The History of Coffee Houses and Cafe Culture (2023)

The History of Coffee Houses and Cafe Culture (1)

English professional cyclist Tom Simpson is seated outside a cafe brasserie in Paris, France, on May 29, 1963. Simpson has just won the 1963 Bordeaux-Paris classic cycle race. Photo by Stan Meagher/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

In the modern age of artisanal coffees and glossy-end machinery, it’s easy to get lost when thinking of the word “cafe.” The aroma of freshly brewed French Roast and the velvety feel of supple couch cushions floods the mind, but cafe culture is more than a simple pit stop for our daily cup of joe.

Cafes are structured around a few major components, two of the most prominent being the active sale of coffee and the people it draws in. Much like the deeply tangled web that is the coffee industry, cafes carefully balances the social, cultural, and economical motley that comes with both the beverage itself and the complications of being a public sanctuary.

Coffee may be the commodity that gave rise to the institution, but the population filing through the cafe doors provided the business its purpose. While American cafes saw their origins with the second wave of coffee starting in the mid-1960s, cafes have far deeper roots than Starbucks or a 20-year-old mom-and-pop shop.

The History of Coffee Houses and Cafe Culture (2)
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Cafes rose to prominence in Europe during the late 17th century as a result of their importance in the social sphere, as well as their ease of convenience. While restaurants and eateries specialized in meals, cafes minimized their selection in favor of providing patrons with coffee and affordable admission. This made it especially accessible to the working class to whom the establishments served as a retreat to foster community and promote the exchange of ideas and philosophy. Both a blessing and a curse, this age became known as the Age of Enlightenment.

While the local ale house provided many with the ability to converse, cafes remained a favorite confluence for the politically interested, specifically those who didn’t have the platform or means to voice their qualms elsewhere. Citizens upset by the upscaled pricing or legislations of their new regime could find solace in discussing these issues with their fellow cafe-goers. In an age of shifting ideologies and modest economic turmoil, British cafes gave the unheard a voice and the ability to debate and host intelligent conversation, which would have otherwise been drowned out beneath the authority of the elite.

Men from any social class could patronize the cafes; however, those in higher standing often avoided them for fear of losing status. They later regarded cafes as a nuisance. For forces of the upper echelon, cafes provided sanctum for their subjects and employees outside of their control, leaving room for the seeds of rebellion and change to be planted. This line of reasoning painted cafes as representations of equality and justice, something that earned them the attention and eventual wrath of King Charles II, who described the establishment as “a place where the disaffected met and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers” in an attempt to discourage the congregation. His efforts were fruitless.

The History of Coffee Houses and Cafe Culture (3)

Coffee Houses became the places where merchants in the 17th century met to do business. From these house many banks and insurance companies developed. Photo courtesy of the UK National Education Network.

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Cafes met their natural end following King Charles’ rule due to the increasing popularity of tea. However, British cafes bred a generation of activists, writers, and artists, setting the precedence for coffee house culture to come.

The social and economic position of coffee houses and cafes allowed for a meeting place receptive to all men regardless of occupation. This wasn’t true only in old Europe.

In the mid-20th century, Bogota, Colombia, featured several cafes across its sprawling cityscape. The prominent cafe culture was similar to London’s, laying the groundwork for intellectuals, activists, and artists to intersect. As the hub of a coffee-farming country, coffee was far from being exclusive to a coffee house. There were coffee bars, coffee clubs, even coffee pools. The drink aligned itself with secular values and helped bridge the intellectual and physical gap that might have otherwise separated men from various social standings. Much like British coffee houses, men frequented these cafes after finishing up at their office jobs, but it was also a hub that granted artists, journalists, and writers equity to the property, some doubling as galleries and convention centers. As in London, this attracted the attention of higher powers, to the Colombian cafes’ tragic detriment.

Beyond providing working-class men much-needed catharsis, coffee houses provided the general public with a method of unification and political revitalization that eventually deepened the divide between parties in what would become the Colombian conflict. With uprooted former militaristic powers colliding with some of the greatest minds of the generation, it was hardly a secret that cafes posed a very serious threat to Colombia’s already unstable government. When serious insurgency rose from the general public, the conflict brought about the end of the political coffee house.

The History of Coffee Houses and Cafe Culture (4)

France is another prime example of the political and social cafe. In the 1900s, Parisian cafes were hotbeds for thought, philosophy, and art, attracting the likes of Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In America, coffee houses were points of planning protests during the Vietnam War, a process later deemed “G.I. Cafes.” While the gravity of cafe culture has declined, they remain cultural incubators for artists and intellectuals.

In 1960s New York, coffee house culture was limited to Chock Full O’Nuts, a local chain that offered a modest cup of joe and a muffin on a good day, and a few mom-and-pop shops that managed to maintain integrity post-Depression. In 2020 America, the definition of “coffee house” has expanded.

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The most recognizable modern cafes tend to be commercial chains that rose in response to coffee’s second wave. Unlike British cafes, which used its population to grant the cafe purpose, American cafes have benefited from the U.S. capitalist mentality. There is not one particular crowd associated with the American cafes — they are frequented by the well-dressed businessman on his way to work in the morning as often as the screenwriter set up to work at the espresso bar.

Modern cafe culture is tied inextricably to the coffee industry upon which it’s founded, and as coffee shifts, so does the American cafe. Rather than present a united front to engage in discussion across social standing, coffee houses have become specialized to attract a crowd based on the type of coffee they serve. This means the general business model has switched from one that’s community-based to one that’s commodity-based, which has helped revitalize the coffee industry as a whole.

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Coffee is usually broken down into primary three waves. While the 1960s made the most use out of canned, pre-ground coffee to mark the first wave of coffee, the consequent waves have shifted from product to purpose.

From Seattle to Jacksonville, American cafes have come to resemble tree rings in terms of their longevity and style. Take Starbucks and Tim Hortons for example. Both chains rose to prominence to fulfill the need for specialty coffee beverages in the 1990s. This included a number of milky, espresso-based beverages. Second wave cafes, with their commercial gearing and national presence, have become synonymous with ease of access and mediocre coffee, as there is an inconsistent emphasis on the coffee’s quality. The crowd seeking these cafes not only desire the fancy coffee drinks, but also the convenience. Conveyor belt processes have made crafting these beverages efficient, if not particularly inexpensive. This is what brings in the businessmen, the students, and those generally in need of a quick fix.

This culture isn’t shared by cafe-goers of the third wave. With modernized methods of finding and sourcing quality coffee, third wave cafes emphasize the coffee itself. Its statement of purpose is to view coffee as “artisanal food” — much like wine — and the patrons reflect this line of thinking. Cafes such as Blue Bottle, Birch, and La Colombe offer quality beans to make premium coffee that doesn’t need to be loaded with milk and sugar to taste good. Unlike second-wave cafes that rely on seasonal flavors and marketing tactics to maintain a crowd, third-wave cafes use exclusivity as a means of maintaining their patrons’ interest. As such, third generations aren’t looking to expand their culture so much as they are trying to attract people with similar values and interests.

You will note that neither commercial-based wave caters to affordability, but this doesn’t stop either from being an attractive gathering place for writers, artists, and intellectuals. While cafe culture has grown and changed tremendously, the key mandates — coffee, company, and property — remain. With a variety of sourcing and the demand for high-quality coffee at the front of our country’s economy, don’t be surprised if coffee culture continues to shift in the years to come.

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Brittany Ramjattan is a freelance writer with a background in film. Brittany is currently a graduate student at Stony Brook’s Television Writing program in Manhattan, and when she’s not slaving over her computer, she’s slaving over her French press, working on her perfect cup.


What is the history of the coffee house? ›

Coffee houses began in the Ottoman Empire. Since liquor and bars were off-limits to most practicing Muslims, coffeehouses provided an alternative place to gather, socialize and share ideas. Coffee's affordability and egalitarian structure—anyone could come in and order a cup—eroded centuries of social norms.

Where did cafe culture originate? ›

The culture surrounding coffee and coffeehouses dates back to 16th-century Turkey. Coffeehouses in Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean were not only social hubs but also artistic and intellectual centres.

Who invented cafe culture? ›

' Jerzy Kulczycki was not only one of the very first people to open a café in Vienna, but apparently also the first person to come up with adding milk to coffee. Just how did his heroic stance during the Battle of Vienna lead him to become an internationally recognised figure in café culture?

Why was the coffeehouse socially and historically significant? ›

The Social Significance of the Coffeehouse

The coffeehouse, across many times and places, has served as one of the primary public spaces for members of society to meet, discuss politics, engage in business, pursue the arts, or simply shoot the breeze with familiars or strangers.

What is the purpose of coffee house? ›

From a cultural standpoint, coffeehouses largely serve as centers of social interaction: a coffeehouse provides patrons with a place to congregate, talk, read, write, entertain one another, or pass the time, whether individually or in small groups.

What is the meaning of coffee houses? ›

Definition of coffeehouse

: an establishment that sells coffee and usually other refreshments and that commonly serves as an informal club for its regular customers.

Why is cafe culture important? ›

In recent years, coffee culture has become a preferred way for people to interact with their coworkers and build relationships that go beyond business. At its core, coffee culture refers to the social aspects of drinking coffee with your coworkers.

When did coffee culture become popular? ›

In the 1600s, coffee took over as the favored breakfast beverage, replacing wine and beer. In the 1700s, coffee and tea were equally favored in the U.S. However, this dynamic changed when the events of the Boston Tea Party made it unpatriotic to drink tea.

What was the first coffee house? ›

Coffee is introduced to Constantinople by Ottoman Turks. The world's first coffee shop, Kiva Han, open there in 1475.

Which country has the most coffee culture? ›

FINLAND. Finland is the world's top coffee consuming nation per capita. There is a report from Nordic Coffee Culture which found that 6% of Finnish women and 14% of Finnish men drink more than ten cups of coffee per day. Yes, that is a huge amount of coffee and there seem to be some serious coffee drinkers in Finland!

Which country has the best coffee culture? ›

Portugal is routinely praised as having some of the best coffee in the world. Their go-to coffee drink is the espresso which is prepared using traditional recipes and methods of roasting the beans. The end result is some of the best coffee you have ever tasted.

What were cafes first called? ›

The British called their coffee houses, "penny universities." That was the price for the coffee and the social upper-class of businessmen were found there. In fact, a small coffee shop run by Edward Lloyd in 1668 was such a business hub.

What social role did the coffee house play? ›

The Oxford-style coffeehouses, which acted as a centre for social intercourse, gossip, and scholastic interest, spread quickly to London, where English coffeehouses became popularised and embedded within the English popular and political culture.

What makes a coffee house unique? ›

Quality: high quality ingredients, best brewing recipes, consistency, fresh and appealing sweet & savory selections are keys to success. Selection: have the most popular products in the market and something special that makes you unique. Seasonality: take an advantage of seasonal products and phenomenas.

What is significant relevance to coffee houses in literature? ›

Coffeehouses were a place for men to discuss current issues. Many coffeehouses became popular because of famous poets and writers who frequented them. For example, the first picture is of Lloyds of London. Will's, which became famous from John Dryden, an English poet, probably looked similar to this.

Who invented coffee houses? ›

Coffee Houses Originate in the Middle East in the 1500s

The documents that we have suggest that coffee houses originated in Mecca in the early 1500s or late 1400s.

What is a coffee house called? ›

café (also cafe), caff.

What is the difference between a coffeehouse and a cafe? ›

What is the difference between cafe and coffee shop? The terms are used interchangeably, but if one had to distinguish between the two, a cafe is likely to serve food, while a coffee shop may specialize in (and exclusively serve) coffee, espresso and tea drinks.

What type of business is a coffee house? ›

Coffee shops are part of the specialty eatery industry, which also includes outlets specializing in products such as bagels, donuts, frozen yogurt, and ice cream. Consumer taste and personal income drive demand.

How do cafes attract customers? ›

11 ways to attract more customers to your coffee shop
  1. Look at your pricing. ...
  2. Start a loyalty card scheme. ...
  3. Get active on social media. ...
  4. The good old A-board. ...
  5. Run a competition – particularly if you can get the local press to give you coverage.
  6. Tap up your suppliers for marketing materials. ...
  7. Consider branded takeaway cups.
23 May 2017

How did coffee change society? ›

According to Pollan, caffeine drove a kind of “Enlightenment thinking.” The coffee houses that stretched first across the Arab world and eventually Europe became not only the internet of their day, spreading gossip and news, but also centers of discussion that fostered important cultural, political, and scientific ...

What culture drinks the most coffee? ›

1. Finland — 12 kg/26 lbs — Finland is the world's biggest consumer of coffee on a per-person basis. The average Finn drinks nearly four cups a day. Coffee is so popular in Finland that two 10-minute coffee breaks are legally mandated for Finnish workers.

How did coffee become so popular? ›

Coffee was finally brought to the New World by the British in the mid-17th century. Coffee houses were popular, but it wasn't until the Boston Party in 1773 that America's coffee culture was changed forever: the revolt against King George III generated a mass switch from tea to coffee amongst the colonists.

What is the most popular coffee house in the world? ›

Starbucks is by far the most popular coffee chain in the world, with over 30,000 stores around the globe. One of the largest reasons for their success is tied to how they transformed coffee culture in major countries such as the United States.

What is the coffee capital of the world? ›

Shanghai becomes 'coffee capital of the world' with 7,857 shops in the city - Global Times. China's cosmopolitan city Shanghai has become the new "coffee capital of the world" in terms of the number of the coffee shops, an industrial report showed.

What country is number 1 in coffee? ›

Brazil is, quite simply, the largest coffee producer in the world.

Which country loves coffee most? ›

Finland is the number one consumer of coffee in the world. Each person drinks, on average, four cups per day and 26 pounds per year. That is just an average, however. The normal coffee drinker drinks between eight and nine cups daily with the more committed coffee lovers drinking up to 30 cups in one day.

What city is famous coffee? ›

Chikmagalur, Karnataka

This was where coffee was first introduced in India during the Raj. Just a few hours' drive from Coorg, Chikmagalur is also one of the biggest contributors to India's coffee production. With slopes almost entirely covered with verdant plantations, Chikmagalur can never disappoint coffee lovers.

What city is coffee most popular? ›

Discover the rest of the ranking in the table below:
CityCountryUS Position
Los AngelesUnited States1
Las VegasUnited States2
San FranciscoUnited States3
San DiegoUnited States4
9 more rows

Which city has the most cafes in the world? ›

A survey by a private company in 2021 showed Shanghai was the world's No. 1 for the total of coffee shops: 6,913, beating Tokyo and London.

What is the oldest cafe? ›

Caffè Florian, Venice

Established in 1720, Caffè Florian is the oldest continuously-operated coffee house in the world.

What was the importance of coffee houses during the Enlightenment? ›

The seventeenth and eighteenth century coffeehouses were unique social institutions that represented a spatialized version of the public sphere. In these institutions, there was critical and rational debate over a variety of social issues, including emerging Enlightenment ideals.

Why are cafes called Cafes? ›

The word comes from the French 'café' meaning coffee house. It is usually a relatively small place that sells non-alcoholic beverages along with a few items of food such as sandwiches and pastries. A cafe can be located inside a building or it can be an open-air establishment.

What are the 3 key elements to a great coffee? ›

Get these items dialed in and you'll be drinking a perfect cup each and every time. There are 3 elements to control regarding the water; temperature, flavor and volume.

What are consumers looking for in a coffee house experience? ›

Ambiance. Coffee drinkers may be paying for stimulation, but what they are really seeking is relaxation. This is the essential paradox that makes up the atmosphere of the cafe. The ambiance that the cafe creates must lend itself both to stimulation of the senses and a comforting space.

What is the reason of building a coffee house during medieval era? ›

The coffee house, which originated in the Middle East around 1511, began simply as a place to enjoy an exotic drink, coffee, but soon evolved into a place that helped change the course of history. Before coffee houses arrived in London, the normal social gathering place was a pub or tavern.

Why is coffee culture so important in Italy? ›

Even though coffee could be ordered, received, and consumed at the bar in a matter of minutes, coffee houses retained the same social atmosphere born in coffee houses like Caffè Florian. Coffee gave Italians a chance to meet up, chat, and enjoy time together--all while consuming a Pope-approved beverage.

What do houses symbolize in literature? ›

Across cultures, the idea of home stands as a central motif and human obsession. In children's and young adult literature, however, the house is particularly resonant, for maturation, identity, and adaptation to life's circumstances are such central themes.

What is the oldest coffee house in the world? ›

Caffè Florian, Venice

Established in 1720, Caffè Florian is the oldest continuously-operated coffee house in the world.

Where was the first coffee house made? ›

Coffee Houses Originate in the Middle East in the 1500s

Coffee houses originated in the Middle East, one of the first places coffee was grown. The documents that we have suggest that coffee houses originated in Mecca in the early 1500s or late 1400s.

Who invented the coffee house? ›

The first coffeehouse in England was opened in Oxford in 1652. In London, the first one was opened later that same year in at St Michael's Alley, Cornhill, by an eccentric Greek named Pasqua Roseé.

Which country is famous for coffee houses? ›

Ethiopia is a leading coffee exporter and as such, they have a very vibrant coffee culture. Coffee is consumed in city cafes as well as in the home. Ethiopians also have coffee ceremonies where they roast the beans and then brew and drink the coffee.

What is the importance of café? ›

Coffee shops provide a place to gather, work, and drink. Smart use of atmospherics can not only help you attract more customers, but also create a space in which they'll savor both their coffee and their experience in your establishment.

How has coffee influenced the world? ›

On its centuries-long path to becoming a world commodity and a global drink, coffee was a tool to build empires and fuel an industrial revolution. And it sometimes was a not-so-hidden driving force behind human exploitation, slavery and violent civil war.

How did coffee shops become popular? ›

It wasn't until the late 19th and early 20th century that coffee shops became popular among regular people, as they started to become accessible for those who didn't work in the government or finance. This rise in popularity was driven somewhat by the fall in wholesale coffee prices towards the end of the 19th century.

What is the previous name of coffee house? ›

After the acquisition of Albert Hall by the Government of India, Coffee Board converted it into a coffee house in 1942. Albert Hall was now known as India Coffee House. It had two sections — the House of Lords and House of Commons.

How long have coffee houses been around? ›

Coffeehouses appeared in England in 1652—first in Oxford and then in London. By 1675, England had more than 3,000 coffeehouses. Coffeehouses did equally well in Paris – where they became major meeting places for the French Enlightenment. America's first coffeehouse was established in 1676, in Boston.


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