice, Italy, in 1645, closely followed by other prominent cities such as London, Paris, and Vienna. These establishments quickly converted into popular meeting spots for social and intellectual exchanges (Ellis, 2004).

3. What role did coffeehouses play in the intellectual and cultural spheres of European cities?

Coffeehouses generated a unique environment that facilitated encounters across social classes, engaging in conversations, sharing ideas, and spreading news. These “penny universities” contributed to the Age of Enlightenment and became significant for cultural, intellectual, and political developments (Cowan, 2005).

4. How did coffeehouses affect European economy and trade?

The demand for coffee, the opening of coffeehouses, and the growth of plantation economies in the colonies significantly impacted European trade. As coffee became a valuable commodity, countries established trading links and competed for control over coffee-producing territories (Topik & Samper, 2007).

5. How did coffeehouses transform into modern-day cafés?

Over time, European coffeehouses evolved in both form and function, prioritizing service, and atmosphere. They transitioned from being primarily about intellectual exchange to focusing on leisure, entertainment, and socializing, becoming the prototype for the modern-day café culture (Witkowski, 2008).

6. Are there any famous historical figures who frequented coffeehouses?

Numerous historical figures frequented European coffeehouses, including authors, philosophers, and politicians. For instance, Samuel Pepys, Jonathan Swift, George Frideric Handel, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, all frequented such establishments as a part of their social, intellectual, or political lives (Cowan, 2005).