A coffeehouse or coffee shop 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. Many coffee houses in the Middle East, and in West Asian immigrant districts in the Western world, offer shisha (nargile in Turkish and Greek), flavored tobacco smoked through a hookah.
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.
In the United States, the French word for coffeehouse (café) means an informal restaurant, offering a range of hot meals.
“Until the year 962 , in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffee-houses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hakam from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus came to the city; they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee.”
Various legends involving the introduction of coffee to Istanbul at a “Kiva Han” in the late 15th century circulate in culinary tradition, but with no documentation.
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 reached Western Europe probably through the Kingdom of Hungary, (thus this was the mediator between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire) and 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 in the building now known as “The Grand Cafe”. A plaque on the wall still commemorates this and the Cafe is now a trendy cocktail bar.Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is also 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 servant of a trader in Turkish goods named Daniel Edwards, who imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses in England. Pasqua Rosée also established Paris’ first coffeehouse in 1672 and held a city-wide coffee monopoly until Procopio Cutò opened the Café Procope in 1686. This coffeehouse still exists today and was a major meeting place of the French Enlightenment; Voltaire, Rousseau, and Denis Diderot frequented it, and it is arguably the birthplace of the Encyclopédie, the first modern encyclopedia. America had its first coffeehouse in Boston, in 1676. Vienna’s first coffee house was opened by the Greek Johannes Theodat (later known as Johannes Diodato) in 1685. 15 years later, four Greek owned coffeehouses had the privilege to serve coffee.
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. For several decades following the Restoration, the Wits gathered round John Dryden at Will’s Coffee House, in Russell Street, Covent Garden.] The coffee houses 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, Antoine François 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 coffeehouses 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 coffeehouse 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 the Viennese café 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 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 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 during the American folk music revival. 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 song “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), Catacomb Chapel (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 café 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.
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