Coffee Culture

global coffee

turkish coffee

Coffee culture describes a social atmosphere or series of associated social behaviors that depends heavily upon coffee, particularly as a social lubricant. The term also refers to the diffusion and adoption of coffee as a widely consumed stimulant by a culture. In the late 20th century, particularly in the Western world and urbanized centers on the globe, espresso has been an increasingly dominant form. Individuals that participate in cafe culture are sometimes referred to as ‘cafe au laiters’ and ‘espressonites.’

In many urban centers on the world, it is not unusual to see several espresso shops and stands within walking distance of each other or on opposite corners of the same intersection, typically with customers overflowing into parking lots. Thus, the term coffee culture is also used frequently in popular and business media to describe the deep impact of the market penetration of coffee-serving establishments.

The formation of culture around coffee and coffeehouses dates back to 14th century Turkey. Coffeehouses in Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean were traditionally social hubs, as well as artistic and intellectual centers. For example, Les Deux Magotsin Paris, now a popular tourist attraction, was once associated with the intellectuals Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, coffeehouses in London became popular meeting places for artists, writers, and socialites and were also the center for much political and commercial activity. Elements of today’s coffeehouses (slower paced gourmet service, tastefully decorated environments, or social outlets such as open mic nights) have their origins in early coffeehouses, and continue to form part of the concept of coffee culture.

In the US in particular, the term is frequently used to designate the ubiquitous presence of hundreds of espresso stands and coffee shops in the Seattle metropolitan area and the spread of franchises of businesses such as Starbucks and their clones. Other aspects of coffee culture include the presence of free wireless Internet access for customers, many of whom do business in these locations for hours on a regular basis. The style of coffee culture varies by country; a strong cafe style coffee culture in Australia is often used to explain the poor performance of Starbucks there. Melbourne is widely regarded to have some of the best coffee in the world. Journalist Philip Nolan stated that the spread of the coffee culture in Ireland is largely accredited to American television, saying, ‘We saw it reflected in the lifestyles of our TV favorites the ‘Friends’ gang in Central Park (sic) drinking coffee instead of alcohol; Frasier and Niles having latte and biscotti in the [Café] Nervosa; every cop on TV being called out on a 911 just as he ambled back to his car with Dunkin’ Donuts and a cup of strong, black coffee.’

Coffee plays a large role in much of history and literature because of the large effects the coffee industry has had on cultures where it is produced or consumed. Coffee is often mentioned as one of the main economic goods used in imperial control of trade, and with colonized trade patterns in ‘goods’ such as slaves, coffee, and sugar, which defined Brazilian trade, for example, for centuries. Coffee in culture or trade is a central theme and prominently referenced in much poetry, fiction, and regional history.

A ‘coffeehouse’ or ‘café’ is an establishment which primarily serves prepared coffee or other hot drinks. Historically cafés have been an important social gathering point in Europe. They were—and continue to be—venues where people gather to talk, write, read, entertain one another, or pass the time. During the 16th-century coffeehouses were banned in Mecca because they attracted political gatherings. In addition to coffee, many cafés also serve tea, sandwiches, pastries, and other light refreshments. Some provide other services, such as wired or wireless internet access (thus the name, ‘internet café’ — which has carried over to stores that provide internet service without any coffee) for their customers.

Many social aspects of coffee can be seen in the modern-day lifestyle. By absolute volume, the US is the largest market for coffee, followed by Germany and Japan. Canada, Australia, Sweden, and New Zealand are the other large coffee consuming countries. Tim Hortons is Canada’s largest coffee chain. The Nordic countries consume the most coffee per capita, with Finland typically occupying the top spot with a per-capita consumption in excess of 10 kg per year, closely followed by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Consumption has also vastly increased in recent years in the traditionally tea drinking UK, but as of 2005 it was still below 5 kg per year. Turkish coffee is popular in the Eastern Mediterranean, and southeastern Europe. Coffeehouse culture has a high penetration in much of the former Ottoman Empire, where Turkish coffee remains the dominant style of preparation.

Coffee has also been important in Austrian and in French culture since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Vienna’s coffeehouses are prominent in Viennese culture and known internationally, while Paris was important in the development of ‘café society’ in the first half of the 20th century. In some countries, notably in Northern Europe, coffee parties are a popular form of entertainment. Besides coffee, the host or hostess at the coffee party also serves cake and pastries, sometimes homemade. In the Nordic countries, Germany, Netherlands and Austria, strong black coffee is also regularly drunk along with or immediately after main meals such as lunch and dinner, and several times at work or school. In the cafe culture of these countries, especially Germany and Sweden, free refills of black coffee are often provided at restaurants and cafes, especially if customers have also bought a sweet treat or pastry with the coffee.

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