A love letter to the coffee house landscape

Carmen Lenz
Feb 11 · 5 min read

Visiting a café is an experience that engages all the senses. Everyone might associate something different when thinking of the term coffee house. You could either be thinking of something more traditional, classy, or of something like take-away place, bakery or hipster place. Maybe you were just thinking of a mobile coffee van — and I am sure probably in this very moment, there is opening a new coffee house somewhere in the world. It is actually quite hard to tell how many of such types of coffee houses exist in total — imagine all the coffee market stands, the places near the highway, the boutique cafés in the parks and museums or in the hotels plus the independent coffee houses and the chains — well there is definitely no shortage! Hence I thought, I dedicate a few paragraphs to the historical side of this phenomenon, a beloved one for many people.

Café Sperl, Vienna — AT © cammycoffeespots

Beginning with the early description of School of Wisdom which is a meeting place of men of arts and literature, then followed by the refer to Penny Universities in England that became popular forums to discuss all manner of political issues, current affairs while paying for a cup of coffee, and moving on to Seminaries of Sedition in England which is a view held by the authorities who saw cafés as anti-social and ordered them to get a license, and finally Kaffee Klatsch in Germany, the description of a women gossip afternoon coffee session, shows that the term coffee house has experienced quite a development before actually receiving its well-known name.

The coffee house culture in Europe has come a long way since the first coffee houses appeared in Venice, Italy back in 1629. You may have heard of or even have visited one of the most historical ones called Caffè Florian. It is one of the oldest coffee houses that is existing until this very day. A very traditional, classy yet fancy place which truly celebrates the coffee culture and its people. It is simply impressive when you just think of how many conversations have taken place over hundreds and hundreds of decades in one coffee place. So many stories! That is fascinating.

The coffee scene kept growing fairly quickly, followed by a few first coffee houses in England and France. In the five o’clock tea town London, the very first coffee house was opened by Edward Lloyd near the Thames back in 1685, called Edward Lloyd Coffee House. A few years later in 1696, the location of this coffee house changed very close to the centre of English maritime trade. While running the coffee house, Edward Lloyd launched a list which was filled with information on ship arrivals and departures and included some intelligence on conditions abroad and at sea. This list functioned as a daily news provider on stock prices, foreign markets and high-water times at London Bridge and reports of accidents and sinkings. Although the historical coffee house is not trading anymore, it is still very famous today. Indeed, it was from this coffee house that Lloyd ́s of London was established which eventually became the largest insurance company worldwide.

With Oxford, London and later on Paris being the first hubs for coffee houses, the Austrian capital Vienna is yet the place where the culture of drinking coffee was itself widespread in the country until today. While it is hard to tell an accurate number of the existing coffee houses worldwide, it´s relatively easy to limit it on one city. According to statistical evaluations by the federal chamber of economics of Austria about the current gastronomy businesses, there are almost 850 (by the end of 2018) coffee houses located in Vienna. Close to a thousand coffee places in just one single city in a country. Isn´t that a true homage to the coffee scene itself?

Kleines Café, Vienna — AT © cammycoffeespots

In fact, Vienna is the city which is probably the most famous one worldwide when it comes to the coffee house scene. Since 2011, the Viennese coffee house culture is classified as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. The tradition of the Viennese coffee house culture goes back to the end of the 17th century. Today, we are experience the third wave of coffee. Today we are experiencing the third wave of coffee.

To quickly fill you in, the main milestones regarding the coffee field´s developments are categorised in waves. I wrote more about the sparkling term coffee wave here if you want to dig a little deeper into the topic. Just to sum it up very briefly, the first wave was characterised by the traditional coffee houses, the second by the chains such as Starbucks and Costa and the current one, the third wave, puts its emphasis on speciality coffee and a sustainable and high-quality coffee value chain.

Generally speaking, coffee has always been more than just a caffeine kick for the majority of people. It is a lifestyle. It is a ritual. Cafés are a central hub of social life: a get-together place, an opportunity to meet up yet an activity, a place for people watching and exchanging opinions, a place to write and tell stories. Simply, a place for everybody, be it experiencing it by just yourself or in company with others. As brilliantly put in the latest edition of BRANDLife: Cafés & Coffeehouses by the Asian design book publisher victionary, coffee places tend to be highly personal expressions of their founders and overall, the presence of the coffee houses and their names do tell a story as well.

Coffee houses are enchanting many people from all parts of the world — an inspiring community that brings people sharing their coffee moments together.

And on that note, I wish you the best time exploring coffee houses and would like to close this love letter by quoting David Letterman, ‘Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality’.

Café Ansari, Vienna — AT © cammycoffeespots
Carmen Lenz

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writer. passionate about coffee, music & travels. www.cammycoffeespots.com