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Coffee hits the spot: How coffee changed the world - by Tom Oder

Hundreds of years before Starbucks became a hot spot for making social and business connections over lattes and laptops, thriving coffeehouses of a much different type were widely popular in the Arab world.

Those first coffeehouses were in the holy city of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Nothing like them had ever existed.

These were public places, known as kaveh kanes, where people gathered for the same reasons they go to Starbucks today, for coffee and conversation, to discover and share the news of the day, and to conduct business. They also enjoyed music, but not through earbuds plugged into mobile devices, of course.

Those early Arabian coffeehouses were vibrant places that pulsated with singing and dancing performers gyrating to the rhythm of Middle Eastern music.

Then, as now, thousands of pilgrims from all over the world visited Mecca each year. When they returned home in those long ago times, they took with them stories about the "wine of Araby," as coffee was once called. But Arab leaders didn't want to lose their monopoly on the coffee trade.

To prevent coffee from being cultivated elsewhere and to make sure that stories were all the pilgrims took home, the imams banned the export of coffee beans. Dutch traders circumvented these export restrictions in 1616, and the world hasn't been the same since.

What is known from historical records is that the first substantiated knowledge of the wonders of the coffee tree or the drinking of coffee occurred in the mid-15th century in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. The Arabs were not only the first to cultivate coffee and the first to turn coffee beans into a drinkable liquid but also the first to begin the coffee trade. By the sixteenth century, coffee was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.

By the late 1600s, the Dutch started growing coffee outside of the Arab world, first in a failed attempt at Malabar in India and then, in 1699, in Batavia in Java in what is now Indonesia. It didn't take long before Dutch colonies became the main suppliers of coffee to Europe, where people had heard stories from travelers to the Near East of an unusual black beverage.
The first coffeehouses outside of the Ottoman Empire appeared in Europe in Venice in 1629. The first coffeehouse opened in England in Oxford in 1652, and by 1675 there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses in the country. Lloyd's of London was Edward Lloyd's Coffee House, before it was a global insurance company.
The first coffeehouse opened in Paris in 1672 and then perhaps the city's most famous coffeehouse, Café Procope, opened in 1686 (sketched at right in 1743). It was a popular meeting place during the French Enlightenment, arguably the birthplace of the encyclopedia and is still open today.
Interestingly, coffee wasn't popular at first with everyone in Europe. Some called it the "bitter invention of Satan," and the clergy in Venice condemned it. Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene and, finding it to his liking, gave coffee Papal approval.
Customs of the day did not always approve of women in coffeehouses. Women were banned from many of these early European coffeehouses, particularly in England and France. Germany, however, did allow women to frequent them.
The first coffeehouses in the New World appeared in the mid-1600s in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other towns of the British colonies. Even so, tea was the preferred drink. That changed forever when the colonists revolted against King George in 1773 by dumping tea into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party, which was planned in a coffeehouse, the Green Dragon. Both the New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York started in coffeehouses in what is today known as Wall Street.

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