The Ancient Beginnings of the Coffee House

this history of the coffee house part 1 ancient beginnings

The first recorded coffeehouse, known as Kiva Han, was in the Turkish city of Constantinople and dated back to the 1470s. Since there is little documentation on the Kiva Han, it isn't easy to pinpoint the first coffeehouse's exact year. Most accounts of the earliest coffeehouses are considered legends and may not be historically verified. There is enough documentation only to suggest what might have been done. Through the historical accounts, a common thread exists between the ancient and the modern coffeehouse. In ancient days and today, a coffeehouse was a place to engage in discourse and gather in a social setting while enjoying a delicious cup of coffee.

Accounts describe a coffeehouse that would brew and serve coffee and provided a social atmosphere that anyone could enjoy. Coffee started only accessible to nobility, but a coffee house made it accessible to the public. They also became places where educated men of skill would congregate. Coffeehouse owners were mainly wealthy merchants. As the coffee culture grew in popularity, many were skeptical about caffeine and its effects and thought it could lead to debauched behavior. As a result, efforts began to close coffeehouses.  Since the effect of caffeine was to stay awake, coffeehouses were believed to be places of confusion. Opponents even went as far as trying to declare coffee an intoxicant so it could be forbidden by Islamic law. Coffeehouses grew in so much popularity that they competed with mosques for attendance. Since they were informal gatherings, they were thought to be a kind of "school of knowledge." These schools of knowledge were believed to be places for birthing sedition, which threatened those in high political and religious positions.

Around 1530, during Ramadan, coffeehouses were raided and closed by order of the Sultan. The culture of coffee remained even with the closure of coffeehouses. Despite opposition, coffee became more readily available to the public. It was common for people to enjoy a daily cup of coffee. As coffeehouses closed in Constantinople, they began to spring up throughout Persia and surrounding areas. They became hotbeds for political debate and were often unruly. To remedy the situation, a "mullah" would come to make sure discussions were peaceful. The mullah would sometimes tell stories or give some moral guidance. Patrons on the coffee house were not required to pay attention, but it was a way to bring peace and calm to the gathering.

Whether coffee originated in Yemen or Turkey, there's no doubt that its popularity grew and spread throughout Persia and to the rest of the world. From the beginning, coffee brought people together as friends and maybe even as political and religious opponents. The coffeehouse was a place to congregate for debate or friendly gatherings. From ancient days to the present, the coffeehouse reflects the culture of people and their time in history.

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Link to the history of the coffee house part 2: the european coffee house