Coffee culture

December 24, 2012

The phrase 'esspressonism' may not be entirely familiar to the majority of people, bit it helps to encapsulate a movement that gained ground rapidly in the second half of the 20th century and continues to expand: coffee culture.

Whereas once the English tearoom was the place to socialize and enjoy a hot beverage, now coffee shops are present on almost every street corner, particularly in major towns and cities, with dozens of varieties on offer.

The coffeehouse has been a major social staple since the 16th century, when people would meet, read, discuss politics and entertain each other, and in this sense little has changed in the subsequent 500 years.

A global movement

What has changed is the global reach of the coffeehouse, and the products on offer.

Whereas once customers would be restricted to drinking coffee or tea made from local produce, with the occasional staple from overseas, truly global trading means people can enjoy any bean they like from any country.

The biggest coffee drinkers per capita are the Nordic countries, with people in Finland having the highest consumption levels in the world – over 10kg per person per year.

Norway, Sweden and Denmark are hot on Finland's heels, meaning Scandinavia takes the biscotti as far as consumption is concerned.

The rise of Starbucks

Though coffee has always been popular, it was not until Starbucks began to truly globalise the coffeehouse in the second half of the 20th century that people began to choose coffeehouses as their destination of choice for socializing.

From a solitary store in Seattle in 1971, Starbucks rapidly expanded in the 70s, 80s and particularly the 90s, when it was opening a new store every day.

Now Starbucks has more than 20,000 stores located across the global in dozens of countries and its popularity has led to the birth of many other coffee chains, which have benefited from locating in busy metropolises where people can meet, greet, drink and eat.

The notion of socializing over coffee may have been promoted by Starbucks, but it has been a reality in many countries for centuries.

A social staple

In the Middle East, the coffeehouse has always been an important social gathering place for men, where they not only converse with friends, family and associates, but listen to music, read and play boardgames.

Unlike in western coffeehouses, where coffee is often sourced from South America, coffeehouses in the Middle East specialize in Arabic coffee.

There are two main ways of preparing this – Turkish style and Saudi style.

The former is popular in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus and Turkey, and involves roasted and finely ground coffee beans being boiled in a pot and served in a cup where the grounds then settle, often with the addition of Cardamom.

Saudi coffee, also known as Al-Qahwa, involves coffee beans being roasted either lightly or heavily and is often flavored with the likes of cloves and cinnamon.

The two types of coffee have one thing in common - they form a focal point of coffee tables across the Middle East and have helped to fuel endless debates and discussions.

Spoilt for choice

Such is the variety on offer today, that almost anyone can find a type of coffee they like.

For those in need of a pick-me-up, an espresso or double espresso fits the bill perfectly, while people who dislike the aftertaste may go for a milkier caffe latte.

A mocha suits sweet-toothed drinkers, while cappuccinos are a combination of all three, offering froth, a kick and chocolate topping.

To some, the type of coffee is not important - it is simply a means to an end as the coffeehouse itself is the important thing.

In an age where people mainly connect digitally, a meeting at the coffeehouse offers them a chance to see their friends in person and catch up on the important things in life, which is the true meaning of coffee culture.