Coffee Culture Flourishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Coffee, which became popular first among the Sufis in the early fifteenth century, reached the Middle East in the early 1600’s and was soon exported to Europe and cultivated in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Within a few decades, coffee became a popular drink, as coffeehouses—and the culture they spawned—spread from Arabic and North African countries to the European continent, England, and the New World.

Summary of Event

Coffee’s stimulating effects, according to one popular legend, were first realized by a ninth century Ethiopian shepherd who observed the excited behavior of the animals he was tending after they had eaten parts of a coffee plant. It is not surprising that this legend exists, given that the coffee plant is believed to be indigenous to Ethiopia in northeast Africa and possibly to Yemen on the southern Arabian peninsula. Coffee beans come from the flowering shrub Coffea arabica and its related species. Ethiopia, coffee and [kw]Coffee Culture Flourishes (beginning c. 1615) Cultural and intellectual history;Beginning c. 1615: Coffee Culture Flourishes[0670] Economics;Beginning c. 1615: Coffee Culture Flourishes[0670] Health and medicine;Beginning c. 1615: Coffee Culture Flourishes[0670] Trade and commerce;Beginning c. 1615: Coffee Culture Flourishes[0670] Europe;Beginning c. 1615: Coffee Culture Flourishes[0670] Middle East;Beginning c. 1615: Coffee Culture Flourishes[0670] Coffee;popularity of

The tale of the Ethiopian shepherd, however, has been much disputed, and it remains legend. Historians agree, though, that coffee as some sort of consumable, most likely ground and eaten, originated in Ethiopia, and there is general agreement that coffee’s origins as a drink lie in fifteenth century Yemen Yemen, coffee and . Why coffee became so popular in the Middle East and then in Europe remains a mystery.

Coffee, called the new drug by French cultural historian Fernand Braudel, first appeared in Europe by way of Venice around 1615. Along with tea, cocoa, and sugar, it was considered something exotic, something only the rich could afford and enjoy. It took another thirty years or so for coffee beans, and for specialty coffee cups and pots from the Muslim world, to reach Marseilles and Paris in France. It did not take long for coffee to become popular, and to change social life as it did in the Middle East possibly a century before. Usually, coffee was publicly consumed, making it a social drink, but it also was popular because it was supposed to be healthy. Ibn Kāshif al-Dīn Yazdī Ibn Kāshif al-Dīn Yazdī , a seventeenth century Persian pharmacologist and physician, recommended easing a hangover by taking an opium pill with coffee. Some, however, called coffee an “antiaphrodisiac” and a “eunuch’s drink.” Still others, doctors namely, believed coffee “dried up the cerebrospinal fluid and the convolutions . . . the upshot being general exhaustion, paralysis, and impotence.”

Because history writing has traditionally meant recording monumental events, the story of seemingly trivial and mundane topics such as coffee and coffee drinking remains mostly undocumented. Cultural historians often must use as a starting point the time when something such as coffee consumption was first talked or written about. Historian Ralph Hattox, however, believes that in the case of coffee and coffeehouses, there is ample discussion in recorded history, though coffee history is not always detailed, and it is often made up of just “historical table scraps.”

In the sixteenth century, ՙAbd al-Qāder Jazīrī ՙAbd al-Qāder Jazīrī chronicled two legends about how coffee drinking started. In his posthumously published work ՙUmdat al-Ṣafwah fīḥall al-qahwah ՙUmdat al-Ṣafwah fīḥall al-qahwah (Jazīrī)[Umdat alsafwah fi hall alqahwah (Jaziri)] (c. 1588), Jazīrī writes that qahwa or qahva (coffee) was brought to the region from Ethiopia by Jamāl al-Dīn Abū ՙAbdallāh Moḥammad ibn Saՙīd Dabḥānī, a jurist in the early fifteenth century, who apparently witnessed the “use” of qahwa (which, if true, would mean coffee drinking could have originated in Africa). Qahwa, an Arabic term, and qahva, a Persian term, predate coffee use, and have been used to describe any drink made of plants that causes stimulation or intoxication, such as wine. Indeed, Europeans first called coffee from the Middle East the “wine of Islam,” especially its dark, rich, and thick Turkish blend

Jazīrī also writes of a second origin story, one that is accepted by most historians. Jazīrī reports that Sufi leader ՙAlī ibn ՙUmar al-Shādhilī ՙAlī ibn ՙUmar al-Shādhilī was the first to make coffee consumption popular among the Sufis in Yemen, giving coffee its earliest reputation as a stimulating drink. The Sufis embraced coffee because it allowed them to stay awake through the evening and night to devote their unbridled time and energy in prayers to God. Al-Shādhilī became, according to modern historian ՙAlīĀl-e Dāwūd, “a kind of patron saint of coffee growers and coffeehouse owners.” Sufism, coffee and

It is most likely that the spread of coffee culture into the rest of the Islamic world—and then into Europe and the New World—originated with the Sufi orders of Yemen, and inherent in that coffee culture was not just the drinking of coffee but the drinking of coffee with others: In its earliest stages, coffee drinking was a social event. Coffee drinking soon moved out of the strictly religious, pious realm and into the realm of pleasure, becoming a part of public gatherings. These public gatherings became fledgling “coffeehouses,” and were modeled on existing wine taverns.





From Yemen, coffee consumption spread rapidly to other areas of the Middle East, including Mecca and Cairo, and later to Baghdad, Damascus, Constantinople, and other major cities. The Ottomans, whose territory stretched to southern Yemen in the early sixteenth century, exported coffee beans throughout their vast empire. The Ottoman Ottoman Empire;coffee and capital, Constantinople, opened the world’s first-known coffeehouse around 1554-1555. According to historian Heinrich Éduard Jacob, the early Turkish coffeehouses were called mekteb-i-ՙirfan (schools of the cultured) and coffee was called “the milk of chess-players and of thinkers.” So popular was coffee drinking that the Ottoman court established a coffee “department” called a qahva-kāna, the same name for “coffeehouse.” The court’s qahva-kāna was supervised by a qahvačī-bāšī.

Muslim pilgrims, starting in the early 1600’, would smuggle the beans of the highly regulated—and much desired—crop to other parts of the Middle East, and it made its way to ports busy with European traders and merchants. The trade in coffee began, as the British East India Company British East India Company;coffee trade and the Dutch East India Company Dutch East India Company;coffee trade exported the coffee bean from Middle Eastern and North African ports and traded it within the region; it did not take long to reach Europe. The Dutch were the first to bring the beans to areas such as Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia, and, in the early 1700’, South America, for cultivation.

Opposition to qahwa’s intoxicating effect came swiftly in the form of civil unrest, and official condemnation came in the form of fatwas (legal-moral opinion). The coffeehouses persisted, though, despite their reputation as nothing more than taverns. According to Hattox, the coffeehouses were different from taverns in one fundamental way: “the coffeehouse was a tavern without wine, and as such . . . it was not a cause of shame to be caught in one.” Fearing no public condemnation or shame, people could patronize the coffeehouses, and soon they became more and more popular. Ottoman sultan Murad IV Murad IV tried to prohibit coffeehouses, along with tobacco and wine shops and the use of opium, but the prohibitions did not last.

Europeans began writing extensively about coffee and Middle East coffee culture in the seventeenth century. English poet George Sandys Sandys, George (1577-1644) in 1610 thought coffee “black as soote, and tasting not much unlike it,” adding, “it helpeth, as they say digestion, and procureth alacrity.” Pope Clement VIII Clement VIII;coffee and was asked to outlaw coffee, but after trying it himself, he reportedly said, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a truly Christian beverage.” Pietro della Valle wrote in 1615 that coffee “prevents those who consume it from feeling drowsy. For that reason, students who wish to read into the late hours are fond of it.” Thomas Herbert visited Persia in the 1620’s and wrote, “There is nothing of which the Persians are fonder than ’coho’ or ’copha,’ which the Turks call ’caphe.’ This beverage is so black that one might suppose it to have come from the River Styx. . . . Drunk very hot, it is said to be wholesome, dispelling melancholy, drying tears, allaying anger, and producing cheerfulness.”

Other seventeenth century works that mention coffee include Francis Bacon’s Bacon, Francis Historia vitae et mortis (1637; The Historie of Life and Death Historie of Life and Death, The (Bacon) , 1638) and Sylva sylvarum (1627; Sylva Sylvarum: Or, A Natural History Sylva sylvarum (Bacon) , 1664), Robert Burton’s Burton, Richard Anatomy of Melancholy Anatomy of Melancholy (Burton) (1632), the botanical description in John Parkinson’s Parkinson, John Theatricum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants Theatricum Botanicum (Parkinson) (1640), and physician Philippe Sylvestre Dufour’s Dufour, Philippe Sylvestre De l’usage du café, du thé et du chocolat: Dialogue entre un médecin, un Indien, et un bourgeois (1671; The Manner of Making of Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate: As It is Used in Most Parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, With Their Vertues Manner of Making of Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate, The (Dufour) , 1685). Persian physician Yazdī dedicated to Shah ՙAbbās II (r. 1642-1666) a treatise on coffee and tea called Resāla-ye čūb-e čīnī wa qahva wa čāy Resāla-ye čūb-e čīnī wa qahva wa čāy (Yazdī)[Resalaye cube cini wa qahva wa cay (Yazdi)] in 1664.

Coffeehouses and coffee drinking profoundly affected society, first in the Middle East and then in Europe. In Persia, the coffeehouses were called qahva-kāna, or coffee rooms, according to contemporary chronicler Adam Olearius, Olearius, Adam a German scholar and embassy secretary, in his work The Voyages and Travels of the Ambassadors Voyages and Travels of the Ambassadors, The (Olearius) (1662), regarding his travels through Persia in the seventeenth century. The larger, more elaborate establishments took shape also as smaller shops and as market stalls and street carts. They often were “grand” or “luxurious” places, located in gardenlike or park settings, with both indoor and outdoor seating. Most significant in the development of a specifically coffee culture was that it afforded a place to see and be seen, to hear music, poetry, and narration (storytelling, speeches, drama), to play games, and to discuss politics and other controversial subjects. Talking politics, and not coffee drinking itself, turned coffeehouses into salons of a sort. Coffeehouses also were places for conducting business, for drug use, for sitting and staring, for arranging sex between males, and for idle talk, rumor, and innuendo, especially regarding women. Women were not permitted in coffeehouses of the time, except, on some occasions, as performers Women;coffeehouses and . To some the establishments were reputable, innocent places, but to others, especially local governments, religious leaders, and the deeply pious, they were disreputable, seditious, and subversive. The coffeehouses would hold the attention of authorities.

Coffee changed the makeup of everyday, public life. Coffee culture came to be accepted more and more, and the gatherings soon included men from all walks of life. Also, coffee roasting and brewing introduced new smells to a city, town, or village, and, “where formerly the lights at night burned mostly from the mosque, and there usually only at times of festival, the lights burned far into the night in the coffeehouses,” mainly because they were “packed with people.” Coffee as it was brewed and served in the Middle East, especially in Turkey, was too strong and bitter for many in the West. European consumers of the drink wanted something more “tasty” and palatable, so they often added milk and sugar.

Ṣafavid shah ՙAbbās the Great (r. 1587-1629) ՙAbbās I the Great responded to the popularity of coffeehouses in Persia, and to their reputation for the irreligious and immoral, by placing a mullah in a well-known coffeehouse in Eṣfahān. The mullah would give talks about religion, law, literature, and history but would see to it that patrons went about their daily lives, too, discouraging people from “hanging out.” The Persian government, in effect, ensured that patrons remained “civil.” Mystics and other religious figures soon followed the mullahs, and the places often became sanctuaries of a sort for those in need of guidance, spiritual or otherwise

The idea of the coffeehouse in Europe was modeled on the inns and monasteries that catered, since the twelfth century, to Christian travelers and pilgrims in need of a place to eat and rest. European coffeehouses also were modeled on cook shops, an early form of the restaurant, which thrived in Europe beginning in the fifteenth century as urban populations expanded. Not until the second half of the seventeenth century did coffee drinking become popularized, as it moved into ordinary cafes. In these cafes, one could find men of all classes and income levels, and women were welcomed in female-only establishments

Exactly when the first coffeehouse in Europe opened is not clear. Some say 1645 in Venice Venice;coffee and (when it was called a caffé), others say around 1650 in Oxford, England. Still others place the first Venice coffeehouse as late as 1685. Another opened at St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, London, in 1652. An extant handbill, or flyer, from this London shop reads, “The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink.” In Canada, the Hudson’s Bay Company held its first public sale of fur at Garraway’s Coffee House in 1672. Coffee was sold from carts in Venice by the 1650’s as well. Another early coffeehouse on the European continent most likely opened in 1671 in Marseilles, with another opening in Paris the next year. By about 1670, there were possibly as many as five hundred coffeehouses in England, albeit in all forms, from carts to stalls to shops. Also by the end of the century, coffee made its way to Germany and to the Netherlands.

As in the Middle East, with coffee drinking in Europe came great controversy. Citing concerns over its health consequences as well as its general affect on society and culture, pamphlets and broadsides such as A Coffee Scuffle (1662) and The Character of a Coffee House . . . by an Eye and Ear Witness (1665) raged against the “seminaries of sedition.” The Women’s Petition Against Coffee (1674) argued, “We find it of late a very sensible Decay of that true Old English Vigour. . . .” This “decay” came from “the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called Coffee, which . . . has so Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind gallants. . . . They come from it with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears.” England’s king Charles II even intervened, or tried to, when he issued an order to suppress the coffeehouses in 1675. The order was rescinded, and the places kept serving coffee.


Coffee culture flourished and gained widespread popularity at a time that saw the expansion and dissemination of knowledge as well as an influx of consumables from around the globe. Coffee became a major commodity of exchange in world trade and commerce.

Not knowing the story of qahwa’s origins would make it easy to discount its significance to cultural and, indeed, world history. After all, it is just a drink. However, coffee’s introduction into the Middle East and Europe forever transformed the global marketplace, affecting economics, politics, literature, the arts, urban life, and the way information was distributed; the coffeehouse became a library of sorts for “newsbooks,” newspapers, and political papers. Newspapers;coffeehouses and Coffee culture brought to everyday life new tastes and smells and a new culinary experience, and people gathered for reasons other than religious, a novelty at the time. Literature;coffeehouses and

By the end of the seventeenth century, coffee drinking was more common than ever, and it reached well beyond the coffeehouse into cafes, restaurants, and homes. It also jumped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas, where it was first sold in the colonies of North America around 1670, possibly in Boston. It became not only a favorite pastime but also a major crop, especially in Latin America.

In the first years of the twenty-first century, coffee was second only to petroleum in world trade, and coffee remains one of the most-consumed drinks. The business of coffee, from growing, trading, manufacturing, and selling, employs millions of people worldwide.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Albrecht, Peter. “Coffee-Drinking as a Symbol of Social Change in Continental Europe in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture 18 (1988): 91-103. A social and cultural history of coffee consumption and coffee culture’s transformative effects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dāwūd, ՙAlī Āl-e. “Coffee” and “Coffeehouse.” Encyclopaedia Iranica. Accessed April, 2005. Two brief but fact-filled articles detailing the origins and later histories of coffee and coffeehouses in the Middle East, especially Persia (Iran). Each article includes a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hattox, Ralph S. Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985. An already-classic study on the beginnings of coffee drinking and coffeehouses in the Middle East. Includes some discussion of coffee in Europe and of coffee culture in the seventeenth century. Includes a glossary, bibliography, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacob, Heinrich Eduard. The Saga of Coffee: The Biography of an Economic Product. Translated by Eden Paul and Cedar Paul. London: Allen & Unwin, 1935. Another classic study of coffee culture, especially its economic history. Includes illustrations, a bibliography (mostly of non-English sources), and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lillywhite, Bryant. London Coffee Houses: A Reference Book of Coffee Houses of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries. London: Allen & Unwin, 1963. A comprehensive work on the social, political, and economic history of coffee and coffeehouses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Liss, David. The Coffee Trader. New York: Random House, 2003. A fictionalized historical account of a seventeenth century Portuguese-Jewish trader who, after losing a fortune in the sugar trade, attempts to introduce coffee—illegally—to Amsterdam in partnership with a local woman, but not without conflict.
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    xlink:type="simple">Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Pendergrast explores the world of coffee in a style ideal for general readers. Includes an extensive bibliography and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants. Translated by David Jacobson. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992. Schivelbusch examines primarily coffee, tea, and alcohol consumption, as well as the history and cultural and economic impacts of these popular intoxicants.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Woodruff D. “From Coffeehouse to Parlour: The Consumption of Coffee, Tea, and Sugar in North-western Europe in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” In Consuming Habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology, edited by Jordan Goodman, Paul E. Lovejoy, and Andrew Sherratt. New York: Routledge, 1995. A collection of articles examining the cultural history of coffee in Europe. Includes a bibliography and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sommerville, C. John. “Surfing the Coffeehouse.” History Today 47, no. 6 (June, 1997): 8-10. A brief article on the dissemination of media—news, political, and so forth—in seventeenth century coffeehouses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ukers, William H. All About Coffee. New York: Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1935. This classic work on the economic and cultural history of coffee includes a “coffee thesaurus” called “Encomiums and Descriptive Phrases Applied to the Plant, the Berry, and the Beverage.”
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

ՙAbbās the Great; Robert Burton; Charles II (of England); Murad IV. Coffee;popularity of

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