Coffee shops in Europe: Communication networks

Since consumption of coffee in Arab countries in 15th century, it’d assumed a role of social drinking at coffee shops where, before emerging in Europe, they were similar to tavern. There you could drink, talk and be informed about news. So, coffee wasn’t be popularized only by taste, but also by practices and ideas coupled with its consumption.

In England, coffee shops started emerging in 1650, as a more sober alternative to tavern, and it became a place for discussion, policy discussion and intrigues.

However, in Europe, coffee was also a target for criticism, much of them from producers from commercial competitors – like beer and wine – conservative or politician groups, which incriminated coffee consumption by malefaction to health and morality, when visiting coffee shops. Even its taste was sometimes criticized. Considering that in that period coffee was previously prepared, stocked cold into barrels and then heating, maybe its taste wasn’t similar to what we knew today.

Criticism wasn’t enough to hold its expansion in public coffee shops, numerous in England, French, Italy, Germany and other European countries. They were a communication network used by dealers, politicians, scientists, academics, philosophers and poets. In this network, every kind of information circulated on it, from politic tracts to market prices and repercussion about artistic works.

In 18th century, coffee shops were visited by Enlightenment thinkers and were revolutionary fomentation centers, where it was discussed and discoursed about political conflicts which could result in French Revolution, in 1789. Chemical properties of drink and social feature of practice of its consumption titled coffee as ‘reason drink’.

Coffee shops in Brazil

There’s few information about business establishments which sold this drink in colonial period. Few resources are history almanac, traveler reports and, then, commercial magazines. Named “houses of coffee”, “coffee stores” or “coffee and liquor houses”, they are simple places, which offered coffee with some food, generally breads. Sometimes they had a pool table and were visited mainly in the morning by all kinds of people.

By 1820, the first coffee shops started appearing in Rio de Janeiro, like Café do Estevam and popularly known Braguinha, whose official name was “A fama do café com leite” [Fame of coffee and milk]. Braguinha – name given due to its owner, a Portuguese from Portugal knew as Braga – he was very mentioned by chroniclers of that period; regular visitors which promoted its disclosure and urban life registration. Placed in noble points of the city, coffee shops were daily visited by doctors, lawyers, and letter and theater men.

In Sao Paulo, as well as coffee growing, coffee shops appeared later. In period of 1850, the first coffee shop was opened named Café da Maria Punga. Installed at owner’s house, Maria Emília Vieira, it was a simple establishment, with few cups and tables, visited mainly by Law College students, which was in front of it.

In 1876, the first European Coffee was opened, the first luxurious establishment in the city. Simple coffee shops, like Maria Punga, lived together with more sophisticated ones, with marble counters, rounded tables, wicker chairs, and breads and sweets made by imported raw material.

In Rio de Janeiro Belle Époque, period where European art, tendencies and habits were imported, mainly by London and Paris, pastry shop started appearing, like Confeitaria Colombo. More exquisite than traditional ones, they didn’t have gypsies as visitors, but high-society people, including women, which are an atypical public in coffee shops.

Both for Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, coffee shops and pastry shops became social center of city, visited by artists, writers, politicians, journalists and students. Places for talks, business, discussions and until political movements, like republican advertising.

However, from 1930’s, coffee shops were losing their space as place for socialization, “a little family house, a little guild, a little office”, as columnist Luiz Edmundo described. They were disappearing, falling into disuse. A more accelerated rhythm of life required a faster visit, like when coffee is served on balcony. More recently, some coffee shops wanted to rescue this kind of occupation in their spaces, searching offering a literary and artistic atmosphere, with exhibitions and musical attractions.