If you picked up this book, it’s probably because you believed it was a book about coffee. And while I suppose it is, it is more a book about people — specifically the people who consume this favorite vice each morning.
The history of coffee in western culture follows the trajectory of some of our most major human moments, from religious strife to the initiation of major trade routes to the Enlightenment and beyond. Like the proverbial fly on the wall, it’s been there — and though not alone in this front row to history it seems to stand up and demand attention for the way it pushed right onto the stage at all the right moments.
The consumption of food and drink are compulsory part of being human, perhaps one of the most fun parts, and the tiny niche of coffeeshops and our coffee consumption became the lens through which I sought to consider human interaction and our communal history. It is the similarities, and the differences, between each culture’s addressing of cafes and coffee shops that makes
If you picked up this book, expecting it to be about coffee, then I anticipate you happen to be the type of person who drinks a lot of it. Coffee is unique in that, unlike many other things we consume daily, it requires extremely specific conditions to grow. The growth of the coffee industry, therefore, has gone hand in hand with advancements in trade and agriculture.
Perhaps the fact that I’ve reached a point in my life where a cup of coffee is a given each day, but I’ve found that I feel incomplete without a cup in my hand. They say to write about what you know, and I know coffee. Today, coffees shops are expected to have free wifi access and become a tangle of charging cords and patrons in headphones, each engaged in their own philosophical discourse or scientific exploration. Coupled with my intense infatuation with Europe, this project grew and mutated into a blurred passion piece.
My first introduction to Europe, and to the true cafe, came at the defining age of sixteen. Having forgone the pomp and circumstance of a blow-out sweet sixteen, I was surprised with a very large coffee table book and a roundtrip ticket to Paris. I had never been to Europe, had no reason to ever expect this sort of gift, and completely no idea what to expect from this lucky turn. Ten months later I was boarding a plane at Newark International Airport, and seven hours and twenty minutes after that I was deplaning at Charles De Gaulle, just outside Paris with my mother.
Our tiny hotel room was on the floor where the roof of the building met the walls, gifting us a very tiny balcony. From there I could stand and have the view of Paris I had only ever dreamed of. Dominated by shades of off-white walls, grey rooftops, black shutters, green leaves, and cloudy skies, Paris in the spring was like something out of a fairytale. And of course it is, the cliches must have started somewhere. Even the tiny road signs, with their navy backgrounds and green decorations seemed more lovely than the brutalist signs I had grown up with in New York. The room wash washed in further shades of white, and overwhelmingly my memories of Paris seem overexposed and dominated by the calming airy-ness of the color white.
Forget that the walls inside seemed to slant, or that the bed was hardly a few inches off the ground, or that the shower was little more than a trickle. From the moment I found myself in Paris, I was doomed. My wanderlust was born long before, but it was properly christened on a balcony in France.
In his work Daily Life in the Vienna of Mozart and Schubert, French essayist Marcel Brion wrote:
One might write an interesting analysis of capital cities by describing the nature of cafés in each country, and one would obtain at the same time a considerable source of information of the psychology, the habit and feelings of different races by examining what a café means for each of them.
I seek to do just that, and what follows here is the roots of any good work of writing: the months of reading and researching the area, finding out how this all got started, and what it is that lead coffee across seas and into the major cities of Europe centuries ago.
THE PLANT & BEAN
The french writer Alexandre Dumas is most known for his work The Count of Monte Cristo and his other works of fictional literature. However four years after his death in 1870 his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine was published. This bulky work was essentially a long list of items relating to food and cuisine, and though inarticulate in comparison to his works of fiction it was still “an engaging and impressive jumble.” Among the winding list of items is found about two pages on café — not the physical space, but rather the beverage in its french translation.
According to Dumas, the plant originated in Yemen and was first encountered by Europeans in 1580 when a man by the name of Prosper Alpin, an Italian, traveled to Egypt. He provides a translation of a letter written by this man: “I have seen this tree in Cairo, in the gardens of Ali Bey. It is called bon or boun. With the berry which it produces, the Egyptians produce a drink which Arabs call Kawa.”
According to some, coffee has been consumed as a beverage since 1000 AD, when Arabs learned to boil the crushed beans to make the black drink we know today. This leaves us with over a thousand years of coffee history with which to contend on the global scale. As the popularity of the coffee beverage grew, so too developed the industry and culture which surrounded it. Coffee has, today, reached every corner of the world from its modest begins, just as humanity. The popular legend says the plant itself was discovered by a goat herder, named Kaldi who came across his herd under the effects of the plant and tried it himself and joined the flock in their frolicking.
The area in which coffee was originally discovered and consumed is in close proximity to where the first human civilizations sprang up. And while the spread of coffee did not take place with the spread of humanity, this product has transcended regional diets and palates to become the most valuable legal traded commodity, other than oil, in our global economy.
In his book, Public Sphere, Harry Browne refers to the public sphere as “a space of series of spaces where, the theory goes, public issues can be sensibly discussed and consensus on them developed”. This public space, where people from all walks could come together, had before been found largely in cases where the consumption was of items that deterred thinking and speech — namely, the public house and the ales or liquor that flowed there. As defined by Browne, these spaces would not technically considered a public sphere, as intoxication would deter the “sensible” discussion.
For Americans, and increasingly in the broader globe, there are a few brands that define the coffee industry. In recent years, no brand has done so more than Starbucks. My generation can’t remember a time without Starbucks but the history of the company, compared to the impact it’s made, is actually relatively brief.
In 1971 the first “Starbucks” popped up in Seattle. The scare quotes are because the café would scarcely have been recognizable to current Starbucks consumers, save the name and some of the branding. It was the onloading of Howard Schultz in 1982 that catapulted Starbucks from a lone Seattle street to a global brand.
A 1983 trip to Italy, and more specifically Milan, is credited with inspiring Schultz’s new vision for Starbucks. Two years later, after a successful test of his new, European inspired concept the brand Il Giornale was founded, built on the model of the Milanese coffee bar but brewing Starbucks beans. This is where the Starbucks caffe latte came into its own, and in 1987 Il Giornale incorporated Starbucks and took on the name and began the new Starbucks with 17 stores.
From there, the growth became exponential, nearly doubling by 1988 and to over fifty store in 1989. But the nineties where when the brand really hit its stride, expanding an established headquarters and completing an initial public offering in 1992. By 1994 there were over 1,000 Starbucks, including the first international stores in Japan and Singapore. The colloquial use of the terms latte and cappuccino may very well be thanks to our market saturation of Starbucks, but Starbucks has Milan, and more broadly Italy and Europe, to thank for its inspiration, rhetoric, and, ultimately, success.
THE DARKER SIDE OF COFFEE
While the story told here is concerned with the culture of the café and the way that space and its existence allowed for moments of historical and cultural relevance, it is important to acknowledge the impact of the broader coffee industry.
Intrinsically tied into the early history of global trade, coffee is also one of the crops that led to systemized slavery throughout the world. Locals in Java were put to work cultivating the crop, and in the Americas coffee was brought as a plantation crop alongside tobacco and sugar. This industry was developed and expanded through the exploitation of humanity, the denial of it for those who were enslaved, and the privilege of the Europeans who conquered them.
While this will not be a primary focus in the literature that follows, operating with the knowledge of the cruelty which coffees expansion both facilitated and caused from the start is a critical aspect of academic engagement with this material.
The first coffeeshop in England was opened in Oxford in 1651 or maybe 1650, and even today there is still a cafe on the spot. The alleged proprietor was from Lebanon, named Jacobs, and apparently Jewish. The Grand Cafe, an established part of the current facades along high street, claims its place as the original location of Jacob’s coffee house. They claim the date 1650 and the name Jacobs, and give the name “The Angel” to the establishment from which coffee was sold. It was, apparently, a part of a larger establishment that housed travellers, which would explain coffee’s route there in the first place.
The rigorous academic nature of Oxford fostered the proper environment for groups of men, because at the time coffee houses were largely reserved for them, to group together to discuss the academics of the day. Historians tend to refer to the coffee house as a major institution within the broader “public sphere” in England. The concept of the public sphere hinges on an idea of open exchange of information and thought.
The city of London was founded somewhere around AD 43 by the Romans as “Londinium,” and perhaps of they had coffee they could have held onto it. The valley of the Thames was officially referred to as Londinium in AD 60 BC in a Roman history. Walking the streets of London today, there is hardly a reminder of it’s Roman roots, save the portions of the Roman wall from AD 200 that can be seen from the platforms that rise around the Tower of London, as well as near the famed Barbican near the aptly named street “London Wall”.
The first coffee house opened in London in 1652 in St. Michael’s Alley. Though it is quite possible that “coffee house” was, at this time, a very literal term. Speculation suggests that this first London purveyor of coffee simply sold from a window in a house.
A July 1903 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine gives the name of a man, Pasqua Rosée. Rosée was, according to the magazine, the greek coachman to a Turkish merchant who began selling the coffee under a sign “of his own head”. Gentleman’s, however, also acknowledges the claim of Don Saltero’s in Chelsea on Cheyne Walk, with the caveat that in the seventeenth century the Royal Boroughs of Chelsea and Kensington were not often considered a part of the proper city of London. These neighborhoods are now home to some of the most posh of the capital city, including (but not limited to) the members of the royal family who resides at the aptly named Kensington Palace tucked among Hyde Park. Those areas are now intrinsically connected to the image of London that is portrayed, the white townhomes of South Kensington with their pillared front steps, the broad roads and black cabs.
Rosée’s establishment was, however, located properly in the City of London, and today St. Michael’s Alley is still within the one square mile block that make up “The City,” which has become London’s financial center. The city is only about a square mile wide, full of winding streets that seem to perpetually come together in five and eight way intersections. A saturation of red double deckers heading out towards the further reaches of Greater London wind around corners it seems they can’t possibly make. At the heart of it all is the Royal Exchange, flanked by the entrances to the Bank tube stop descending underground. Just a short walk from the Bank of England, across the street from Leadenhall Market, and up the hill from the spot were the disastrous fire began that destroyed most of London in 1666, Rosée’s cafe would have been the root for the massive boom of coffee houses in this area. It also would have been engulfed in the flames that destroyed the medieval city within the reaches of the old Roman wall. In total, 436 acres of London burned, including 13,200 houses and 87 out of 109 churches. The area was rebuilt, and it was this rebuilding which gifted the skyline of London the now iconic dome of Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.
But though it may have been the first, Rosée’s shop did not become the most famed, nor was it at the time the most influential. The city of London has that shop to thank for the introduction of the drink itself, but so many other areas to thank for the industries which came out of the enjoyment of having a cup of coffee. The city was, and in many ways still is, a man’s world, home to the industry and trade centers, excluding the domestic sphere of the majority women of London.
The growth of the coffee industry was exponential in the city of London. In the half a century after the first shops, nearly 2,000 were opened throughout the city. Through the English revolution and into the eighteenth century, these coffee houses brought together intellectuals to discuss the everything plaguing their minds, professional and otherwise. The first English periodical published with the name The Spectator was published in 1711. This iteration only ran for a year, and was quite different from the modern conservative weekly. In their tenth volume, publishers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele set forth their mission for the publication:
It was said of Socrates, that he brought Philosophy down from Heaven, to inhabit among Men, and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me, that I have brought Philosophy out of closets and libraries, Schools, and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-Tables and in Coffee-houses.
A popular nickname for the coffee house became “penny university,” due to the fact that a cup of coffee cost only a penny, and the flow of information and intellectual discussion in coffee houses ran rampant. Each took on it’s own identity, based in its most frequent patrons, and those different coffee houses gave way to imperative London industries.
In the midst of the full swing of England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 culminating in the overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent leadership of Oliver Cromwell), Lloyd’s Coffee House opened on Tower Street during the winter of that same year. A few years later, it would move to 16 Lombard Street — the center of London’s bustling oceanic trade culture.
Edward Lloyd, who opened the coffee house, thus gave a place for the men of the industry to meet and discuss business. London offices were not common, and though the Royal Exchange was a frequent meeting place the coffee houses offered a place for business, and for pleasure (in both providing food and drink and the occasional illicit encounter).
But the coffee house in England did not exist unchallenged. Attacks came from home and from the crown, both equally scathing retorts from positions of personal offense. The first came from London’s women in 1674.
The Occasion of which Insufferable Disaster, after a serious Enquiry, and Discussion of the Point by the Learned of the Faculty, we can Attribute to nothing more than the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Riffling Nature of her Choicest Treasures, and Drying up the Radical Moisture, has so Eunuch• our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent, as Age, and as unfruitful as those Desserts whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought.
The women’s primary complaint here was the impact they supposed that coffee had one their husbands performance in their more private moments. Coffee faced negative connotations from the start but these women came to believe that the “continual sipping of this pitiful drink enough to bewitch Men of two and twenty, and tie up the Codpiece-point without a Charm.” As a primary complain, they also stated that coffee caused “nothing to be moist but their noses, nothing stiff but their joints and nothing standing but their ears.” The denial of these pleasures was based on the drink, therefore, and not on the behaviors that were engaged in in the coffee houses.
Though women were never truly allowed into the traditional English coffee houses of the 17th and 18th century, women did work in the establishments — in various functions. Imagery of the time shows them serving, but the all-male patrons would have also attracted the interest of prostitutes. Many coffee houses began to cater to this other vice, and thus as the men discussed the great issues of their industry, politics, and philosophy in the civilized setting below they were also able to engage in the more carnal under the same roof. Returning home from the coffee house, they would thus have little interest or ability in performing for their wives, and though perhaps some suspected the illicit behaviors they set their attack on the beverage itself.
The men, of course, responded in kind with their own public letter, refuting quite determinedly the womens’ claim of coffee’s negative effect on physical prowess. In fact, they chose to include right on the title page that their pamphlet was in response “Vindicating their own performances and the virtues of that liquor, from the undeserved aspersions lately cast upon them by their scandalous pamphlet.” It should also be noted that these final two words, referring to the women’s “scandalous pamphlet” were printed on their own line, in full capital lettering, emphasizing the disagreement of the men with their wives on the issue of coffee’s virtues. Later in their pamphlet, they also including an express retaliation to the women’s accusations of their lost charms: maintaining that coffee makes “the erection more vigorous, the ejaculation more full, add[ing] a spiritual ascendancy to the sperm.” While this may have successfully defended their fragile masculinity, it would have also blown some of the cover on the activities which they engaged in while attending the coffee houses.
A year later, a much more threatening attack came from much higher up the social chain — the crown itself. In 1675, Charles II planned to close coffee houses, going to far as to create a proclamation declaring
…the great resort of idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many Tradesmen and others, do therein mis-spend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise be employed in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs; but also, for that in such Houses, and by occasion of the meetings of such persons therein, diverse False, Malicious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majesties Government
While Charles II may have led with his concern about the sin of idleness which coffee shop patrons took part in, the latter part of the accusation suggests the threat coffee houses showed to his very young monarchy.
Charles II was the first king to be restored to the monarchy after the interlude of Lord Protectors serving as the leaders of the Commonwealth. His father, Charles I, had been ousted, and executed by beheading, in January of 1649 when his son was just shy of 20 years old. The uprising against the monarchy, known as the English Civil War, led a young Charles II to fight alongside his father against Parliament until he fled the country in October of 1651. He returned to England in 1660 to be restored to the monarchy.
Having grown up through a Civil War based in the disagreement of the monarchy and the people, Charles II would have had ample reason to fear the threat from the public space which coffee houses provided for the discussion of politics — particularly discussions of the monarchy. However on top of his tumultuous relationship with the crown in his youth, he was also expressly warned against the dangers of the coffee house. The Marquis of Newcastle reputedly warned Charles that “Every man is now a statesman.”
However, his plan to close the coffee houses never went to fruition, as advisors suggested against such a wide sweeping closure. The popularity of the coffee houses, and their symbiotic relationship with many of London’s most important industries, was too valuable to risk. But the monarch’s instinct was likely correct: only 13 years later the English monarchy was once again torn apart by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which took James II (Charles’ successor) off the throne to replace him with William III of Orange, who was offered the crown by parliament.
The male domination of the coffee house in England never let up, with those facades which had housed coffee roasters turning into private men’s clubs. Today England and tea are nearly synonymous. Tea offered many things which coffee did not, first and foremost that it was a place where feminine domesticity was put on display, making it a family affair as opposed to a place for the husband to retreat. The simplicity of making tea was also a powerful aspect of it’s rapid overtaking of coffee in the English social scene. Tea quickly became associate with the more upper class culture, and also of a type of english nationalism, for the British East India Company had, by the end of the 1700s, established a monopoly on the tea trade. Tea was also easier to prepare in the home, which in the Victorian era became the center of culture and family life as morality became a critical part of social values all over again.
Today the streets of London, and broader England, are dotted with the repetitive facades of Caffe Nero, Starbucks, Pret a Manger, and other chains that each serve their own recipe, though largely in the Italian fashion. Filtered coffee has since become passé, and espresso based beverages have taken over the market. But what remains the same is the, now digitized, intellectual discourse to be found a nearly every shop.
The phrase “parisian cafe” brings to mind the image of burgundy awnings and crosshatched chairs, set beside each other at tiny tables topped with ash trays. Having been lucky enough to see Paris in the rain, my own memories of these spots include the intimacy of strangers who, undeterred by the rain, come together closely underneath these awnings to smoke and drink, and sometimes even eat.
Hemingway called Paris a moveable feast, and though I don’t believe he was referring to that in the literal sense it easily could have been. Window after window on street after street along the Seine you find displays overflowing in tarte au citron, baguettes au fromage, and baguettes au fromage-jambon. You could go days in Paris without ever having to step inside, save perhaps to sleep. The pure saturation of small single location cafes in Paris, each with it’s own character within the larger brand of parisian, speaks to France’s cultural appreciation for the social space of the cafe.
The first trade of coffee into France was through Marseilles and Lyon around 1660. The coastal Marseilles would have welcomed traders, while Lyon was an inland hub sitting right at the intersection of two large rivers, the Rhône and Saône rivers. The first flows out to Marseilles, the later flows further inland.
While the English may have set their coffee houses as men’s clubs where industry and politics reigned supreme, the French took to coffee and cafes with the same air of, well, Frenchness. They do not go to cafes to attend to business, they go to see and be seen, to enjoy their afternoon in a way that makes sure others know they are enjoying it. This is all tied up in the larger french lifestyle, with a reputation for luxury and indulgence.
France’s history with coffee began, unsurprisingly, in Paris, where an Italian by the name of Procope de Cortel opened his self named cafe in 1689. Tucked among the small streets of the 6th arrondissement, only a stone’s throw from Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame, this cafe first became popular with the women of paris, who took to it as a new place to address fashions and to enjoy tea, chocolates, pastries, and of course coffee. The tradition of french patisserie is in fact connected to it’s liquid counterpart. Coffee was introduced to Paris some years before the opening of Cafe Le Procope, when a Turkish Sultan was sent as an ambassador to the court of the French king. Arabian fashions became a part of the french trends, influencing everything from attire to food and
drink. This was likely partially thanks to the fashionable parties given by the ambassador. The serving of coffee was described as “in tiny cups of egg-shell porcelain, hot, strong, fragrant, poured out in saucers of gold and silver.” Some even maintain that the most iconic of french pastry, the croissant, is actually an allusion to the Turkish symbolic use of the crescent shape.
The introduction of coffee in France also had the particular effect of sobering the people of Paris. During the reigns of Louis XIV and XV, most adult men drank multiple liters of wine and usually about half a liter of liquor each day. Coffee offered an alternative to the more dangerous alcohol, and thus the crowds of patrons in cafes were newly sober and newly articulate, leading to the increase of scholarly discourse.
In the early 20th century, an American woman by the name of Addison May Rothrock said this of Cafe Le Procope:
Since its founding in 1689, down to the end of the of the reign of the third Napoleon, scarcely an event of importance took place in Paris but owed its origins or its developments to the men who spent their evenings around the tables of the Café Procope.
She goes on to give detailed accounts of many of the most exciting moments of the history of this individual cafe. And what a history it is.
Frequented by the great thinkers of France, like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot, this café established itself early as an establishment for intellectualism. And while it may claim the title of the original Parisian cafe, it is scarcely the only relevant one. Rather, it is one in a sea of others.
Rousseau’s work “The Social Contract,” composed in 1760, outlines his theory about the value of a social contract in the leading of a group. In his introduction to the work, he writes “As I was born a citizen of a free State and a member of the Sovereign, I feel that, however feeble the influence my voice can have on the public affairs, the right of voting on them makes it my duty to study them.” His commentary speaks to the importance of engagement with government and policy, and though of course for a scholar of such this is sensible it speaks to the space which places like the café opened up for this discourse.
Later he comments “This sum of forces can arise only where several persons come together,” and though not specifically regarding the concept of the café the rise of this institution would provide for the sort of coming together and engagement which Rousseau claimed as critical to the function of a Social Contract. Written less than a century after the opening of the first Parisian cafés, there would have been nearly 3,000 scattered around the city when he was writing.
Those philosophies of Rousseau would become a part of the rhetoric which would later inspire the French Revolution, though his assertions were vulgarized into the rhetoric that encouraged the violence led by Robespierre and others.
Café de Foy was located along Rue de Richelieu, at the time one of the most fashionable streets in Paris. It was also the site of the beginning of the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Camille Desmoulins climbed upon the marble tables of the cafe to convince the people of Paris to join him in this first step towards revolution for France. Desmoulins was a french writer, journalist and pamphleteer by trade, who would help to write the narrative of the Revolution. In keeping with the cafés relationship to the French Revolution, the working class came to shape the parisian café into the recognizable establishment it is today. So too did café Procope come to its place as a working class establishment. Years of elite intellectualism waned in the later part of the 1780s, as the proletariat began it’s systemized takeover of Paris.
The number of cafés in Paris grew exponentially up until the beginning of the Belle Epoque, when it stagnated at about 30,000, ten times the frequency of 1789. For every thousand Parisians, there were 11.25 cafés scattered throughout the city, compared to 3.15 cafes per thousand people in London. A walk through modern day Paris makes this no surprise, as each corner seems to have chairs spilling out the doors and a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke lingering in the air outside.
At the turn of the 19th century, yet another iconic cafe opened. This one, Café de Flore, is tucked into a now busy intersection close nearby to its contemporaries: Les Deux Magots and Brasserie Lipp in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Each café has its own identity, its own particular type of patron who would, and still do, waste afternoons away at their little tables.
Café de Flore began with the Third Republic of France, opening shop and welcoming intellectuals, writers, and artists. The meetings of the minds that occured at the shop included the defining moment for Dadaism, where Camus was inspired, and where movie stars began to join the intellectual base who had brought the parisian cafés into the fabric of society.
Les Deux Magots was founded in 1812, 25 years into the establishment of Café de Flore, but it’s storied history includes some of the most iconic American expat writers, including Hemingway, as well as surrealists and existentialists.
Over another fifty years on, Brasserie Lipp joins the corner with the other cafés in Saint-Germain-des-Prés among the other intellectual icons of the 6th arrondissement. The indisputably most formal of the set, it hit its stride following the First World War, finding it’s literary icons in Proust and Camus in the 1930s.
According to popular belief, the infamous trifecta of Robespierre, Danton, and Marat were frequent patrons of cafés. These titans of the French revolution define an era of fear which seems at odds with this image of a pleasant café culture. The public space of the café, and it’s allowance for conversation of opinion, thought, philosophy incubated the movements of the French revolution, and the shift from the more elite intellectuals to the working class in Parisan café is indicative of some of the original aspirations of the French Revolution before its more violent turn.
The french relationship to food and drink is something unique. For chefs, one of the most important formal trainings is in french cuisine. A practice of enjoyment associated with food, and of responsibility as to its proper preparedness, speaks to the way in which food and drink were and still are a revered part of the french culture. A slow cup of coffee and a patisserie at a café is not an unusual luxury, and nor has it ever been. The remarkable thing about the french café is that, especially in Paris, the practice and the decor and the menus have hardly changed. The cafés that used to host the elite of intellectualism host the new intellectuals alongside celebrities and politicians on the same floor where revolutions in government, art, literature, and philosophy began decades and centuries ago. The French can almost indisputably be given the credit for the “café society” that has expanded globally. Whereas the English coffee house died out with the decrease in misogynistic energy and the increase in London offices for industry, the appeal of a café will never cease, nor will its place in the public sphere.
Italy’s influence on the coffee world is tangible in each café you enter today. Our rhetoric surrounding our coffee consumption is based in Italian, our espresso and caffe lattes deriving from the names gifted to them by this romance language.
One drink in particular is especially connected to Italy. The cappuccino, characterized by its frothy foamed milk, takes its name from the Capuchin monks, a part of the order of St. Francis which was established in 1528 and confirmed by Pope Clement VII. This simple fact of etymology indicates the equal
The streets of Rome wander through not only space but also time, for every few blocks you seem to stumble upon a new era to find. Around each corner a new set of unlabeled ruins, integrated seamlessly into the modern city that has grown up in the centuries since the time of Caesar and the Roman Empire. Intertwined with this history is the cafes of Italy (notably spelled without the accent, which makes is all it takes to translate between the French and Italian). The italian word for coffee, however, is caffè. Given the fact that these words are homonymic, the concern for incorrect labeling is one to be free of, so long as no one is trying to write about it (uh).
But coffee’s journey through Italy began in Venice, where it arrived with the silks and spices and other exotic goods to the active port. The association with the Middle East and the muslim traders who brought it, however, gifted coffee it’s first negative connotation in its European journey, thanks to the bias against these foreign traders. The deeply religious cities of Italy were closely related in both geography and thought to the Vatican and full of communities led by priests. This new beverage was tied completely to those who brought it, many of whom were muslim. It was supposedly thought that the consumption of coffee by people of the islamic faiths indicated its relationship to Satan, and thus the religious leaders of the catholic Italy balked at its introduction in Venice.
Upon its spread to Rome, coffee confronted the Vatican itself. Pope Clement VIII, at the time combating the issue of Protestant Huguenots in France, was asked by priests to condemn the beverage and save the souls of christians from the eternal damnation they believed coffee would cause. As the story goes, Clement was attracted to the smell of the drink to a point of inclination to try it. Upon trying it, he enjoyed it so much that he rejected the requests of the priests and instead baptised the beverage. Thus, Pope Clement VIII christianized coffee, enabling its broader spread into Western Europe.
But Italy revolutionized coffee in a way even more important than christianizing it. According to Ernest Illy, the impatient Italians got tired of waiting for their coffee even five minutes, and a Napoletan man requested that a friend from Milan find a way to put pressure on the coffee to make it faster to, well, make. Thus espresso was born.
Illy’s self-named company’s website describes espresso as “ the quintessential coffee preparation – rich, aromatic and velvety all at once; a natural layer of crema on top belying a full-bodied, yet deftly balanced liquid below.” The describe the process for making it as
A jet of hot water at 88°-93°C (190°-200°F) passes under a pressure of nine or more atmospheres through a seven-gram (.25 oz) cake-like layer of ground and tamped coffee. Done right, the result is a concentrate of not more than 30 ml (one oz) of pure sensorial pleasure.”
But how did this form of coffee really come about? It now defines European coffee culture — in fact, filtered coffee is hardly ever served and espresso based beverages are the constant throughout Western Europe.
The roots of espresso are centuries after coffees first introduction in Europe in the 18th century. Contrary to Illy’s story, Turin is credited as the home of Angelo Moriondo. Moriondo received the patent for the system we recognize today in 1884. You don’t see ‘Modiondo’ machines, however, because they were never made. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Luigi Bezzerra began making single-shot brewers — and here you find the Milanese connection to which Illy referred. Bezzerra added critical components of the machine, but even his patent was not yet the version we see today. Desiderio Pavoni bought the patents that Bezzerra had received for his development, and was able to improve the design with Bezzerra’s assistance to create a machine that would begin the commercial distribution of espresso. This commercial ability would grow, as espresso based beverages overtook the making of drip coffee which had dominated the European coffee houses before. The finesse which is required to make espresso also increased the craft element of the creation, which we see the impact of today.
The relationship between coffee and The Netherlands is, overwhelmingly, tied up in trade. But truly, so too is the trade of the nation as a whole. The nations wandering coastline has provided harbors from which their ships could explore the world: and explore they did.
Dutch merchants first encountered coffee in 1616, around the same time as the first English explorers encountered it in Mocha, and they handled the first commercial trade of coffee in 1640, supplying the coffee houses of London through 1660. Captain Pieter van der Brooke was sent by the Dutch East India company in 1616 to Al Mokha to report back about the coffee that had begun trading through Venice from the Arabian port. The Dutch quickly joined the trade, and continued trading through Al Mokha for years.
They transplanted the crop to Java in 1699, thus gifting it another nickname and adding coffee to the list of things that would be cultivated in this area, which the Dutch had a trade monopoly on at the time. Over the next decade, they worked to cultivate the plant there, ultimately bringing in the first coffee imports from Java in 1712, and though they continued to receive 90% of coffee from Al Mokha through 1721, they were able to shortly thereafter overtake the Arabs to become the leading producer and trader of coffee in the world. Thanks to the established strength of the Dutch East India Company, they were able to use pre-existing trade routes and infrastructure to join the coffee from the ground floor. By bringing the plant to Java, they provided themselves the opportunity to be both producer and supplier, giving even more control over pricing.
In 1724, the Dutch exported 1,396,486 pounds of coffee from Java, compared to only 974 pounds in 1712 when they first began exporting. This echoed the exponential growth of coffee houses and coffee shops in Europe occuring at the same time. Both the timing and the choices the Dutch made allowed them to dominate the market for coffee at a time when it was still part of luxury goods. In only a hundred years by 1830, the Dutch had fully shifted the center for coffee cultivation to the East Indies, establishing themselves as the leaders in coffee trade and Amsterdam as a sort of coffee capital.
Amsterdam has always been a city of merchants, as far back as anyone can tell. Located on the coast of a nation dominated by coastline, the city is integrated into the ocean that helped it to become a prominent part of global culture. Likely as early as the late 1200s merchant ships were sailing out of the ports at the mouth of the Amstel River, where the city of Amsterdam is located today. The history of the city and its trade helped to define it, which in turn defined the nation. Involvement in the coffee trade was one of the most lucrative opportunities for the Dutch East India Company, which was based in this capital city.
Founded only fourteen years before they first sent Captain van der Brooke to investigate Al Mokha, the Dutch East India Company was founded to protect Dutch interests. At the time not so much a trade organization as a military one, the company quickly adapted to become one of the leading trade organizations of it’s time. This fleet, however, was responsible for the near complete eradication of the English and Portuguese from the East Indies.
Given the early dutch involvement in the coffee industry, it should be no surprise that they have been the first to give the “coffee shop” its first real update in a few centuries. A search for “Amsterdam coffee shops” today yields responses more specifically referring to the (legal) distribution of marijuana in these establishments. The early roots of the coffeehouses, as a location for conversation, intellectualism, and as a location for societal change fits the newfound relationship between what was formerly society’s most popular legal drug, and what seems poised to become the next to hold that title.
No where in Austria is coffee house culture more defining than in Vienna. This capital city, located along the Danube River in northeastern Austria, has long had a reputation as a cultural capital, home to music, psychology, art, and architecture. But among the famous palaces of the city is a long and practiced history of a unique coffee house culture.
Coffee to the central continent, and to Vienna itself by the second siege of Vienna in 1683. The city of Vienna was, at the time, a part of not Austria but rather a “focal point” of the consolidating Habsburg Empire. The Turks fought to spread into the European world under the leadership of Suleiman the Great in the early sixteenth century, and at the end of this campaign was the First Siege Vienna, which ended suddenly with the death of the Sultan in 1526.
Over a century and a half later, Turkish forces ended up again at the gate to the city of Vienna. In July of 1683 the city became threatened again, this time by forces led by the Grand Vizier, Kara Mustapha (or Mustafa). At this point, Vienna was under the control of Emperor Leopold I as a part of the Holy Roman Empire. This empire, though it’s fluxes, dominated central Europe for centuries, including after this siege for a few decades. However, it’s diverse history included rulers from various areas including France, Italy, and the Germanic areas during the thousand years from the 9th century through the 19th century, when it found its end at the hand of Napoleon in 1806.
The attacks on Vienna were a part of a larger campaign to overtake Christian Europe by Mohammed IV, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. This battle was, in essence, a battle for religious power over Europe between two of the greatest empires of the time. Leopold I was not in Vienna at the time, but had already fled for help when the city became surrounded. At the request of Count Rüdiger von Starhemberg a man named Franz George Kolschitzky offered to attempt to gain assistance.
As the story goes, Kolschitzky had spent many years travelling and spoke the language of the Turkish invaders, so he was able to infiltrate with a uniform and his knowledge to break through the enemy lines to ensure that the aid Leopold had left Vienna for was coming. After ensuring that it was, Kolschitzky continued to use his knowledge to help keep tabs on the approaching forces of King John from Poland. This turning point in the battle resulted in a Christian victory and stopped the advance of the Ottoman forces into Europe — thus changing the course of broader European history.
At this point you are probably at least starting to wonder how all this relates to the coffee we spoke about before this tale began. Kolschitzky time travelling had taught him about more than just the turkish language. After the battle was won, the Turks had fled, leaving behind gold, equipment, and supplies — including bags of a substance that most couldn’t identify, and so no one stepped forward to claim it. But Kolschitzky recognized the beans and claimed them, soon using them to first sell from the street before opening The Blue Bottle, the first coffee house in Vienna. And so once again the histories of christianity and coffee were intertwined, as the Viennese coffee house set a standard for many of the others across Europe. Though the specific details here are dubious, religious conflict and coffee are inherently tied together. The rest of the seventeenth century saw a prolific increase in coffee houses. It is likely that the people of Vienna had encountered coffee before the time of the siege, but Blue Bottle stands out as one of the first examples of a Viennese café.
It did not take long for the coffee house to take over, as it had in other nations. At this point, according to an early eighteenth century tourist, “The city of Vienna is filled with coffee houses where the novelists or those who busy themselves with the newspapers delight to meet, to read the gazettes and to discuss their contents.”
Viennese coffee houses differentiated themselves with different crowds, of artists and writers and musicians and by having varying types of diversions available for patrons. Though the space was used for discourse and debate just as in other nations, the introduction of performed music in the Viennese coffee house speaks to the cities development of a broader music scene, which would produce the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Lanner, and Strauss.
The Viennese sought out cafés as a place of leisure and of entertainment as an alternative to the salon— where things were much more structured and inclined towards sticking to a certain status quo. The ability to be alone or with others, to engage in conversation or to read, to listen to music or participate in games, gave the Viennese café its unique identity as something that was not for utility or tradition but rather for anything else.
Nowhere in Europe has coffee made a bigger comeback than in Sweden. The modern attitude towards the beverage in Sweden is so affectionately lovely, it is hard to believe it was ever a topic of controversy. While plenty of other places had moments of attempted bans on coffee, in Sweden the product was heavily taxed, truly banned, and experimented with for centuries before it settled into its current place of societal value.
The product was first introduced into Sweden almost on accident. It began with the natural philosopher Leonhard Rauwolf. After setting off from his native Germany he departed Europe through the French port of Marseilles. He first encountered coffee in Aleppo, in a coffee house (for these establishments began in the Middle East long before they crossed into Europe). All this before the turn of the seventeenth century, when coffee truly began to take hold in Europe.
When not identified as a “natural philosopher,” Rauwolf’s other disclaimer is as a “physician.” The medical impact of consuming coffee is nearly immediate, and would have piqued his interest in discovering the root of this beverage. He thus was the first to record botanically the coffee berry, and thus the first record of the plant that would become Coffee arabica was made. Rauwolf’s credit for the discovery of coffee may be true, but he did not bring it back to create coffee houses, nor did he introduce it as a drink — he just recorded it among other discoveries of his trip.
But how does this German man relate to Sweden’s coffee history? He does not, but those notebooks that he recorded the details in do. Coffee was one of thirty-four varieties that Rauwolf included as “rare Oriental plants,” meaning it was just a part of a much larger catalog that he had collected, with plans to distribute it to share the knowledge he had gained. After his death the notebooks and sampled Rauwolf had collected were captured when Swedish troops looted Munich in the Thirty Years’ War.
The Thirty Years’ War was the major European conflict of the seventeenth century, altering the map of the continent. What began as a religious rebellion within the Holy Roman Empire in 1618 became a multi-national conflict involving issues of succession, religion, and Sweden entered sometime in the 1630s to take lands in Germany. Gustav II led his nation into the war, for reasons that are still disputed today, but his military style revolutionized tactics by planning with broader strategy and is credited with completing a transformation of the art of war in Europe during this time. Regardless of the political or religious motivators, the involvement of Swede in the war and it’s successful campaign in Munich is what brought word of coffee back to the Nordic nation in the captured notebooks of a since dead German physician.
Ironically, it was the medical confusion of coffee which lead to its complex history in Sweden. Numerous attempts to ban the beverage were made, however most notably by the next Gustav in the eighteenth century. Over a century had passed since Gustav II had brought word of coffee back to Sweden, and it is estimated that coffee truly began to take hold in Sweden as an item for consumption in the latter quarter of the seventeenth century. About a century after that, Gustav III became king of Sweden.
This Gustav was not the military leader that the second had been, but he instead provided a new constitution, encouraged a revitalization of a struggling Swedish economy and made attempts at reforming the laws of Sweden to reflect the Enlightenment: freedom of the press and religious were according during his reign. Occasionally, his reformative nature lead to conflict with the nobility of Sweden, most especially when it was regarding his attempt to get monarchs together to stop the French Revolution. He was assassinated by a Captain while attending the opera, and thus can almost be considered a victim of the violence of the French Revolution himself.
But before his death, Gustav III became concerned with the health impacts of coffee and set out to find out the truth about its impact on duration of life. A pair of twins had recently been condemned to death in Sweden, but Gustav decided they would instead become part of his experiment. He changed their sentence to life imprisonment, during which time one would drink tea and the other coffee. In eighteenth century science, this sort of attention to the control was as close to the scientific methods of today as any king could have imagined. However, Gustav was killed before the experiment could be completed (and the tea drinker died first anyway). Speculation suggests that Gustav may have hoped to use scientific proof of the dangers of coffee in an attempt to close those coffee houses that had opened in Sweden, as he too feared their ability to facilitate revolution. And giving his ultimate assassination, perhaps he was right to be fearful.
Somewhere in the years since the late seventeenth century introduction of coffee in Sweden, however, they must have really taken to it because it became a part of the vernacular in a lovely and unique way.
In Swedish there is a word, fika, which doesn’t translate effectively into English, because all translations fall short of really communicating what it means. Plugged into Google Translate, it comes up with both “coffee” and “have coffee” as translations. And yes, okay, at its absolute most basic that is what fika means. But fika is more than just the noun or the action of drinking it, it’s almost a school of philosophy all its own.
On the official sight of Sweden, there’s a section for ‘Culture and Traditions’ which has seventy subsections. One of these is labelled fika, and gives the description “Fika is Swedish for a coffee break that’s more about socialising than drinking coffee. And something sweet is also welcome.” This only scratches the surface of the world of fika in Sweden, which is tied up too in the history of Sweden pastry. According to the same website, “Cinnamon buns, cakes, cookies, even open-faced sandwiches pass as acceptable fika fare.”
And so in spite of institutional attempts to crush coffee in Sweden, it still found its way into the culture in so strong a way that it got its own word separate from just a word to call it. Fika on it’s own has become an institutional part of Swedish life, a practice that everyone engages in and that brings people together in much the same way coffee has been for centuries across Europe.
The consumption of coffee globally has been a part of Western society for nearly half a millenia. From it’s most humble roots out the front windows of homes in London and on the streets of Vienna, this plant has taken the world by storm as a force of economics and society.
Our daily habits are indicative of the way we consider the larger questions of the world. Through consideration of the past, and of how we as a complete world got to this particular place today, we can consider more broadly the things that matter to our lives. Mr. Brion’s comment, that consideration of cafés in each country would effectively provide insight into other aspects of the society, speaks exactly to what this project set out to do in its first inception. Though different now than then, this historical recollection of our global history with coffee is the product of months of reading and research to establish the background necessary to take this project further, and ultimately to publication within a few years.