coffee houses sprung up in the Middle East, coffee has always been associated not only with meetings, but the exchange and flowering of new ideas
Since Islam expressly prohibits the consumption of alcohol, it only seemed natural that instead of taverns and wine-sinks coffeehouses became the gathering places of choice in the Middle East. Indeed, coffee became so beloved in the Islamic world that worshipers often praised its stimulating effects for keeping one alert during long prayer recitations.
It was only when coffeehouses started to spring up that authorities began to regard it as a drink that loosened the tongue and made one prone to spouting lies and gossip. But the change in attitude toward the beverage probably had nothing to do with the beverage itself. It probably had a lot more to do with the caffeinated discussions about new and potentially subversive ideas. In the Ottoman Empire one sultan, Murad IV, even went so far as to make coffee consumption a capital offense.
By the 17th century, though, Persian coffee houses gained popularity as places to discuss politics without fear. While the effects of coffee stimulated vigorous discussions of governmental activities, its soothing warmth and aroma created a relaxed atmosphere to play games, tell stories and recite poetry. This blend of activities attracted a variety of patrons and transformed the coffee house into a meeting place.
For centuries, water in Europe was often too unsanitary to drink, so a common alternative was alcohol–a lot of it. It was not uncommon for someone to have a few light beers in the morning, beer for lunch and perhaps mixing it up with some wine or gin in the evening. Essentially, all of Europe was in a drunken haze, morning to night.
According to the historian Tom Standage, when the first coffeehouses started springing up in the late 1600’s, there was at last an alternative to the perpetual drunken haze, people “who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved.”
In coffeehouses, the people met not to drink and sing, but to exchange ideas, to discuss poetry, philosophy, politics science. Coffee houses encouraged open discussions about politics, art and intellectual subjects. Coffee houses soon became the principal hubs where politicians, artists, writers, and thinkers gathered and exchanged ideas.
The Cafe de Flore in Paris became a popular meeting place for intellectuals, writers, and filmmakers. Hemingway, Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir visited the cafe frequently.
In Rome, visitors to the Caffe Greco, near the Spanish Steps, included Goethe, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Stendhal, Liszt and Casanova.
The creative spirit of Goethe was often inspired by the atmosphere of the coffee house.Patrons of the Hawelka coffee house included Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Ernst Fuchs, Helmut Qualtinger, Oskar Werner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Georg Danzer and Andre Heller.
The Cafe Central in Vienna was a popular meeting place for the intellectual elite. Chess players, such as Russian revolutionary Leon Trotzky, often engaged in matches and the cafe became known as the “chess school.”
The political and artistic atmosphere of European coffee houses was infused into early American coffee houses as well. The Green Dragon in Boston hosted the greatest thinkers of the 18th century.
In 1765, a group of men burned an effigy of Andrew Oliver due to his support of King George III. The next day, the group gathered at the Green Dragon to discuss the burning and other political topics. The group became the Sons of Liberty and the Green Dragon was host to their meetings. Later, as a result of the British taxation of tea, coffee became known as the drink of patriots.
The Boston Tea Party was more than a declaration of independence from tea; it was a symbol of the colonists’ patriotic support of coffee. The newly formed Continental Congress met at America’s most famous coffee house, the Merchant’s Coffee House in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public.
A Place For Meetings and New Ideas
Throughout history, coffee houses have symbolized freedom without fear and have provided inspiration for artistic expression. In the beginning, coffee houses were perceived as meeting places for unscrupulous gossip and forbidden discussions. Over the past millennium, the coffee house has become a regular meeting place for people to find common grounds by engaging in delightful, often energetic, conversations. www.mabellehouse.com