[kaw-fee-hous, kof-ee-]

A coffeehouse (French/Portuguese: café; Spanish: cafetería; Italian: caffè, German: café or Kaffeehaus, Turkish: Kahvehane) is an establishment which primarily serves prepared coffee or other hot beverages. It shares some of the characteristics of a bar, and some of the characteristics of a restaurant, but it is different from a cafeteria. As the name suggests, coffeehouses focus on providing coffee and tea as well as light snacks. This differs from a café, which is an informal restaurant, offering a range of hot meals, and possibly being licensed to serve alcohol. Many coffee houses in the Muslim world, and in Muslim districts in the West, offer shisha, powdered tobacco smoked through a hookah. In establishments where it is tolerated - which may be found notably in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam - cannabis may be smoked as well.

From a cultural standpoint, coffeehouses largely serve as centers of social interaction: the coffeehouse provides social members with a place to congregate, talk, write, read, entertain one another, or pass the time, whether individually or in small groups of 2 or 3.


Since the 15th century, the coffeehouse (al-maqhah in Arabic, qahveh-khaneh in Persian or Kahvehane or kıraathane in Turkish) has served as a social gathering place in Middle Eastern countries where men assemble to drink coffee (usually Arabic 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 1457 the first coffeehouse, Kiva Han, was opened in Istanbul, just four years after its conquest by the Ottomans. Coffeehouses in Mecca soon became a concern as places for political gatherings to the imams who banned them, and the drink, for Muslims between 1512 and 1524. In 1530 the first coffee house was opened in Damascus , and not long after there were many coffee houses in Cairo.

In the 17th century, coffee appeared for the first time in Europe outside the Ottoman Empire, and coffeehouses were established and quickly became popular. The first coffeehouses in Western Europe appeared in Venice, due to the trafficks between La Serenissima and the Ottomans; the very first one is recorded in 1645. The first coffeehouse in England was set up in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish man named Jacob. Oxford's Queen's Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. The first coffeehouse in London was opened in 1652 in St Michael's Alley, Cornhill. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the Armenian servant of a trader in Turkish goods named Daniel Edwards, who imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment.Boston had its first in 1670. Pasqua Rosée also established Paris' first coffeehouse in 1672 and held a city-wide coffee monopoly until Francesca Procopio dei Coltelli opened The Cafe Le Procope in 1686 . This coffeehouse still exists today and was a major locus of the French Enlightenment; Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot frequented it, and it is arguably the birthplace of the Encyclopédie, the first modern encyclopedia.

Though Charles II later 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", the public flocked to them. They were great social levellers, open to all men and indifferent to social status, and as a result associated with equality and republicanism. More generally, coffee houses became meeting places where business could be carried on, news exchanged and the London Gazette (government announcements) read. Lloyd's of London had its origins in a coffeehouse run by Edward Lloyd, where underwriters of ship insurance met to do business. By 1739 there were 551 coffeehouses in London; each attracted a particular clientele divided by occupation or attitude, such as Tories and Whigs, wits and stockjobbers, merchants and lawyers, booksellers and authors, men of fashion or the "cits" of the old city center. According to one French visitor, the Abbé Prévost, coffeehouses, "where you have the right to read all the papers for and against the government," were the "seats of English liberty."

The banning of women from coffehouses was not universal, but does appear to have been common in Europe. In Germany women frequented them, but in England and France they were banned. Émilie du Châtelet purportedly wore drag to gain entrance to a coffehouse in Paris . In a well-known engraving of a Parisian coffeehouse of c. 1700 , the 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 presides, separated in a canopied booth, from which she serves coffee in tall cups.

The traditional tale of the origins of Viennese coffeehouses begins with the mysterious sacks of green beans left behind when the Turks were defeated in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. All the sacks of coffee were granted to the victorious Polish king Jan III Sobieski, who in turn gave them to one of his officers, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki. Kulczycki began the first coffeehouse in Vienna with the hoard. However, it is now widely accepted that the first coffeehouse was actually opened by an Armenian 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 saw the listing of stock and commodity prices that evolved into the London Stock Exchange. Auctions in salesrooms attached to coffeehouses provided the start for the great auction houses of Sotheby's and Christie's. In Victorian England, the temperance movement set up coffeehouses for the working classes, as a place of relaxation free of alcohol, an alternative to the public house (pub).

Coffee shops in the United States arose from the espresso- and pastry-centered Italian coffeehouses of the Italian-American immigrant communities in the major U.S. cities, notably New York City's Little Italy and Greenwich Village, Boston's North End, and San Francisco's North Beach. Both Greenwich Village and North Beach were major haunts of the Beats, who became highly identified with these coffeehouses. As the youth culture of the 1960s evolved, non-Italians consciously copied these coffeehouses. Before the rise of the Seattle-based Starbucks chain, Seattle and other parts of the Pacific Northwest had a thriving countercultural coffeehouse scene; Starbucks standardized and mainstreamed this model.

In the United States, from the late 1950s onward, coffeehouses also served as a venue for entertainment, most commonly folk performers. This was likely due to the ease at accommodating in a small space a lone performer accompanying himself or herself only with a guitar; the political nature of much of 1960s folk music made the music a natural tie-in with coffeehouses with their association with political action. A number of well known performers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan began their careers performing in coffeehouses. Blues singer Lightnin' Hopkins bemoaned his woman's inattentiveness to her domestic situation due to her overindulgence in coffeehouse socializing, in his 1969 Coffeehouse Blues.

From the 1960s through the mid-1980s, many churches and individuals in the United States used the coffeehouse concept for outreach. They were often storefronts and had names like The Gathering Place (Riverside, CA), The Lost Coin (New York City), and Jesus For You (Buffalo, NY). Christian music (guitar-based) was performed, coffee and food was provided, and Bible studies were convened as people of varying backgrounds gathered in a casual "unchurchy" setting. These coffeehouses usually had a rather short life, about three to five years or so on average. An out-of-print book, published by the ministry of David Wilkerson, titled, A Coffeehouse Manual, served as a guide for Christian coffeehouses, including a list of name suggestions for coffeehouses.


Cafes may have an outdoor section (terrace, pavement or sidewalk cafe) with seats, tables and parasols. This is especially the case with European cafes. Cafes offer a more open public space compared to many of the traditional pubs they have replaced, which were more male dominated with a focus on drinking alcohol.

One of the original uses of the cafe, as a place for information exchange and communication, was reintroduced in the 1990s with the Internet cafe or Hotspot (Wi-Fi). The spread of modern style cafes to many places, urban and rural, went hand in hand with computers. Computers and Internet access in a contemporary-styled venue helps to create a youthful, modern, outward-looking place, compared to the traditional pubs or old-fashioned diners that they replaced. Coffee shops like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Peet's now offer free Wi-Fi in most stores.

International variation

American coffee shops are also often connected with indie, jazz and acoustic music, and will often have them playing either live or recorded in their shops. Coffeehouses are often gathering places for underage youths who cannot go to bars.

In the United Kingdom, traditional coffeehouses as gathering places for youths fell out of favour after the 1960s, but the concept has been revived since the 1990s by chains such as Starbucks, Coffee Republic, Costa Coffee, and Caffè Nero as places for professional workers to meet and eat out or simply to buy beverages and snack foods on their way to and from the workplace.

In France, a cafe also serves alcoholic beverages. French cafes often serve simple snacks such as sandwiches. They may have a restaurant section. A brasserie is a cafe that serves meals, generally single dishes, in a more relaxed setting than a restaurant. A bistro is a cafe / restaurant, especially in Paris.

In Australian cities, a traditional European cafe culture is thriving as a result of significant immigration from mainland Europe in the 19th century and 20th century. These establishments often cluster along certain streets and with the weather allowing curb side seating much of the year certain areas resemble a large party on a Friday or Saturday evening.

In China, an abundance of recently-started domestic coffeehouse chains may be seen accommodating business people. These coffee houses are more for show and status than anything else, with coffee prices often even higher than in the west.

In Malaysia and Singapore, traditional breakfast and coffee shops are called kopi tiams. The word is a portmanteau of the Malay word for coffee (as borrowed and altered from the Portuguese) and the Hokkien dialect word for shop (店; POJ: tiàm). Menus typically feature simple offerings: a variety of foods based on egg, toast, and kaya (jam), plus coffee, tea, and Milo, a malted chocolate drink which is extremely popular in Southeast Asia and Australasia, particularly Singapore and Malaysia.

In parts of the Netherlands where the sale of cannabis is decriminalized, many cannabis shops call themselves coffeeshops. Foreign visitors often find themselves quite at a loss when they find that the shop they entered to have a coffee actually has a very different core business. Incidentally, most cannabis shops sell a wide range of (non-alcoholic) beverages.

In modern Egypt, Turkey and Syria, coffeehouses attract many men and boys to watch TV or play chess and smoke shisha. Coffeehouses are called "ahwa" in Egypt and combine serving coffee as well as tea and tisanes. Tea is called "shai", and coffee is also called "ahwa". Finally, tisanes as karkade (called karkadeh) is also highly popular.

See also


a. The most common English spelling, café, is the French spelling, and was adopted by English-speaking countries in the late 19th century. As English generally makes little use of diacritical marks, anglicisation involves a natural tendency to forgo them, and the anglicized spelling cafe has thus become very common in English-language usage throughout the world (although orthographic proscriptive often disapprove of it). The Italian spelling, caffè, is also sometimes used in English.. In southern England, especially around London in the 1950s, the French pronunciation was often shortened to [kæf] and spelt caff .

The English words coffee and café both descend from the continental European translingual word root /kafe/, which appears in many European languages with various naturalized spellings, including Italian (caffè); Portuguese and Spanish (café); French (café); German (Kaffee); and others. European awareness of coffee (the plant, its seeds, the beverage made from the seeds, and the shops that sell the beverage) came through Europeans' contact with Turkey, and the Europeans borrowed both the beverage and the word root from the Turks, who got them from the Arabs. The Arabic name qhawa (قهوة [read from right to left]) was transformed into kaweh (strength, vigor) in the Ottoman Empire, and it spread from there to Europe, probably first through the Mediterranean languages (Italian, Spanish, French) and thence to German, English, and others.


  • Dutch police plan to cut 'cannabusiness' in half, The Observer, Amsterdam, Mar. 19, 2005.
  • Markman Ellis (2004), The Coffee House: a cultural history, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place (Oldenburg): Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You through the Day (New York: Paragon Books, 1989) ISBN 1-56924-681-5
  • Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses, Walker & Company 2006, ISBN 0802714471
  • [AhmetYaşar, "The Coffeehouses in Early Modern Istanbul: Public Space, Sociability and Surveillance", MA Thesis, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, 2003.]
  • [Ahmet Yaşar, "Osmanlı Şehir Mekânları: Kahvehane Literatürü / Ottoman Urban Spaces: An Evaluation of Literature on Coffeehouses", TALİD Türkiye Araştırmaları Literatür Dergisi, 6, 2005, 237–256.]

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