Caffinets as the one pictured by Thomas Allom and described by the Rev. Robert Walsh, (1772-1852) in Constantinople / Public Domain
Coffeehouses have always served as centers of social interaction.
Curated/Reviewed by Matthew A. McIntosh
Café de Flore – Quartier Saint Germain, Paris / Photo by Armaud 25, Wikimedia Commons
A coffeehouse, coffee shop, or café is an establishment that primarily serves coffee, related coffee drinks (latte, cappuccino, espresso), and – depending on country – other drinks including alcoholic. Some coffeehouses may serve cold drinks such as iced coffee and iced tea; in continental Europe, cafés serve alcoholic drinks. A coffeehouse may also serve some type of food, such as light snacks, sandwiches, muffins or other pastries. Coffeehouses range from owner-operated small businesses to large multinational corporations.
“Discussing the War in a Paris Café”, by Fred Barnard, The Illustrated London News 17 September 1870 / Wikimedia Commons
While café may refer to a coffeehouse, the term “cafe” generally refers to a diner, British cafe (colloquially called a “caff”), “greasy spoon” (a small and inexpensive restaurant), transport cafe, teahouse or tea room, or other casual eating and drinking place. A coffeehouse may share some of the same characteristics of a bar or restaurant, but it is different from a cafeteria. Many coffeehouses in the Middle East and in West Asian immigrant districts in the Western world offer shisha (nargile in Greek and Turkish), flavored tobacco smoked through a hookah. Espresso bars are a type of coffeehouse that specializes in serving espresso and espresso-based drinks.
Centre Place, Melbourne. Australia is considered the birthplace of the “flat white” / Photo by Nick-D, Wikimedia Commons
From a cultural standpoint, coffeehouses largely serve as centers of social interaction: the coffeehouse provides patrons with a place to congregate, talk, read, write, entertain one another, or pass the time, whether individually or in small groups. Since the development of Wi-Fi, coffeehouses with this capability have also become places for patrons to access the Internet on their laptops and tablet computers. A coffeehouse can serve as an informal club for its regular members. As early as the 1950s Beatnik era and the 1960s folk music scene, coffeehouses have hosted singer-songwriter performances, typically in the evening.
Evolution of the word coffee. / Image by Andrew Shadura, Wikimedia Commons
The most common English spelling, café, is the French, Portuguese, and Spanish spelling, and was adopted by English-speaking countries in the late-19th century. As English generally makes little use of diacritics, anglicisation tends to omit them and to place the onus on the readers to remember how it is pronounced without the presence of the accent. Thus the spelling cafe has become very common in English-language usage throughout the world, especially for the less formal, i.e., “greasy spoon” variety (although orthographic prescriptivists often disapprove of it). The Italian spelling, caffè, is also sometimes used in English. In southern England, especially around London in the 1950s, the French pronunciation was often facetiously altered to /kæf/ and spelt caff.
The English words coffee and café derive from the Italian word for coffee, caffè—first attested as caveé in Venice in 1570—and in turn derived from Arabic qahwa (قهوة). The Arabic term qahwa originally referred to a type of wine, but after the wine ban by Islam, the name was transferred to coffee because of the similar rousing effect it induced. European knowledge of coffee (the plant, its seeds, and the drink made from the seeds) came through European contact with Turkey, likely via Venetian-Ottoman trade relations.
The English word café to describe a restaurant that usually serves coffee and snacks rather than the word coffee that describes the drink, is derived from the French café. The first café is believed to have opened in France in 1660.
The translingual word root /kafe/ appears in many European languages with various naturalized spellings, including; Portuguese, Spanish, and French (café); German (Kaffee); Polish (kawa); Ukrainian (кава, ‘kava’); and others.
Storyteller (meddah) at a coffeehouse in the Ottoman Empire / Wikimedia Commons
Coffeehouses in Mecca became a concern of imams who viewed them as places for political gatherings and drinking. They were banned for Muslims between 1512 and 1524. The Ottoman chronicler İbrahim Peçevi reports in his writings (1642–49) about the opening of the first coffeehouse in Istanbul:
Until the year 962 , in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffee-houses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hakam from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus came to the city; they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee.
Various legends involving the introduction of coffee to Istanbul at a “Kiva Han” in the late-15th century circulate in culinary tradition, but with no documentation.
The 17th century French traveler and writer Jean Chardin gave a lively description of the Persian coffeehouse scene:
People engage in conversation, for it is there that news is communicated and where those interested in politics criticize the government in all freedom and without being fearful, since the government does not heed what the people say. Innocent games … resembling checkers, hopscotch, and chess, are played. In addition, mollas, dervishes, and poets take turns telling stories in verse or in prose. The narrations by the mollas and the dervishes are moral lessons, like our sermons, but it is not considered scandalous not to pay attention to them. No one is forced to give up his game or his conversation because of it. A molla will stand up in the middle, or at one end of the qahveh-khaneh, and begin to preach in a loud voice, or a dervish enters all of a sudden, and chastises the assembled on the vanity of the world and its material goods. It often happens that two or three people talk at the same time, one on one side, the other on the opposite, and sometimes one will be a preacher and the other a storyteller.
Coffeehouse in London, 17th century / Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Wikimedia Commons
In the 17th century, coffee appeared for the first time in Europe outside the Ottoman Empire, and coffeehouses were established, soon becoming increasingly popular. The first coffeehouses appeared in Venice in 1629, due to the traffic between La Serenissima and the Ottomans; the very first one is recorded in 1645. The first coffeehouse in England was set up in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish man named Jacob at the Angel in the parish of St Peter in the East. A building on the same site now houses a cafe-bar called The Grand Cafe. Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is also still in existence today. The first coffeehouse in London was opened in 1652 in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of a trader in Turkish goods named Daniel Edwards, who imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill.
From 1670 to 1685, the number of London coffee-houses began to multiply, and also began to gain political importance due to their popularity as places of debate. English coffeehouses in the 17th and 18th centuries were significant meeting places, particularly in London. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses in England. Pasqua Rosée also established the first coffeehouse in Paris in 1672 and held a citywide coffee monopoly until Procopio Cutò opened the Café Procope in 1686. This coffeehouse still exists today and was a popular meeting place of the French Enlightenment; Voltaire, Rousseau, and Denis Diderot frequented it, and it is arguably the birthplace of the Encyclopédie, the first modern encyclopedia. In 1667, Kara Hamie, a former Ottoman Janissary from Constantinople, opened the first coffee shop in Bucharest (then the capital of the Principality of Wallachia), in the center of the city, where today sits the main building of the National Bank of Romania. America had its first coffeehouse in Boston, in 1676.
The first cafeteria in Vienna was founded in 1683 by a Ukrainian cossack and Polish diplomat of Ruthenian descent, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, who was also the first to serve coffee with milk. There is a statue of Kulczycki on a street also named after him. However the culture of drinking coffee was itself widespread in the country in the second half of the 18th century. The first registered coffeehouse in Vienna was founded by an Armenian merchant named Johannes Theodat (also known as Johannes Diodato) in 1685. Fifteen years later, four other Armenians owned coffeehouses.
Though Charles II later tried to suppress the London coffeehouses as “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”, the public flocked to them. The coffeehouses were great social levelers, open to all men and indifferent to social status, and as a result associated with equality and republicanism. The rich intellectual atmosphere of early London coffeehouses were available to anyone who could pay the sometimes one penny entry fee, giving them the name of ‘Penny Universities’.
More generally, coffeehouses became meeting places where business could be carried on, news exchanged and the London Gazette (government announcements) read. Lloyd’s of London had its origins in a coffeehouse run by Edward Lloyd, where underwriters of ship insurance met to do business. By 1739, there were 551 coffeehouses in London; each attracted a particular clientele divided by occupation or attitude, such as Tories and Whigs, wits and stockjobbers, merchants and lawyers, booksellers and authors, men of fashion or the “cits” of the old city center. According to one French visitor, Antoine François Prévost, coffeehouses, “where you have the right to read all the papers for and against the government,” were the “seats of English liberty.”
The statue of the writer Gonzalo Torrente Ballester in Café Novelty (Salamanca-Spain), founded in 1905 / Photo by Pravdaverita, Wikimedia Commons
The banning of women from coffeehouses was not universal, but does appear to have been common in Europe. In Germany, women frequented them, but in England and France they were banned. Émilie du Châtelet purportedly cross-dressed to gain entrance to a coffeehouse in Paris.
In a well-known engraving of a Parisian café c. 1700, the gentlemen hang their hats on pegs and sit at long communal tables strewn with papers and writing implements. Coffeepots are ranged at an open fire, with a hanging cauldron of boiling water. The only woman present presides, separated in a canopied booth, from which she serves coffee in tall cups.
The traditional tale of the origins of the Viennese café begins with the mysterious sacks of green beans left behind when the Turks were defeated in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. All the sacks of coffee were granted to the victorious Polish king Jan III Sobieski, who in turn gave them to one of his officers, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki. Kulczycki began the first coffeehouse in Vienna with the hoard. However, it is now widely accepted that the first coffeehouse was actually opened by an Armenian merchant named Johannes Diodato (Asdvadzadur). In London, coffeehouses preceded the club of the mid-18th century, European countries.
In Ireland and the United Kingdom, a café (with the acute accent) may be similar to those in other European countries, while a cafe (without acute accent, and often pronounced “caff”) is more likely to be a British cafe-style eating place, typically serving home-cooked and/or fried food, and sometimes colloquially known as a “greasy spoon”. Jonathan’s Coffee-House in 1698 saw the listing of stock and commodity prices that evolved into the London Stock Exchange. Lloyd’s Coffee House provided the venue for merchants and shippers to discuss insurance deals, leading to the establishment of Lloyd’s of London insurance market, the Lloyd’s Register classification society, and other related businesses. Auctions in salesrooms attached to coffeehouses provided the start for the great auction houses of Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
During the 18th century, the oldest extant coffeehouses in Italy were established: Caffè Florian in Venice, Antico Caffè Greco in Rome, Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua, Caffè dell’Ussero in Pisa and Caffè Fiorio in Turin. In Victorian England, the temperance movement set up coffeehouses for the working classes, as a place of relaxation free of alcohol, an alternative to the public house (pub).
In the 18th century, Dublin coffeehouses functioned as early reading centers and the emergence of circulation and subscription libraries that provided greater print access for the public. The interconnectivity of the coffee house and virtually every aspect of the print trade were evidenced by the incorporation of printing, publishing, selling, and viewing of newspapers, pamphlets and books on the premises, most notably in the case of Dick’s Coffee House, owned by Richard Pue; thus contributing to a culture of reading and increased literacy. These coffeehouses were a social magnet where different strata of society came together to discuss topics of the newspapers and pamphlets.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, coffeehouses were commonly meeting point for writers and artists, across Europe.
In most European countries, such as Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, and others, the term café means a restaurant primarily serving coffee, as well as pastries such as cakes, tarts, pies, Danish pastries, or buns. Many cafés also serve light meals such as sandwiches. European cafés often have tables on the pavement (sidewalk) as well as indoors. Some cafés also serve alcoholic drinks (e.g., wine), particularly in Southern Europe. In the Netherlands and Belgium, a café is the equivalent of a bar, and also sells alcoholic drinks. In the Netherlands a koffiehuisserves coffee, while a coffee shop (using the English term) sells “soft” drugs (cannabis and hashish) and is generally not allowed to sell alcoholic drinks. In France, most cafés serve as lunch restaurants in the day, and bars in the evening. They generally do not have pastries except during mornings, where a croissant or pain au chocolat can be purchased with breakfast coffee. In Italy, cafés are similar to those found in France and known as bar. They typically serve a variety of espresso coffee, cakes and alcoholic drinks.
Caffe Reggio on MacDougal Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village was founded in 1927 / Photo by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons
Coffee shops in the United States arose from the espresso- and pastry-centered Italian coffeehouses of the Italian American immigrant communities in the major U.S. cities, notably New York City’s Little Italy and Greenwich Village, Boston’s North End, and San Francisco’s North Beach. From the late 1950s onward, coffeehouses also served as a venue for entertainment, most commonly folk performers during the American folk music revival. Both Greenwich Village and North Beach became major haunts of the Beats, who were highly identified with these coffeehouses. As the youth culture of the 1960s evolved, non-Italians consciously copied these coffeehouses. The political nature of much of 1960s folk music made the music a natural tie-in with coffeehouses with their association with political action. A number of well known performers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan began their careers performing in coffeehouses. Blues singer Lightnin’ Hopkins bemoaned his woman’s inattentiveness to her domestic situation due to her overindulgence in coffeehouse socializing in his 1969 song “Coffeehouse Blues”. Starting in 1967 with the opening of the historic Last Exit on Brooklyn coffeehouse, Seattle became known for its thriving countercultural coffeehouse scene.
From the 1960s through the mid-1980s, churches and individuals in the United States used the coffeehouse concept for outreach. They were often storefronts and had names like The Lost Coin (Greenwich Village), The Gathering Place(Riverside, CA), Catacomb Chapel (New York City), and Jesus For You (Buffalo, NY). Christian music (often guitar-based) was performed, coffee and food was provided, and Bible studies were convened as people of varying backgrounds gathered in a casual setting that was purposefully different than the traditional church. An out-of-print book, published by the ministry of David Wilkerson, titled, A Coffeehouse Manual, served as a guide for Christian coffeehouses, including a list of name suggestions for coffeehouses.
In general, prior to about 1990, true coffeehouses were little known in most American cities, apart from those located on or near college campuses, or in districts associated with writers, artists, or the counterculture. During this time the word “coffee shop” usually denoted family-style restaurants that served full meals, and of whose revenue coffee represented only a small portion. More recently that usage of the word has waned and now “coffee shop” often refers to a coffeehouse.
Coffeehouses often sell pastries or other food items / Wikimedia Commons
Cafés may have an outdoor section (terrace, pavement or sidewalk café) with seats, tables and parasols. This is especially the case with European cafés. Cafés offer a more open public space compared to many of the traditional pubs they have replaced, which were more male dominated with a focus on drinking alcohol.
One of the original uses of the café, as a place for information exchange and communication, was reintroduced in the 1990s with the Internet café or Hotspot. The spread of modern-style cafés to urban and rural areas went hand-in-hand with the rising use of mobile computers. Computers and Internet access in a contemporary-styled venue help to create a youthful, modern place, compared to the traditional pubs or old-fashioned diners that they replaced.
Middle East and Asia
Coffeehouse in Damascus / Photo by FunkMonk, Wikimedia Commons
In the Middle East, the coffeehouse (Arabic: مقهى maqha; Persian: قهوه خانه qahveh-khaneh; Turkish: kahvehane or kırâthane) serves as an important social gathering place for men. Men assemble in coffeehouses to drink coffee (usually Arabic coffee) and tea. In addition, men go there to listen to music, read books, play chess and backgammon, watch TV and enjoy other social activities around the Arab world and in Turkey. Hookah (shisha) is traditionally served as well.
Coffeehouses in Egypt are colloquially called ‘ahwah /ʔhwa/, which is the dialectal pronunciation of قَهْوة qahwah (literally “coffee”). Also commonly served in ‘ahwah are tea (shāy) and herbal teas, especially the highly popular hibiscus blend (Egyptian Arabic: karkadeh or ennab). The first ‘ahwah opened around the 1850s and were originally patronized mostly by older people, with youths frequenting but not always ordering. There were associated by the 1920s with clubs (Cairo), bursa (Alexandria) and gharza (rural inns). In the early 20th century, some of them became crucial venues for political and social debates.
In India, coffee culture has expanded in the past twenty years. Chains like Indian Coffee House, Café Coffee Day, Barista Lavazza have become very popular. Cafes are considered good venues to conduct office meetings and for friends to meet.
A coffee shop in Angeles, Philippines / Wikimedia Commons
In Malaysia and Singapore, traditional breakfast and coffee shops are called kopi tiam. The word is a portmanteau of the Malay word for coffee (as borrowed and altered from English) and the Hokkien dialect word for shop (店; POJ: tiàm). Menus typically feature simple offerings: a variety of foods based on egg, toast, and coconut jam, plus coffee, tea, and Milo, a malted chocolate drink that is extremely popular in Southeast Asia and Australasia, particularly Singapore and Malaysia.
Singapore also has coffee shops known as cafes and in the past few years, there has a been a rise in cafe culture with urbanites seeking out specialty coffees. Even with popular joints such as Starbucks and Coffee Bean, the millennials in particular sought for gourmet coffees as well as the relaxing and cosy ambience amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. Moreover, cafes have also changed the social scenes of Singapore. Instead of crowding at shopping malls, the youngsters could now hang out at cafes.
In the Philippines, coffee shop chains like Starbucks became prevalent in upper and middle class professionals especially in Makati. However, Carinderias also serve coffee alongside viands. Events such as “Kapihan” often officiated at bakeshops and restaurants that also served coffee for breakfast and merienda.
In Thailand, the term “café” is not a coffeehouse in the international definition, as in other countries, but it is a night restaurant that serves alcoholic drinks during a comedy show on stage. The era in which this type of business flourished was the 1990s, before the 1997 financial crisis.
The first real coffeehouse in Thailand opened in 1917 at the Si Kak Phraya Si in the area of Rattanakosin Island, by Madam Cole, an American woman who living in Thailand at that time, Later, Chao Phraya Ram Rakop (เจ้าพระยารามราฆพ),Thai aristocrat, opened a coffeehouse named “Café de Norasingha” (คาเฟ่นรสิงห์) located at Sanam Suea Pa (สนามเสือป่า), the ground next to the Royal Plaza. At present, Café de Norasingha has been renovated and move to a place within Phayathai Palace. In southern region, a traditional coffeehouse or kopi tiam are popular with locals, like many countries in the Malay Peninsula. 
In Australia, coffee shops are generally called cafés. Since the post-World War II influx of Italian immigrants introduced espresso coffee machines to Australia in the 1950s, there has been a steady rise in café culture. The past decade has seen a rapid rise in demand for locally (or on-site)-roasted specialty coffee, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, with the “flat white” remaining a popular coffee drink.
In Cairo, the capital of Egypt, most cafés have shisha (waterpipe). Most Egyptians indulge in the habit of smoking shisha while hanging out at the café, watching a match, studying, or even sometimes finishing some work. In Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, independent coffeehouses that struggled prior to 1991 have become popular with young professionals who do not have time for traditional coffee roasting at home. One establishment that has become well-known is the Tomoca coffee shop, which opened in 1953.
The patrons of the first coffeehouse in England, The Angel, which opened in Oxford in 1650, and the mass of London coffee houses that flourished over the next three centuries, were far removed from those of modern Britain. Haunts for teenagers in particular, Italian-run espresso bars and their formica-topped tables were a feature of 1950s Soho that provided a backdrop as well as a title for Cliff Richard’s 1960 film Expresso Bongo. The first was The Moka in Frith Street, opened by Gina Lollobrigida in 1953. With their “exotic Gaggia coffee machine[s],…Coke, Pepsi, weak frothy coffee and…Suncrush orange fountain[s]” they spread to other urban centers during the 1960s, providing cheap, warm places for young people to congregate and an ambience far removed from the global coffee bar standard that would be established in the final decades of the century by chains such as Starbucks and Pret a Manger.
Interior of an espresso bar from Baliuag, Philippines / Photo by Ramon F. Velasquez, Wikimedia Commons
The espresso bar is a type of coffeehouse that specializes in coffee drinks made from espresso. Originating in Italy, the espresso bar has spread throughout the world in various forms. Prime examples that are internationally known are Starbucks Coffee, based in Seattle, Washington, U.S., and Costa Coffee, based in Dunstable, UK, (the first and second largest coffeehouse chains respectively), although the espresso bar exists in some form throughout much of the world.
The espresso bar is typically centered around a long counter with a high-yield espresso machine (usually bean to cup machines, automatic or semiautomatic pump-type machine, although occasionally a manually operated lever-and-piston system) and a display case containing pastries and occasionally savory items such as sandwiches. In the traditional Italian bar, customers either order at the bar and consume their drinks standing or, if they wish to sit down and be served, are usually charged a higher price. In some bars there is an additional charge for drinks served at an outside table. In other countries, especially the United States, seating areas for customers to relax and work are provided free of charge. Some espresso bars also sell coffee paraphernalia, candy, and even music. North American espresso bars were also at the forefront of widespread adoption of public WiFi access points to provide Internet services to people doing work on laptop computers on the premises.
The offerings at the typical espresso bar are generally quite Italianate in inspiration; biscotti, cannoli and pizzelle are a common traditional accompaniment to a caffe latte or cappuccino. Some upscale espresso bars even offer alcoholic drinks such as grappa and sambuca. Nevertheless, typical pastries are not always strictly Italianate and common additions include scones, muffins, croissants, and even doughnuts. There is usually a large selection of teas as well, and the North American espresso bar culture is responsible for the popularization of the Indian spiced tea drink masala chai. Iced drinks are also popular in some countries, including both iced tea and iced coffee as well as blended drinks such as Starbucks’ Frappucino.
A worker in an espresso bar is referred to as a barista. The barista is a skilled position that requires familiarity with the drinks being made (often very elaborate, especially in North American-style espresso bars), a reasonable facility with some equipment as well as the usual customer service skills.
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