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Let's Take a Coffee Break
Jul 1, 2015

Coffee is the second most common beverage in the world after water and the second most widely used product after oil. Some people start their day by drinking a cup while others may turn to it for a break from their daily lives or to chat with friends. It is easy to find a coffee shop around the corner when we need a break, but how was this drink discovered and how did it become so popular?

Coffee has always served as a break, as something to be shared between friends, and to spur conversations. This is true across many cultures. The term "coffee" derives from the Turkish "kahve" and from the Arabic qahwah (1) Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora are the two major coffee plant strains with commercial value. With its caffeine content, coffee is a stimulant and the majority of recent studies have shown that moderate coffee consumption is benign and beneficial for health and social life (2). As a social lubricant with a mystic potential to get people to share time together, coffee is like a common language with which people can communicate and establish and grow long-lasting friendships.

Everything started in Ethiopia and Yemen

Coffee is known to have originated in Ethiopia in the 9th century. People tried boiling it to soften the seed, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. It was eventually transferred to Yemen, where coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed. At the time, Yemen was a state of the Ottoman Empire (3, 4).

After coffee's introduction, the people of Istanbul were quickly charmed by the beverage and coffee soon became very popular in Istanbul. The first coffeehouses in the world opened in Istanbul in 1475 (3). They were known as "kahvehane," which means coffeehouse; they're still called this today (5). In the palace of the Emperor, a unique position was the "kahvecibasi," or the chief coffee maker who had a duty to brew the Sultan's coffee. At home, coffee beans were roasted on special pans and then ground in mortars. The ground beans were brewed in coffeepots known as a "cezve" (4). These methods gave coffee a new identity and tradition because they revealed coffee's natural flavor and distinct aroma. Today, the traditional method of brewing coffee with the use of a cezve is still widely used. The name given to the preparation and brewing techniques invented by the Turks is called Turkish coffee.

Spreading to the world

Coffee spread to the world from Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Europeans were introduced to coffee in 1615 when Venetian merchants brought it to Venice and lemonade vendors started selling it on the street. In 1645, the first coffee house in Italy opened and coffee spread all over the country, as well as many other lands.

In 1637, England was first introduced to coffee by a Turk who brought it to Oxford, where its rapid popularity among students and teachers led to the foundation of the "Oxford Coffee Club." In 1650, Oxford's first coffeehouse opened. In 1644, the French ambassador Monsieur de la Roque carried the first coffee beans from Istanbul to Marseilles, and in 1671, the first coffeehouse in Marseilles was opened. Paris was introduced to coffee when Sultan Mehmet IV sent "Hossohbet Nuktedan Suleyman Aga" as an ambassador to the court of King Louis XIV in 1669. Suleyman Aga was known by Parisian high society as a raconteur, or "Hossohbet." In 1686, the first real coffeehouse in Paris, called Cafe de Procope, opened.

Coffee kept spreading all over Europe via various ways. In 1683, coffee reached Vienna at the end of the Second Siege of Vienna after the Turks left their extra supplies behind, including 500 sacks of coffee. Kolschitzky, who had lived among the Turks for many years as an Austrian spy, asked to obtain the sacks of coffee and eventually introduced Turkish coffee to the Viennese. (3, 4, 6).

Coffee's voyage to the Americas

In 1668, coffee was brought to North America, and in 1696, the first coffeehouse, called "The King's Arms," opened in New York. French mariner Gabriel du Clieu took coffee plants to the island of Martinique in 1723. Coffee was then introduced to other Caribbean islands, and Central and South America, from this island. Then it spread to today's number one producer of coffee, Brazil, in the year of 1727, when Portuguese sailor de Mello Palheta carried coffee saplings there (6). Coffee has now become one of the most important commodities enjoyed by people all over the world.

Coffee and health

Coffee consumption increases sports performance due to the effects of its caffeine. Caffeine improves the capacity to do physical exercise by increasing adrenalin and blood flow to the heart and muscles. Coffee enhances cognitive functioning and lowers the risk of depression. Old studies suggested the risk of heart disease from coffee. However, those studies did not always consider the presence of some other high-risk behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity, in sick, coffee-drinking groups. Recent studies have shown that coffee is associated with a decline in the risk of many cancers. Many studies found an association between coffee consumption and reduced overall mortality or death. Its benefits outweigh the risks in patients with heart diseases as well. Other beneficial effects of coffee have been shown on neurologic diseases including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and liver disease, including cirrhosis and cancer (2, 7). Although coffee may be associated more with its benefits, it is important to note that adding cream and sugar to coffee adds more calories and fat.

Coffee in social life

Coffee is available almost everywhere, including the home, work, and probably even your street corner. It plays a unique role in our social interactions. Most people start their day after having a cup of coffee. Coffee is also a bridge to building many relationships among friends, couples, classes, organizations, and teams. It is a break time to ease out of the materialist life. One would never like to miss a coffee break, as it is an opportunity to talk, to laugh, to relax, to relieve problems, or just to enjoy the drink. People do business, work, and communication with the help of coffee. In reality, people live with coffee.

Ever since the opening of the first coffeehouse in Istanbul in 1475, coffeehouses have become one of the major social environments all over the world. They host meetings or friendly gatherings. Coffee has had a great influence on societies as a source of inspiration for many works of art and culture, as it has inspired many musicians and artists. For Moliere, Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, Beethoven, and many others, coffee was regarded as a lifestyle rather than a simple drink. Johann Sebastian Bach expressed his love of coffee in the 'Coffee Cantata,' which supported coffee drinking when some tried to ban it in Germany. The world's first painting of a coffeehouse was done by the Dutch artist Adrian van Ostade and depicts a group of people being served coffee (4, 8). Today, numerous artists, students, and people from all walks of life come together in coffeehouses to discuss many topics, to be inspired, or to have an enjoyable break.

A cup of Turkish coffee expresses a variety of things in Turkish culture, such as warmth, hospitality, and friendship. The word for "breakfast" or "kahvalti" in Turkish gets its name from the Turkish coffee. "Kahvalti" is a derivation of the combination of two words, "kahve" and "alti," which means "before coffee." It is also an important Turkish tradition to serve coffee in traditional cups to the prospective groom and his family, who visit the prospective bride's family to ask for her hand in marriage. The coffee served at this occasion is prepared by the prospective bride, and in some parts of Turkey, she may choose to add some amounts of salt as a way to test the prospective groom's patience and tolerance.

Drinking coffee is a great pleasure enjoyed by many Turks and offering it to guests is a great gesture of hospitality within Turkish culture. There are many old sayings about Turkish coffee in Turkey; one of the most famous ones being, "Bir fincan kahvenin kirk yil hatiri vardir"meaning that one feels admiration for 40 years to the person who offered them a cup of coffee. A single cup of coffee can create a friendship that lasts for a long time and it can lead to a long and friendly conversation, which is called "muhabbet" in Turkish. A single "coffee break" can be the beginning of a friendship. With its mystical power, coffee continues to play huge roles in bringing together people from various backgrounds and cultures to sit down and enjoy the same beverage while also expressing their own cultures.

Lastly, an old Turkish saying summarizes coffee's power: "Gonul Ne Kahve Ister Ne Kahvehane Gonul Sohbet Ister Kahve Bahane," can be translated as, "Neither coffee nor coffeehouse is what the heart desires. What the heart desires is friendship - coffee is the bridge to it."


1.Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "coffee, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1891.

2.Tahan Asli, Tahan V. "Could a cup of coffee a day keep the liver doctor away?": One cup or two or more cups of coffee per day reduces the risk of death from cirrhosis. Turk J Gastroenterol 2014;25(4):470-1.

3. La Dolce Vita. 1999. Coffee. London, UK: New Holland Books


5. Hafalir IE. Tea In Turkish Culture.


7. Je Y, Giovannucci E. Coffee consumption and total mortality: a meta-analysis of twenty prospective cohort studies. Br J Nutr 2014;111 (7):1162-73.