It’s the scene of so many important moments.
Maybe that first college essay you had to write the night before it was due. Or your first date, or the first time you read your poetry in public. Perhaps it’s where you got that really big idea, the one that became your passion!
It’s the coffeehouse! (Also known as a coffee shop or cafe depending on where you live.)
Our favorite place to read, relax, get work done, and socialize.
Coffeehouses are an essential part of society, whether it’s your annual #PSL from Starbucks or a small-batch roastery with a minimalist menu.
Everyone loves being able to grab a good cup of joe, but more than that, cafes create community.
So, how did these now omnipresent places rise to prominence?
The first coffeehouses were in Istanbul
All the way back in 1475, Turkey wasn’t yet a nation. At the time, its capital, Istanbul, was known as Constantinople. The medieval city had just been captured by the Ottoman Empire 22 years earlier.
Coffee, which was discovered in regions just to the south, was skyrocketing in popularity. So, of course, places to buy and enjoy this recently cultivated, in-demand beverage were bound to emerge.
In that same year, Kiva Han laid claim to become the world’s first coffee serving public establishment, or cafe (from the Turkish word kahve, meaning coffee)
It would take another 200 years before the cafe craze started to take over Europe.
A social gathering spot to ignite new ideas
In Europe during the mid-1600s, dining at a restaurant, with meticulous service and freshly made dishes, was exclusive and far too costly for the vast majority of Europeans. So, with a more affordable menu, cafes became places for working-class people to socialize and connect with others in their neighborhood.
In cafes, common people could gather to muse on artistic, political, and philosophical ideas. All while sipping on cups of ever-flowing java.
This combination of a common meeting place, free and open conversation, all while fueled by the stimulating effects of coffee, had wide-reaching effects. Many say the coffeehouse played an essential role in sparking the famous Age of Enlightenment.
All around the world, coffee houses have helped fuel revolutionary ideas.
America’s first coffeehouse opened in Boston, in 1676. Exactly one century before the Americans would declare independence from Britain.
Europe’s most legendary coffeehouses
The unofficial romantic capital of Europe and the legitimate home of some of the most famous cafes throughout history. Starting with Le Procope, located in Paris, France.
This coffeehouse icon served its first patrons in 1686. It’s been brewing up coffee for more than 300 years and was the heart of the literary and artistic community during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Famously frequented by Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, and Napoleon Bonaparte along with many other famous, influential, and even infamous patrons.
Caffè Florian is an Italian legend situated near the canals of Venice. This famous coffeeshop began brewing up coffee in 1720, long before espressos were even a thing!
Lord Byron, Charles Dickens and Goethe are just a few of the iconic figures that have sat and sipped Italian coffee at this caffé.
The Café de Flore, also in coffee-loving Paris, is a beautiful Art Deco coffee shop which opened in 1880. A true artistic meeting hub, this coffeeshop has been the setting for sips of café au laits and talks philosophy for 140 years.
One of the most iconic cafes in Europe is located inside Prague’s Municipal House. This Art Nouveau styled building was once the site of the country’s Royal Court Palace and residence to the King and Queen of Bohemia. It’s an interesting connection between coffeehouse culture and the bohemian lifestyle that would inspire France in the 19th century.
Another famous coffeehouse designed in the Art Nouveau style is Zurich’s Cafe Odeon. This celebrated cafe has been the gathering site of an enormous number of influential artists, politicians, poets and painters during its century of existence.
Before his rocket to worldwide fame, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein presented several lectures at the cafe in 1911, the same year this cafe first opened. During World War 2, many important political and intellectual figures would meet there because of Switzerland’s neutrality.
These meeting spaces, along with many more across the world became known as safe spaces to promote intellectual, political, and creative ideas.
Coffeehouses are reborn
Cafes didn’t rise to cultural prominence again until the mid-1960s, propelled by chains such as Starbucks and Tim Horton’s.
During this time, demand for specialty coffee, such as espresso-based beverages with frothy cream toppings, started to increase.
In what has become known as the second wave of coffee consumer preference, coffee shops melded together specialty coffee with convenience. They promised exclusive drinks, but with the same efficiency of a fast-food drive-thru.
At the same time, Starbucks started promoting the idea of a third space. Defined as a spot for neighborhood social events or just stopping by to read a book or write the next chapter of your novel after work. Whether they make a purchase or not, anyone is welcome in a Starbucks establishment.
Third Wave coffee shops
Today the third wave coffee experience caters to patrons seeking out a distinctive and highly perfected beverage. Coffee connoisseurs seek out third wave coffee shops for the promise of a premium brew that doesn’t need to be diluted with milk or sugar.
Third-wave shops emphasize creating a refined beverage.
Starting with directly sourced beans, roasted to bring out specific flavor profiles. Factoring in the importance of trade ethics and sustainability. Then crafting exquisite cups of coffee using novel brewing methods like the vacuum process.
Many shops will have a personal relationship with the farmers who grow their beans. The menu will be limited, sometimes including classics such as cappuccinos and macchiatos, with little or no substitutions. What second-wave coffeehouses offer in variety and convenience, third-wave shops counter with quality and exceptional taste.
Coffee shops, where all the cool cats hang out
I use to think that coffee shops had just about everything I could want in a cafe experience. Then I heard about the cats!
Yup, the cat cafe, where you can hang out with cats while sipping on your favorite drink topped with kitty-inspired latte art. The first cat cafe, Cat Flower Garden, opened in Taiwan in 1998.
The idea was dreamed up in Japan, where many people live in places too tiny to have pets at home.
Between 2005 and 2010, over 75 cat cafes were opened in Japan. Cat cafes allow people to interact, get-to-know and sometimes even adopt furry felines. Many cafes partner with local animal shelters to populate the shop with adoptable cats.
If you’ve just discovered a new bucket-list item, you’re in luck, there are cat cafes all over the world! This site has a great list of 20 of the top ones, including 3 in the U.S.
A place to be
Whether it’s felines or philosophy, pumpkin spice, or poetry reading, coffeehouses are and have been a vital intersection in society.
Throughout history, they have been a place for the common man to explore politics, intellectualism, art, and philosophy.
Today coffeehouses cater to the coffee drinker with exclusive taste, but steadfast chains like Starbucks offer a convenient alternative.
For so many of us, if we want to meet a friend, go on a date, get some work done, or simply just sit, sip and take a break from the real world, the coffee shop is the perfect place to be.
Do you have a favorite coffee shop? Maybe a favorite experience that took place in one? We’d love to hear about it, tell us in the comments below!