The Coffee House Culture & Literature

Coffee Shops & Tea Houses have contributed greatly to the literary culture and book reading ever since the history, here’s how!

The Coffee House Culture & Literature
- illustration by: BABA SHAKEEL - Copyright ©: Readout

Let us take you through the journey of coffee houses & literature.

Coffee shops and tea houses have always been a globally endorsed venue for meeting friends, gathering to celebrate the joys, to mourn over breakups or be it just to sit alone in one’s own company. The coffee house concept originated in the Middle East in the early 16th century, where friends would meet just to enjoy their tea or coffee, but tea houses and coffee places soon evolved into places that later contributed in changing the course of history.

Before the trend of tea and coffee houses began in Britain, social gatherings used to be a matter of taverns. In Britain, the first attraction of the coffee houses was indeed the newness of the coffee and the exhilaration from caffeine, however these coffee houses quickly became another reason to meet, and emerged as the most sought after places for socializing.

The culture of coffee houses picked up very quickly, by the mid 17th century London had around 85 coffee houses, and this number went up to 500 by the beginning of 18th century. Baron Charles, the noble Prussian nobleman stated these coffee shops to be one of the greatest pleasures of the city and described how it had become like a rule to go to the coffee houses at least once a day with the English.

In the status quo, coffee shops have evolved to be more contemporary, being drastically different from the coffee shops of the past that had more of the Middle Eastern Culture, However, both have one thing integrally common; these places, since centuries till date, serve purpose of being places for discussion of new ideas & literary conversations. The clientele increased and eventually the coffee houses began to allow people only who obtained a membership, this raised the status of the coffee shops to clubs, and members mostly were writers and authors.

Cafe La Rotonde

In the 20th century, author F. Scott Fitzgerald patronized the bohemian café La Rotonde and authors and artists, the likes of Pablo Picasso, T.S. Elliott, and Ernest Hemingway became the regulars at the cafe, which was located in the heart of Paris. Hemingway, in fact mentioned it in his writings as an excerpt in ‘The Sun Also Rises’;

No matter what café in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde.
~ Earnest Hemingway

Even till date the café still hosts authors, artists & script writers. Order a coffee, soak in the beauty of Paris & delve into the script.

Literaturnoe Kafe

In the 19th century, the Literary Café known as Literaturnoe Kafe was opened in St. Petersburg. The cafe played host to many renowned people and is claimed to have been the most frequently visited café by the Russian authors who need no introduction; Dostoevsky and Chernyshevsky.

Cafe Montmartre

Known as Montik or The Montyb by the locals in Prague, Café Montmartre opened in 1912 however sadly and unfortunately it was closed during the world war, but during the heyday of the café, it was the European author’s intellectual hot spot including the likes of Franz Kafka and Max Brod. After the world war was over, the café was later revived in the 1990s, keeping its bohemian ambiance just the same. In the present times, The Monty hosts many famous book launches and is still home to writers and authors.

The Elephant House

Not to forget, since we all have read Harry Potter, most of our teenage would not even be summed up without its inclusion in it, JK Rowling too penned down much of her early excerpts of Harry Potter novels at The Elephant House, overlooking the Edinburgh castle and the George Heriot’s School, perhaps the inspiration for Hogwarts as Rowling used to sit in the backroom while writing most of the time.

Antico Caffe Greco

Literature is not complete without romance and intimacy, and where can it flourish better but in Rome! Antico Caffe Greco, Rome’s oldest coffee house has been the touring spot for many writers having hosted Lord Byron, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian, Percy Shelly and John Keats. Located next to the Spanish steps, this café is a must visit literary place to relish into book reading while sipping their Caffe Corretto!

Pak Tea House

If we talk about tea houses and the coffee shop culture in Asia, Pak Tea House, now located in the heart of Lahore, has been the hub of discussions over literary aspects and enlightenment on freedom of expression. Till date, the tea house exists and is a museum of many classic pictures of the famous authors of the time who used to gather and delve into writing and having literary debates.

It is generally said that all book clubs require some time for their clientele to become consistent, and once it so happens, the members become your best acquaintances for discussing books. Such coffee places have indeed, in the eras of history, served as the best kind of book clubs where people have met new people and have made friends for life in all the relaxed and literary atmosphere. Coffee shops and tea houses turned book clubs are in fact a great platform for all the low key and inexpensive literary activities.

To say the least, most of the enlightenment before many revolutions all around the globe have been a consequence of these literary and enlightening open discussions with freedom of expression in these safe places. This history of coffee clubs & literary engagements only emphasizes on the need of discussing and talking about books & literary work! Be it Coffee clubs/Book Clubs or Readout, Let’s continue to talk books!

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