Coffee House | Evolution & History of Coffee Shops

by AllannBrosCoffee Team | Last Updated: August 25, 2020

When we think of a coffee house now one of two things usually come to mind, the franchise coffee houses may be the most obvious: Starbucks, Einstein Bagel, Panera, etc. Stores that are clean, comfortable, and, most importantly, good at serving up fresh java.

Then we have the local, quirky, indie shops. Businesses that use words like “fair trade” and “co-op.” What they lack in the big store’s consistency they more than makeup for with more unique features like lived-in furniture, handmade mugs, local artwork, and baristas that know you by name.

But distinct though these stores may be, they share lineage. In this article, we look at the evolution and history of coffee shops. Read on!

What is a Coffee house?

Technically speaking, a coffee house is any café where coffee is served. Of course, this definition, though suitable to Websters, is perhaps over-inclusive. After all, the vast majority of restaurants tend to serve coffee, and good though the brews maybe, this alone does not make them coffee houses.

Coffee house

As far as most are concerned, coffee houses are establishments in which java is the main attraction. Most of the time, they will have a long list of coffee-related beverages (i.e., espresso, cappuccino, americano, latte) and perhaps even a range of different bean types to choose from.

The setting is also typically very relaxed. Most coffee houses have customers ordering at the counter, sitting where they like, and enjoying their beverages at a leisurely pace. Unlike other restaurants, they may even feature couches and leisure chairs where people who want to stick around for a long time can really relax.

Ultimately, the official definition of the word makes the term flexible enough for interpretation. Yet in practice, there is very rarely ambiguity: you tend to know when you’re standing in a coffee house.

Where did the first cafe open | First coffee house

The very first coffee house on the books was located in Turkey all the way back in 1475.  Those who’ve experienced international coffee know that while Turkish coffee is rich in charm, it’s also considerably different than how the beverage is consumed in the Western world. 

 Turkish coffee is made extremely strong and thick, served in little cups that are packed to the very rim with an explosive caffeine count.

Coffee houses with an emphasis on sweeter almost dessert-like beverages didn’t get their start until Europe took up the idea a couple of centuries later. The first known British coffee house opened in 1652 (operated by Turkish ex-patriots).

Though still undoubtedly different than our modern coffee shop, this store seems to have had characteristics that can still be glimpsed at coffee houses today. For example, it was here that the first tip jar was ever implemented. Patrons in need of quick service would simply put a coin in the jar and get treated to priority service.

Early coffee shops were also taken up as a hub for doing business—a concept that should be quite familiar to anyone who’s seen the hoards of people staring at their laptops in modern cafes.

History of Coffee Shops in America

America, though ravenous for its coffee these days, was quite late to the party from a global perspective. In the United States, the beverage didn’t really take off until the middle of the 19th century when coffee houses like Maxwell House, Folgers, Hills Brothers, and others became wealthy by selling instant coffee to cowboys and other people that were in need of their coffee fix.

Increased access led to increased popularity, but even with this being the case, coffee houses didn’t really reach significant popularity until (you guessed it) Starbucks hit the scene in 1971. Though they actually had based their business model off of a chain called Peet’s, which had opened five years earlier, it was nevertheless Starbucks that brought national attention to the modern coffee house.

Coffee Shops Today

Today, there are more than 35,0000 coffee shops in the US alone. The industry is worth an estimated $45 billion, and no matter where you live, chances are pretty good that you have at least several places where you can contribute your dollar to the coffee economy.

Though the number of coffee shops is pretty overwhelming, diversity is less prevalent. Of the 35k shops estimated to be in the country, more than half are either Starbucks or a Starbucks affiliate.

Patrons looking for a more indie experience may need to work a little harder to find an appropriate option. Nevertheless, supporting the underdog can be a worthy cause. Many indie shops distinguish themselves by prioritizing atmosphere and ethics. It is here that you will find the comfortable used furniture, the guitarist that makes up for what they lack in talent with an abundance of passion, perhaps even a library of board games from which to select from.

It’s in the indie stores where you’re also likely to find profit sharing, fair trade options, low environmental impact coffees, and so on. Of course, none of this is to say that you shouldn’t go to Starbucks, but rather that, every once and a while, it’s quite worth your time to sit down at a rare and unique independent coffee house.

Conclusion

One of the nice things about the coffee house is that there isn’t a ton of room for change. The concept is simple enough to remain consistent throughout the centuries: you get your drink and enjoy it leisurely with friends or yourself. The way these stores look and what they serve has admittedly evolved over the years, but at the end of the day, they will always be there to cater to java addicts that just need a place to sit with their favorite drink for an hour or so.

Did this article make you thirsty? If so, you should consider heading over to your local coffee shop to treat yourself to your favorite beverage.