Coffee in Europe

Coffee was hardly known in Europe before the seventeenth century. European travellers, who visited Middle Eastern countries at this time, probably visited the coffee houses, where business would be transacted, or saw street coffee pedlars carrying coffee for sale in copper pots.

When these travellers returned, their reports about coffee aroused European interest in coffee. Perhaps these travellers brought back small samples of coffee beans, but the Venetians were the first people to bring larger quantities of coffee into Europe. In 1615, Venice received Europes' first shipment of green coffee beans and the first coffee house there, Caffè Florian, opened in 1683.

Coffee was known in the first half of the 17th Century in Venice and Marseille but there was no trade in beans there. Although famous for their tea drinking, the British were the first European nation to embrace the pleasures of coffee drinking on a commercial basis. The first coffeehouse was in Oxford in 1650 where it was opened by a Turkish Jew named Jacob. More opened soon after in London in 1652 where there were soon to be hundreds - each serving their own customers.

The Ambassador of the Turkish Ottoman Empire to the court of Louis XIV in Paris brought coffee into fashion in Parisian High Society around 1669. As laid down by Turkish custom, he offered it to all who came to visit him and persuaded the Sun King to give the drink a try. The King, however, decided he prefered hot chocolate! The first cafe selling coffee was opened in Paris in 1686. Francesco Procopio de Coltelli of Sicily is credited with starting Le Procope - an establishment that's still in business today. It has been the hangout of such luminaries as Voltaire, Diderot and Robespierre.

Coffee reached Vienna in 1683, just after the city had been besieged in war with the Turks. The coffee was retained by a Polish Army Officer, Franz Georg Kolschitzky. He had previously lived in Turkey and, being the only person there who knew how to use it, claimed the stocks of coffee left by the fleeing Turkish army for himself. He later opened central Europe's first coffee house in Vienna and was reported to be quite rich as a result of this venture. He also established the habit of refining the brew by filtering out the grounds, sweetening it, and adding a dash of milk hence inventing Viennese coffee and also the pastries served with it.

The popularity spread through Europe to such an extent that, during the 17th and 18th centuries, there were more coffee shops in London than there are today. Coffee shops were nothing like the trendy shops that we have today. A true coffeehouse was crowded, smelly, noisy, feisty, smoky, celebrated and condemned. On the street in London you located the nearby coffeehouse by sniffing the air for roasting beans, or by looking for a wooden sign shaped to resemble a Turkish coffee pot.

It was the coffeehouses of England that started the custom of tipping waiters and waitresses. People who wanted good service and better seating would put some money in a tin labelled "To Insure Prompt Service" - hence "TIPS".

Coffee shops then were influential places, used extensively by artists, intellectuals, merchants, bankers and a forum for political activities and developments. When they became popular in England, the coffee houses were dubbed "penny universities". It was said that in a coffee house a man could "pick up more useful knowledge than by applying himself to his books for a whole month". A penny was the price of a coffee.

If it were not for the cafes in Paris and the fact that they attracted revolutionaries then the French could still have a monarchy! In Paris, one cafe had a separate room reserved for fighting duels; another hosted the premiere of the world's first motion picture.

It is no suprise, therefore, that such a popular institution had opponents everywhere. In Italy, around 1600, priests asked Pope Clement VIII to forbid the favourite drink of the Ottoman Empire considering it part of the Infidel threat. On taking one sip, the pope found the drink delicious and baptised it - making it an acceptable Christian beverage.

In 1674 The Women's Petition Against Coffee was set up in London. Women complained that men were never to be found at home during times of domestic crises, since they were always enjoying themselves in the coffee houses. They circulated a petition protesting "the grand inconveniences accruing to their sex from the excessive use of the drying and enfeebling liquor". A year later, King Charles II tries to supress the coffee houses because they were regarded as hotbeds of revolution but his proclamation is revoked after a huge public outcry and the ban lasts just 11 days.

Some of the coffee houses in London became very well known with different groups of workers and soon became the kingpins around which the capital's social, political and commercial life revolved. Jonathan's Coffee House in Change Alley was where stockbrokers usually met - it eventually became the London Stock Exchange. Likewise, ship owners and marine insurance brokers visited Edward Lloyd's Coffee House in Lombard Street - it too moved on and up in the world and became the centre of world insurance and the headquarters of Lloyds of London.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed his "Kafee-Kantate" or Coffee Cantata in 1732. Partly an ode to coffee and partly a stab at the movement in Germany to prevent women from drinking coffee (it was thought to make them sterile), the cantata includes the aria "Ah! How sweet coffee tastes! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine! I must have coffee..."

Prussia's Frederick The Great attempted to block imports of green coffee in 1775 as Prussia's wealth is drained. He condemned the increase in coffee consumption as "disgusting" and urged his subjects to drink beer instead. He employed coffee smellers, who stalked the streets sniffing for the outlawed aroma of home roasting. Public outcry changes his mind.

Coffee fever spread throughout Europe in the 18th Century and the French had introduced coffee into the New World by 1715. Coffee consumption in Britain began to decline as import duties for coffee increased. The British East India Company concentrated on importing tea as the market began to grow.

In Europe, however, people were gradually inventing new and improved ways of making coffee and, in 1822, a Frenchman Louis Bernard Rabaut invented a machine which forced the hot water through the coffee grounds using steam instead of merely letting it drip through. The first espresso machine had been born.