Coffee House Culture

Written by noelle carver
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Coffee House Culture
A Parisian cafe where regulars and visitors linger over coffee. (cafe image by maeva"s from

Camping out for the day at a cafe--to read, study, write or meet with friends--is a centuries-old custom. Coffee house culture has an ancient history, dating back to the first millennium A.D., when roasting and grinding coffee and serving it to locals began.


According to a National Geographic feature on the history of coffee, the whole coffee culture took off in ancient Arabia. In 1000 A.D., farmers roasted and brewed beans they found on their bushes and drank the "bean broth." Stimulating and strong-tasting, early coffee drinkers enjoyed the prolonged energy the drink gave them, which allowed for more studying and worshiping.

Coffee, and coffee culture, started traveling the world, from North Africa, to the eastern Mediterranean to India and beyond. By the 15th century, coffee for drinking was a creation popular to all Muslims and whoever came across the drink.

Coffee House Culture
Muslims first roasted and brewed coffee beans. (coffee image by AGphotographer from

Mecca Coffee House Culture

According to the International Coffee Organization, the first coffee houses, called "kaveh kanes," opened in Mecca and spread through the Arab world. At these coffee houses, patrons played chess, discussed current topics and events, and danced. Coffee houses became places where social and business life came together, for the price of just one coffee.

However, Arabian coffee houses soon became centers for political activity and debates. Over the next few decades, coffee and coffee houses were banned until a tax on both the space and the drink brought money to the government. The coffee houses were then reopened.

Coffee Culture Ideas

As coffee and coffee houses traversed the globe, so did ideas attached to coffee culture. According to the website Coffee Review, Turkish people called their cafes "schools of the wise."

The first London coffee house opened in 1652. The English began calling their coffee houses "penny universities"--for a one penny entry-fee, and a two-penny cup of coffee (including a newspaper), coffee house patrons could participate in or listen in on a seminar featuring intellectuals of the time, like writers and philosophers. Because mid-17th century England was rife with political and social consternation--following years of Cromwell's puritanical rule and later enduring the Restoration period--coffee houses, instead of pubs and bars, became the axis points of political revolution, discussion and public opinion.


Coffee stimulates the mind where liquor dulls it. Coffee houses started replacing bars in the 17th and 18th century for this reason. Coffee houses became popular spots for social gathering, for intellectuals as well as local workers. People of all classes could usually afford a cup of coffee, even more so than they could a beer. Coffee houses became places to write, read, relax and discuss current events as well as artistic trends and happenings.

Coffee House Culture
Cafes blend a peaceful atmosphere with a stimulating drink. (cafe image by daniel mauch from

U.S. Coffee House Revamping

Already spread throughout the Middle East and into Europe and Russia (originally a tea drinking culture), coffee houses made their way late into the New World. U.S. coffee culture took a while to catch on. From the 1920s to the 1950s, coffee drinkers went to a diner and got a cup of coffee poured into a porcelain mug for about 25 cents. A patron sat in a diner booth or at the counter and drank the cup alone or with a friend or date, in the morning or night, and left. American painter Edward Hopper sums up American coffee culture well in his 1942 painting, "Nighthawks."

Coffee House Culture
Diners were the original home to U.S. coffee culture. (diner image by michael langley from


A young Seattle businessman saw potential for a U.S. coffee culture modeling the European style. In 1983, Howard Schultz--then the director of retail operations and marketing for a small Seattle-based coffee shop called Starbucks--took an inspiring trip to Italy. Impressed by the popularity of local espresso bars in Milan, he decided to infuse the Starbucks store with a similar Italian-coffeehouse feel.

As the Seattle Starbucks store gained success, the company opened more stores, like one in Vancouver. Creating a comfortable home-like setting--with cozy chairs, soft lighting, in-house mugs and relaxing music--coffee drinkers came to Starbucks not just for a strong cup of coffee but for a coffee experience, a piece of culture and community. A new kind of U.S. coffee culture was born.

Coffee House Culture
Starbucks introduced a stylized system of ordering coffee. (black coffee image by Leticia Wilson from

Comfort and Productivity

According the University of Michigan website, coffee houses provide the artist, thinkers, intellectuals, and the currently unemployed or underemployed a place to work outside of the home. These patrons also have a chance to show their work (art shows or pamphlets or fliers for upcoming music shows) and to make friends or business contacts.

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