Stepping in a café nowadays could allow you to meet various kinds of customers: students teaming up for the next exam, hipsters Instagramming their treat, writers looking for inspiration, photographers editing pictures on their laptop…
I’m a café lover myself. I change kind of coffeehouse depending on my mood and the activity I want to engage in, but that’s what people have always done throughout history.
Coffee houses originated in the Middle East, during the early 1500s in Mecca. From 1512 to 1524 imams banned both coffee houses and coffee: cafes were a place dedicated to political gatherings, and they were afraid of the political views that challenged the rule.
From Mecca, coffee houses spread to Europe. During the 17th century, they were places for news, activism, games and telling stories.
In Venice, the first European coffeehouse was established in 1629. Oxford in 1650 and London followed suit. It took only 50 years for them to take over the country: they became popular places to conduct business and entering in English Society. Just for a penny customers could spend there as much time as they wanted, without the need of purchasing anything else. Some coffeehouses even turned into hotspots in England, like Edward Lloyd’s coffee house in London, a well-known gathering place for sailors and insurers: it was then named Lloyd’s of London, an insurance company that still runs today.
Although now famous for its picturesque cafés, Paris had to wait until 1672 for its first coffeehouse, established a few years before the world-famous Café Procope. The café still exists today and was a meeting place for the French Enlightenment and the birthplace of the first modern encyclopedia.
During the 18th century, many famous coffee houses opened in Italy: Caffè Florian in Venice, Antico Caffè Greco in Rome, Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua, Caffè dell’Ussero in Pisa and Caffè Fiorio in Turin.
Obviously, coffeehouse culture also expanded towards the whole Middle East, where it all had started, India, Asia, and even Australia, where in the 1950s an influx of Italian immigrants introduced espresso.
Since its early days, cafes had been the place for cultural exchange, politics, and knowledge. In the 18th century, coffeehouses in Dublin started to incorporate printing, publishing and selling books or pamphlets: like Dick’s Coffee House, which not only printed its own newspaper but also gave the chance to others to print pamphlets, catalogues and books. In the 19th and 20th centuries, coffeehouses became an important meeting point for writers and artists across Europe.
And what about the United States? Italian immigrants brought the tradition to major U.S. cities. From the late 1950s, coffeehouses also began to offer entertainment, like folk music. Both New York’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s North Beach became the favourite areas for Beats to hang out. These writers, poets and musicians spent a lot of time in cafés: they wrote, performed, exchanged ideas brew after brew. In the 60s, it was a natural evolution to bring in cafés folk music associated with political actions: think of Bob Dylan or Joan Baez.
New Starbucks reserve roastery in Milan
Non-Italians soon started to copy the lucky coffeehouse formula: Starbucks, anyone?
They opened the first store in Seattle in 1971, and since the chain has taken over the world with more than 8,000 locations. The latest? The super exclusive Starbucks reserve roastery, opened in September in Milan.
So, whether you’re one for little indie cafés or for the well-known chains, every time you stop by for an espresso remember you are basically stepping in a coffee-long story throughout history.