The History of Coffee and Coffee and Coffeehouses, 600 CE - 2004.
During the Vietnam War an enterprising young GI went into the coffee purveying business. Together with his partners, he set up coffeehouses near army bases "for hippies who couldn’t avoid military service."1. The first coffeehouse targeted GIs at Fort Jackson, near the town of Columbia, South Carolina. They named their establishment "UFO" a play on the acronym for United Servicemen’s Organization, "USO." In the years that followed, UFO coffeehouses sprang up in over two dozen locations around the country, all near army bases. The UFO coffeehouses were hotspots for "anti-military GIs" to "hangout, drink coffee, read, listen to music, play chess or cards, meet local college students. . . and talk about the war."2. Posters of pop icons and rebels lined the walls, while underground newspapers and how-to pamphlets on desertion were ubiquitous fixtures upon the tables. Before long the UFO coffeehouses came under attack from the military intelligence, the state law enforcement agencies, and congressmen for their leftist and anti-war leanings.3. Attempts were made to shut them down. This scenario has been played out repeatedly for the past 500 years. Khair-Beg sought to shut down the coffeehouses for in Mecca as early as 1511, and then Charles II sought to do the same in London in the seventeenth century.4. Whether in South Carolina, Mecca, or London, wherever coffeehouses open, they create public spaces that encourage the free exchange of ideas and provide open forums for debate.
Coffee’s phenomenal popularity stems from the addictive properties of caffeine and from other qualities that people find pleasant: it provides an intellectual stimulant and increases energy without bad side effects. Several authors writing on the subject of coffee and coffeehouses stress the fact that the rise of coffee consumption goes hand in hand with the proliferation of coffeehouses. Coffee is said to "inspire agreements, poetry and irreverence"5. and coffeehouses were the venues for all this inspired conversation.
The earliest written record that mentions coffee is from the Persian physician, Rhazes, in the tenth century.6. It is believed that coffee was first discovered in Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) in the seventh century. As the legend goes, a young goatherd named Kaldi blew his horn to call back his grazing goats, but they were nowhere to be seen. He began to search for his herd and eventually found them amid the vast forest of Ethiopia’s highlands. To his surprise, the goats were frolicking about on their hind legs, dancing, and bucking each other. Kaldi noticed that they were eating little red berries from a strange tree that he had never seen before. He tried the red berries himself and before long he too was dancing with the goats and reciting poetry, and songs. He thought that he would never be grouchy again.7.
After the discovery of coffee, the Ethiopians, eager for the stimulating effect of the caffeine, consumed it by masticating the leaves and whole berries. But they quickly developed new ways in which to consume coffee. For instance, they made an early form of power bar by grinding the beans and combining the grounds with animal fat. They also made a weak form of tea by boiling the leaves and berries. Coffee "wine" was another innovation; Ethiopians would grind the berries and let the pulp ferment into wine. This sweet drink called kisher, gives the double kick of alcohol and caffeine and is still consumed in Ethiopia today. Kisher is made from the lightly roasted coffee berry husks made into a beverage. It was not until the fifteenth century in Ethiopia that it was discovered that the coffee beans could be roasted, ground, and infused in boiling water.8. The Ethiopians developed an elaborate and labor intensive coffee making ceremony that is a time-honored custom in Ethiopia.
invaded and ruled Yemen for 50 years during the sixth century and it is
thought that during this period coffee spread to the Arabian Peninsula.
Eventually the Arabs began to cultivate coffee themselves. Sufi monks
living in the region consumed coffee to stay awake for late-night prayers.
During this period they were still consuming the wine version of coffee.
They called the drink qahwa, which literally means "wine" in
Arabic. It is from the Arabic word qahwa that the Turkish word kahve is
derived, and from the Turkish kahve, that the English word "coffee"
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Ottoman Turks controlled the coastal city of Mocha in Yemen along the Read Sea. In America, the word "Mocha" is synonymous for coffee, and more recently, has been used to describe the combined flavors of coffee and chocolate. In its day, Mocha was the only port from which coffee was exported. From Mocha, the coffee was shipped by sea to Suez, where it was transferred to camels and transported by land to Alexandria. From there it made its way it way to markets in the rest of the coffee-consuming world. The Ottoman Turks dominated coffee production and exports, and they closely protected their plants and seeds. No plants or raw beans were permitted by law to leave the port without first being roasted to prevent them from being cultivated elsewhere.11.
However, the Ottoman Turks could not hold onto their monopoly forever. The attractiveness of the product made some people go to great lengths to attain it for themselves and for the rest of the world. In the seventeenth century, a Muslim pilgrim smuggled beans back to southern India where the plant was cultivated, establishing southern India as a coffee producing region. The Dutch smuggled a tree from Aden to Holland. From that tree, the Dutch introduced coffee first on the island of Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) and then later on the island of Java (Indonesia). It is thought that much of the coffee we drink today comes from the offspring of that single plant.12.
The first coffeehouse is Britain appeared in Oxford during the mid seventeenth century. Within a few years the first coffeehouse in London opened, and over the next few decades coffeehouses would spread throughout the island. Whether in Oxford, London or the provinces, the new coffeehouses were first seen as novelties but invariably became "essential institutions"14. of the British Empire.
proliferated in Britain, they became places to regularly conduct business
in an age before offices. Before the coffeehouse, business was transacted
mostly in "…the [London] Exchange or markets, the coffeehouse
satisfied the functions of mailroom, boardroom, desk space, and of course,
cafeteria."15. Lloyds of London started when insurers and bankers
met merchants and ship owners in a coffeehouse near the docks where coffee
was imported from the Near East (Yemen, Turkey, North Africa) and the
Far East (Ceylon and Java). The author of Coffee House Civility 1660-1714,
Lawrence E. Klein, describes the inextricable link between the coffeehouse
and the coffee trade: the coffeehouse by virtue of its premier product,
tied it to the great trade with the East, and the phenomenon of coffeehouse
inseparable from broader commercial trends in Restoration and eighteenth
Coffeehouses provide venues where, for the price of a cup of coffee, people can participate in discussions on topics previously reserved only for the elite. Oftentimes, the discussions were about political dissent and revolution, or of criticism and parody of the ruling powers. This free-flowing talk alarmed and sometimes infuriated many rulers and bureaucrats who sought to limit the coffeehouse activities or shut them down altogether. Efforts to suppress or put an end to the coffeehouses were unsuccessful. As stated earlier, the caffeine in coffee is addictive but provides people with an intellectual stimulant and a way to increases energy without bad side effects. The rulers who sought to limit coffee/coffeehouses were not only contending with legions of coffee addicts, but with the institution that completely revolutionized the way people communicated and conducted business: the coffeehouse.
When people consume coffee, which by nature is caffeine-rich, they can become rather talkative. Around the world, coffee and talk go hand in hand. German even have a word that especially describes the coffee-talk phenomenon. "Coffee klatsch" is derived from the German Kaffeeklatcsch, which combines the words kaffee (coffee) plus klatsch (noise, e.g. of conversation) and is used to describe a gathering for informal conversation and coffee consumption.23. When people say, "let’s go out for coffee" it is assumed that the meeting will consist of conversation and a coffee beverage. Today, people commonly schedule meetings, study groups, interviews, and dates at Starbucks Coffee. Starbucks dominates the world’s coffeehouse market with over 7,569 coffeehouses located throughout the world. With their first oversees’ coffeehouse in Tokyo, Starbucks now has "more than 1,500 coffeehouses in 31 markets outside North America." Starbucks’ website boasts that their "passion [for the coffee business] transcends language and culture."24. Starbucks is a perfect example of the success that coffee and coffeehouses have enjoyed since coffee’s discovery fourteen hundred years ago.25.
Mark Pendergast. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It
Transformed Our World (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 299.
Cowen, Brian. "What was Masculine about the Public Sphere? Gender and the Coffeehouse Milieu in Post Restoration England" History Workshop Journal 51 (2001): 127-157.