How Coffee Became Popular Across the World In Europe

24September 2021

Have you ever wondered how the coffee you love ever got to being so popular across the world? It’s all to do with how the Coffee house evolved and grew.

How coffee houses came into being has a long and exciting history that might surprise you.

Let’s look into How Coffee Became Popular Across the World In Europe.

Introduction 

There is some argument as to when the first coffee house got established.

First in Kaffa, Ethiopia

According to Wikipedia.com, “History of Coffee” dates back to 850AD. Legend says it originated in Kaffa, Ethiopia, spreading to Egypt, Yemen and Arabia on Mecca and Medina. 

There is historical evidence that coffee houses first opened in Mecca in the 1500s or late 1400s. Both Turkey and Mecca vie to be the place where coffee got served to customers. 

However, the lack of adequate documentation means that Constantinople and Mecca can claim the coffee honours. 

The Turkey It Seems

However, there does seem to be some consensus that one of the first appeared in Turkey in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) as far back as 1475. 

We even know the name of the establishment – Kiva Han. It did not take long for Turkish coffee to become a staple – and people should not underestimate its importance in Turkish culture. 

In fact – in the early days, society accepted that a woman could file for divorce if her husband could not supply her with an adequate quantity of coffee.

Over to Vienna, Europe

It did not take long for the coffee craze to reach Europe. Oral tradition has it that when the Turks got ejected from Vienna (where they had been an occupying force), they left behind sacks of coffee which soon found their way into the first coffee shops. 

People maintain that the first of these shops appeared in 1529 by an entrepreneur named Franz Georg Kolschitzky, who used those pillaged sacks of coffee beans to establish the first Viennese coffee shop.

He was uniquely qualified to open that shop as he had lived in Turkey – and first recognised that the beans had real commercial value. 

Kolschitzky realised that adding milk and sugar would increase the attractiveness of the beverage.

Coffee Houses in Italy, France, Germany and Europe

During the 17th century, other coffee shops followed quickly, and soon, they existed in other major cities in Europe like Italy, France and Germany.

It had by this time spread across the Middle East, South India, Persia, Turkey, India and Northern India. It was then only a short leap to the Balkans and then Italy.  

Once these shops added confectionery to their menu, the popularity of the coffee shop soared. 

Coffee Houses in Great Britain

By 1652 the coffee craze had reached Great Britain – with the first coffee shop opening in London. It was appropriately named ‘The Turks Head’. 

Coffee Houses quickly became hotbeds of political activity – and intellectual debate, with luminaries such as Samuel Pepys (noted diarist), Johann Bach, Voltaire, Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin and Karl Marx all having their favourite coffee shops.

The evolution of artistic, philosophical and political thought certainly owes much to the coffee house.

Early Water Issues

Note that the coffee shops’ popularity was also due to the quality of water available in most cities, which was not always of the highest standard in some places. 

Most people would turn to watered-down beer to stay hydrated. At that time, the risks of drinking water were too high. The alcohol in that beer made it a far better choice for those who valued their health. 

The fact that coffee houses boiled the water used for the beverage contributed to its reputation as a healthier choice than the water available from public sources.

Around the mid-1600s, there were over 300 coffee houses attracting merchants, shippers, artists and brokers.

To say that the growth of coffee houses in Europe was explosive is perhaps to understate their popularity. By 1700 some counts had the number of coffee houses in Great Britain as high as 8,000. 

Unlicensed Establishments

However, this may be an exaggeration – the official count was in the region of 550. However, readers should note that many coffee shops were unlicensed due to the owners wishing to avoid paying tax.

Coffee houses became more popular, and their reputation grew when they became places where upper-class people congregated to handle business matters. Before the advent of the coffee shop, people conducted business mainly in taverns. 

Unrefined and Unsavoury Clientele

The problem with those pub-like environments is that they were often not conducive to doing business, primarily due to the noise and ‘unrefined’ clientele.

It would be a mistake to assume that coffee shops followed a natural gilded path to popularity. In London, they were hugely popular and not always regarded as places of great repute.

Men spent significant amounts of time in these places, which they would have otherwise spent around their families or being more enterprising. Coffee houses gave people alternative places to hang out for all kinds of reasons.

The King Attempted To Ban Coffee Houses For Real

But, while hugely popular and convenient, many detested their existence. At one point, in 1675, King Charles II of England, with a proclamation, tried to ban coffee and wanted the coffee houses closed.

Such an action was not surprising. Coffee houses took over from taverns and pubs and became places where politics got discussed.

Many coffee houses would later become highly specialised businesses in their approach to commerce. For example, Edward Lloyd’s coffee house on Tower Street in London would later become one of the most powerful financial and insurance companies globally – Lloyd’s of London. 

Johnathan’s Coffee House was a place in Change Alley, in the City of London, during the 17th and 18th centuries, where some patrons were reputed to have met to assassinate William III. It was also where dealers expelled from the Royal Exchange congregated.

It got burnt down and rebuilt in 1748. Jonathan’s coffee house would later morph into the London Stock Exchange. 

Coffee ranked alongside tea in popularity. To think of one action that led to a considerable uptake of Coffee in America, one must remember Britain’s King George III’s heavy tax imposed on tea.

This imposition turned into a revolt, the Boston Tea Party, that led Americans away from tea towards coffee.

Coffee Spread Around The World

Various stories abound about how coffee made its way across the world.

After a slow start, the Dutch succeeded in planting coffee in Indonesia, Sumatra and Celebes.

The French got their coffee start from seedlings received from America (the French were always close with the Settlers in America, in direct competition with Great Britain, worldwide in fact). They got seedlings, later planted in Martinique (a French colony).

The seedling used from France became the parent seedling used throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

The New World (New Amsterdam, later New York) also felt the influence of the coffee house, and later, Tontine Coffee House would go in the become the New York Stock exchange. 

Most coffee houses today do not have that sort of gravitas – however, they are still places where deals get done and gathering places for friends who want to relax in a convivial atmosphere and enjoy their favourite brew.

It seems unlikely that the coffee shop will disappear anytime soon as they serve a proper function. 

Modern Day Coffee Houses

Coffee Houses today have become alternatives to pubs. Suppose you prefer the atmosphere of a chilled non-alcoholic drinking place, with some time to kill, perhaps waiting for a train or plane.

In that case, a Coffee Shop might be to your liking considering that many of them have been fashioned, with sofas, for example, into very homely establishments.

Most people want comfort, food, space, drink, music and conversation. Modern-day coffee houses know this, and they provide it.

And so, the popularity of Coffee Houses only seems to be increasing.

Beneath all of this is a commodity on which the economies of many countries depend.

Finally – How Coffee Became Popular Across the World In Europe

So there you have it – a reasonably short skip over how Coffee Houses came into being and made their way to England, into public houses, through politics and business and into our lives today.

Do you have any thoughts about this? Why not leave a comment below?

Next Article In Series: How to Make Your Wembley Coffee Shop Appealing to Customers

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Don McDonald

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