Coffee shops have been the quintessential communal incubators for art, literature, revolutionary ideas, public discourse, political dissent et.al. since their popular existence across the societies of the world. Coffee attained mainstream beverage status in most major coffee drinking societies around the 17th century. The café as we know it today originated in Damascus (Syria) around the 16th century and was subsequently exported to the rest of the Middle East and then to other parts of the globe. It was a place then for gentlemen to congregate to drink coffee, smoke the shisha, listen to music, play games like shatranj (chess) and discuss all manner of topics ranging from religion to politics or simply to indulge in plain old gossip. It was really a place where the community (just men back then) assembled to connect, collaborate or conspire.
With time the café has evolved in terms of it’s offerings and services but still retains its foundational characteristic of being the unofficial community center of the society. Cafés earned a reputation for being the favorite haunt of the intelligentsia and many a pioneering idea, iconic painting or seminal book have purportedly been conceived in the wombs of cafés across Europe and the rest of the world. The cafés also were for periods of time the hotbeds of new musical talent as well as served as venues for religious and political outreach.
The cafés of today have changed in appearance and the amenities they offer but they still serve as fertile breeding grounds for ideas and opinions. The germination of ideas is hastened when the emancipating and empowering power of the internet joins forces with a cup of rousing Cappuccino or latte in the propitious environs of a coffeehouse. The internet serves to illuminate the consciousness of those who are exposed to this source of light (read fount of information) but the catalyst that triggers and accelerates the reaction of enlightenment is the humble coffee.
Coffee contains Caffeine which is the stimulant-in-chief. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug (perfectly legal of course!) which acts as a stimulant for our nervous system. The influence of which makes us much more active, aware and opens up the aperture of our intellects to let in more of the light of knowledge when we are fully stimulated under its effect.
The aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee beans that greets you when you enter a neighborhood café is absolutely mood altering by itself. That said, the confluence of aromas of freshly brewed coffee and that of oven-fresh baked pastry (an assortment of which is generally served in a typical café) is perhaps one of the most pleasurable assaults on the human olfactory senses. As you begin imbibing the coffee in its myriad avatars e.g. plain black, with cream n sugar, espresso shots (forms the base for the subsequent avatars), latte, cappuccino, mocha, macchiato, Americano etc.the caffeine starts to kick in and primes the brain’s receptors to work at full capacity. The result is a zone of awareness that the café habitué goes into wherein they are able to perceive and produce information that would be ordinarily impossible.
Coffee shops (referred to as such in the US) of today are no longer just hangouts for bibliophiles, savants, artists and the creative kind. They are increasing becoming the favorite hotspots for semi-formal business meetings, acting as remote workspaces (IT personnel actually work from these coffeeshops) as well as dens for students trying to get their homework and projects done. What truly has opened up and democratized coffee shops is the free wireless internet that these ubiquitous establishments make available for their clientele. A device in hand, a cup of Joe within arm’s reach and there you are ready to embark on your next adventure on the information superhighway!
Last but not least, the café is Cupid’s abode on Earth as well. Many a romance has blossomed and many lifelong alliances have been forged over a steaming cup of coffee across the cafés of the world. The genre of ‘coffeehouse’ music playing softly in the background coddling the senses, the sweet treats mellowing the mood and the caffeine elevating the senses is the perfect recipe for romance. It all starts with – Can I take you out for a cup of coffee?
Global coffeehouse chains like Starbucks, Costa’s, Lavazza have not only served to make the coffeehouse pervasive societal rendezvous points but also made the café an accessible venue where the both the body and the mind can be nourished while nursing a cup of Java.
Little wonder that I’m posting this very blog from the fecund premises of a coffeeshop!