Coffee and socialising

Coffee was first cultivated and traded in Arabia. By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.

During this time, public coffee houses were particularly popular in the Middle East, where people could listen to music, watch performers, play chess and discuss the news of the day over a cup of coffee. They became such an important centre for the exchange of information that the coffee houses were often referred to as ‘Schools of the Wise1,2.

In the 17th century, coffee appeared for the first time in Europe. The first European coffee was sold in pharmacies as a medicinal remedy. However coffee houses were soon established and quickly became popular. The first European coffee house opened in Venice in 1683.

Historically coffee houses have been an important social gathering point in Europe and their appearance encouraged several cultural and political transformations during the 17th and 18th centuries3. They provided a forum for exchanging views and nurturing public opinion across the social spectrum. Furthermore, the coffee houses were popular with natural philosophers, antiquarians and historians, as places for like-minded scholars to congregate, read, learn from and debate with each other4.

Coffee houses were – and continue to be – venues where people gather to talk, write, read, entertain one another, or pass the time.  Research suggests that we use light hearted conversation to establish and maintain our connection within a group, as well as for mere information transfer. So, by providing a space for the regular, but unplanned, interaction with members of the community, coffee houses play a role in creating social networks, and therefore encouraging community values5.

Coffee houses, as meeting places, also facilitate the spread of information. This occurs informally, as a result of socialising, and, in some cases, through the availability of notice boards. As information passes through a social network, individuals within the community influence each other.  The behaviours and norms that come to be adopted are the reflection of this ongoing interaction and collective cognition6.

In many countries, the social aspects of the coffee house have evolved to include the home, where individuals will host coffee mornings for friends and family to gather and converse. This may offer particular benefits to the elderly, where social isolation has been linked to poorer cognitive function7. One study found that offering coffee in the lounge area of a nursing home encouraged residents to spend more time in communal areas and increased social interactions between the residents8.

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