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A coffeehouse or coffee shop is an establishment that serves prepared coffee or other hot beverages and is also a center of social interaction in which a customer or group of customers can talk, write, or read. Unlike a restaurant or bar, coffeehouses focus on providing coffee, tea, and light snacks to its clientele. They can be found in many nations across the world, but country to country, can differ slightly. In the middle east, for example, some coffeehouses offer flavored tobacco smoked through a hookah.

History of Coffeehouses

An Ottoman historian, ─░brahim Peçevi, first reported the existence of a coffeehouse in Istanbul in the late 15th century. Imams banned coffee and coffeehouses because of concern that they were places of political gatherings. Around 1530, coffeehouses had appeared in Damascus and in Cairo.

Coffeehouses made their way into Europe by the 17th century, appearing first in Venice around 1645. England’s first coffeehouse was set up in Oxford in 1650; the building still exists as a trendy cocktail bar. London’s first coffeehouse opened in 1652 in St Michael's Alley, Cornhill by Pasqua Rosee, the servant of a trader in Turkish goods. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses in England. Rosee also established Paris' first coffeehouse in 1672. The Cafe Procope, opened in the French capital in 1686, still exists and was a major meeting place of the French Enlightenment. Voltaire, Rousseau, and Denis Diderot frequented it, and could be considered the birthplace of the modern encyclopedia. America’s first coffeehouse was established in Boston in 1676.

In England, coffeehouses were so popular that Charles II tried to suppress the London coffeehouses as "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers." They were great social equalizers, open to all men regardless of social status. Coffee houses became meeting places where business could be conducted and news exchanged. In fact, Lloyd's of London had its origins in a coffeehouse run by Edward Lloyd, where underwriters met to do business. By 1739, coffeehouses in London numbered 551, with each attracting a particular clientele based on politics or livelihood A French visitor, Antoine François Prevost, called coffeehouses the "seats of English liberty…where you have the right to read all the papers for and against the government."

Women were generally banned from coffeehouses in England and France, but in Germany women frequented them. In a well-known engraving, circa 1700, of a Parisian coffeehouse, gentlemen hang their hats on pegs and sit at long communal tables strewn with papers and writing implements. Coffeepots are ranged at an open fire, with a hanging cauldron of boiling water. The only woman present serves coffee in tall cups from a canopied booth.

Many believe the Viennese coffeehouse, or café, began with the sacks of green beans left behind when the Turks were defeated in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. These sacks of coffee were given to the victorious Polish king Jan III Sobieski, who then gave them to one of his officers, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki. Kulczycki opened the first coffeehouse in Vienna with this supply of coffee. But other observers think the first coffeehouse was actually started by a Greek merchant named Johannes Diodato.

In London, coffeehouses preceded the club of the mid-18th century, which skimmed away some of the more aristocratic clientele. Jonathan's Coffee-House in 1698, with its listing of stock and commodity prices, evolved into the London Stock Exchange. Auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s started in salesrooms attached to coffeehouses. In Victorian times, coffeehouses were set up as alcohol free alternatives to the public house, or pub.

Coffee shops in the United States began with the espresso- and pastry-centered Italian coffeehouses in immigrant communities such as New York City's Little Italy and Greenwich Village, Boston's North End, and San Francisco's North Beach. Greenwich Village and North Beach were major haunts of the Beats, who became identified with these coffeehouses. As the youth culture of the 1960s evolved, non-Italians consciously copied these coffeehouses. Seattle and other parts of the Northwest had a thriving countercultural coffeehouse scene, the model of which the Starbucks chain later standardized and mainstreamed.

Beginning in the late 1950s, U.S. coffeehouses also served as a venue for entertainment, often folk performers. It was easy for a lone folk singer accompanied only by a guitar to play in a small space such as a coffeehouse. Folk music’s political bent also made it a natural for coffeehouses’ association with political action. Performers such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan began their careers in coffeehouses. Prior to about 1990, true coffeehouses were not well-known in most American cities; most were located on or near college campuses, or in districts associated with the counterculture. During this time, too, coffeehouses were considered different than "coffeeshops," which denoted a family-style restaurant that served full meals. Recently the two words have come to mean the same thing - a true coffeehouse.

Beginning in the 1960s, many churches and individuals in the U.S. used the coffeehouse concept for outreach. They had names like The Gathering Place in Riverside, CA, the Catacomb Chapel in New York, or Jesus for You in Buffalo, N.Y. Guitar-based Christian music was performed, coffee and food was provided, and Bible studies conducted as people of varying backgrounds gathered in a casual setting separate from the traditional church. These coffeehouses usually had a rather short life, averaging three to five years. A Coffeehouse Manual, published by the ministry of David Wilkerson and now out-of-print book, was a guide for Christian coffeehouses, including a list of suggested names for coffeehouses.


Some coffeehouses and cafes may have an outdoor section such as a terrace with seats, tables and parasols. They offer more open public space compared to many taverns and pubs.

True to the original idea of the coffeehouse a place to exchange information, the internet café was introduced in the 1990s. Computers and access to the internet helped to create a youthful atmosphere in many coffeehouses, especially compared to traditional pubs or old-fashioned diners. Coffee shop chains such as The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Peet's now offer free wireless internet connections.

International variations

In the Middle East, the coffeehouse serves as a gathering place for men. They drink coffee or tea, listen to music, read books, play chess and backgammon, and perhaps hear a recitation from the works of Antar or from Shahnameh.

In Australia, pop music or country music is often played live or recorded in coffeehouses. They are generally gathering places for underage youths who cannot frequent bars.

In the United Kingdom, chains such as Starbucks, Coffee Republic, Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero and Pret have revived the tradition of coffeehouses as gathering places that waned after the 1960s. Today, they serve as places for professional workers to socialize, eat, or to buy beverages and snack foods on their way to and from the workplace.

The French version of the coffeehouse, the café, also serves alcoholic beverages and simple snacks such as beverages. They may also have a restaurant section. A brasserie is a cafe that serves meals, generally single dishes, in a more casual setting than a restaurant. A bistro is a cafe / restaurant, especially in Paris. After the enlightenment era however, coffee houses became increasingly difficult to distinguish from taverns as they ceased to be popular meeting places for scientists and philosophers and were replaced by a growing number of tea gardens which served a drastically different purpose.

In China, domestic coffeehouse chains are aimed primarily at business people and often reflect status. Coffee prices at these places are often even higher than in the west.

In Malaysia and Singapore, traditional breakfast and coffee shops are called kopi tiams. The word is derived from the Malay word for coffee and the Hokkien dialect word for shop. Menus typically feature a variety of foods based on egg, toast, and coconut jam, plus coffee, tea, and Milo, a malted chocolate drink very popular in Southeast Asia and Australasia, particularly Singapore and Malaysia.

In parts of the Netherlands, foreign visitors may be surprised to find many coffeeshops’ main business is the sale of cannabis. However, most cannabis shops sell a range of non-alcoholic drinks.

Espresso bar

An espresso bar is a coffeehouse that specializes in coffee beverages made from espresso. Italian in origin, various forms of the espresso bar has spread throughout the world. The Starbucks Coffee chain based in the U.S. is a good example of an espresso bar.

The espresso bar typically includes a long counter with a high-yield espresso machine such as a bean to cup machine, automatic or semiautomatic pump-type machine, or even a manually-operated lever-and-piston machine. A display case may also contain pastries and sandwiches. In the traditional Italian bar, customers may order at the bar and stand as they drink their beverages, or sit down and be served and pay a higher price. In some bars there is an additional charge for drinks served at a table outdoors. In countries such as the United States, seating areas for customers to drink and work are provided free. Some espresso bars also sell coffee paraphernalia, candy, and even recorded music. North American espresso bars were also at the forefront of providing WiFi access to customers who wished to use laptop computers on the premises.

The offerings at the typical espresso bar reflect its Italian beginnings. Biscotti, cannoli and pizzelle are a commonly served with a caffe latte or cappuccino. Some upscale espresso bars may offer alcoholic beverages such as grappa and sambuca. Scones, muffins, croissant, or doughnuts may also be served. Teas are also commonly served. The Indian spiced tea drink masala chai has become popular in North American espresso bars. Iced drinks such as Starbucks’ Frappucino are also popular.

A worker in an espresso bar is known as a barista. A barista must be familiar with the often very elaborate drinks served and the equipment used to make them as well as possess the usual customer service skills.