The First Coffee Houses

We explored on our previous series the brief history of coffee and how the plant was reputedly discovered by chance in the African continent. In this thread we are looking at how brewing and drinking coffee started to become a cultural phenomenon by looking at the history of coffee houses.

The first country that attempted to boil coffee seeds was Yemen. The successful coffee beverage that resulted from these attempts was then introduced to Mecca and Medina around 1470, and it was there on a Red Sea port off the coast of Yemen that the first coffee houses emerged. In that part of the world coffee trading was beginning to emerge as a very lucrative activity and it naturally followed that places where the beverage could be also enjoyed would begin to evolve. These coffee houses soon became a meeting point for residents who engaged in long conversations and activities pertinent to pressing socio-political issues of their times. Even though this was for many people reason enough for the coffee houses to be eliminated, the beverage’s immense popularity left no room for such plans to be achieved. 

In 1554, in the age of Suleiman the Magnificent, two Arabs from Syria created the first Ottoman coffee house in the region of Tahtakale in Istanbul. In the same year, a new method of consuming coffee was discovered in the magnificent Ottoman palaces. The coffee seeds were roasted, ground, and boiled over the ashes of a charcoal fire. More than 40 men skilled in the art of making coffee prepared the beverage diligently and served it to the Sultan. The new method gave coffee and even more distinct fragrance that increased its already exquisite reputation. Istanbul welcomed the new beverage warmly, rendering it an inextricable part of their life and civilization. 

 View from a Turkish Cafe in modern day Istanbul

View from a Turkish Cafe in modern day Istanbul

At the beginning, most regular customers in the coffee houses of Istanbul were highly educated noblemen, who, gathered in groups of twenty or thirty, read books, played chess, and recited their poems. Gradually, officials of the Ottoman Empire, teachers οf the Madrasa educational institutions and unemployed or retired ordinary people were added to the houses’ clientele. However for political reasons in the years of Murad IV (1623-1640) the operation of the coffee houses was prohibited.

The main reason for this was the fact that coffee places throughout the Empire served mainly as a point for the development of political debates between people belonging to different social classes, thereby threatening the preservation of the political and ideological societal order. Τhis and the accusation of boosting sloth are the two most common censures launched by notorious, elitist Ottoman authors of the time. Nothing was nonetheless capable of inhibiting the propagation of the newly enriched with the allure and mystique of Istanbul coffee, which gradually conquered the whole world. 

We will continue our story on the creation and development of coffee houses on the next thread! We hope you're enjoying our content with your morning beverage and that you will take a minute to share this post with your friends on social media :)

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