Café culture, St Nicolas Square, Bastia on the French island of Corsica on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory_Bastia 1-2

Café Culture; Coffee the Social Habit

“My blood group is exceedingly common C 8H10N4O2….found in every coffee cup

Adventures are great, exploring a new destination is amazing, browsing a souk or market fascinating these are some of the reasons we travel. However just relaxing is equally rewarding. Café culture is one of my favourite ‘chill out’ pastimes when visiting a new or even familiar destination.

Coffee culture; Greek coffee on the Saronic Island of Hydra on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography iain-mallory-300-3 hydra

Relaxing with a Greek coffee on Hydra

Regardless of the location, Paris to Marrakech, Cairo to Vancouver the culture of enjoying a coffee is exported throughout the world and is a great way to  waste a few hours. It has become so popular that even in relatively cool climates such as the United Kingdom it is possible to enjoy a drink and perhaps a meal with some friends.

Café culture at Café el Escorial in Old Havana on the Caribbean island of Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory-300-129

Café el Escorial in Old Havana, Mojito coffee, a speciality

Origins

It’s origins are traced back to 14th Century Turkey, the Ottoman scribe İbrahim Peçevi detailed the opening of a coffee-house in Istanbul. As coffee shops spread throughout Europe they became the hangouts for the creative and intellectual. Theoretically they were available to all regardless of social status, even considered the “seats of English liberty” but at one time they banned women. Coffee houses such as Caffè Greco in Rome became the meeting point for artists, writers, publishers and diarists boasting an impressive clientage list which includes Mendelssohn, Wagner, Liszt, Stendhal, Goethe and even Casanova.

Local enjoying some shisha time in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Shisha time in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt

It often appears a French concept which the rest of Europe adopted later but the first English coffee-house was established in Oxford’s Queen’s Lane, in 1654. By as early as 1739, there were 551 known coffeehouses in London. Café Procope, the oldest known coffee-house in Paris, established in 1686 while the famous Café de Flore did not open until 1890.

Enough of the history lesson, the ability to enjoy a coffee or something stronger is something we can now all enjoy. Paris seems to have almost taken it to an art form. Mentioning café culture and images of a cosy table for two, somewhere off the Champs-Élysées possibly in springtime, when horse-chestnut trees in full blossom are conjured up.

Vienna and Rome are also top spots for the culture of coffee but possibly every city of the world has suitable places for enjoying a caffeine fix. North America has led the way, developing big brand coffee shops and Australia has a similar modern take on the culture. Havana not only offers a great cultural experience but the Old Town is home to one of my favourite coffee houses; Café el Escorial, though that may have something to do with availability of mojitos.

I don’t have a problem with caffeine.  I have a problem without caffeine!  Author Unknown

Purveyors of coffee also offer some insight into the culture itself. Shisha pipes are popular additions in throughout North Africa, Morocco or Egypt and they are often male dominated establishments. I rarely saw any women in the coffee shops frequented in Egypt in particular, patrons were exclusively men sipping their strong coffee while playing cards or dominoes and solving the problems of the world.

The main square in the Old Harbour of Old Harbour in Nafplio, in the Peloponnese, Greece on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain_Mallory_05574 nafplio

Cafe culture Greek style

A Versatile Culture

The great thing about café culture is that those that don’t even drink coffee can enjoy it. Tea, wine, cocktails or something to eat it is immaterial, it is usually the atmosphere that matters. It is not even dependent on friends, it is great to enjoy good company but sometimes just watching the world go by alone is equally pleasant. I have often started with a coffee in the afternoon and found myself still there late in the evening enjoying a glass of wine.

Big brand coffee store at the base of Grouse Mountain In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography Iain Mallory-300-33

An extra pick-me-up before tackling Vancouver’s Grouse Grind

Café culture in the fort at Nizwa in Oman on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography Iain Mallory-112

Coffee house in the fort at Nizwa, Oman

Parisians seem to have made the best of their surroundings and located their coffee shops well, marketing café culture more effectively than the rest of the world. However it is enjoyed anywhere and not just in coffee houses, one of my favourite places to people watch is the ‘Newquay Arms’ in the English town of the same name.

Café culture is universal, the social habit  that  is enjoyed by anyone, anywhere anytime. I feel it is relaxation in a cup.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”  T.S. Eliot

Café culture, St Nicolas Square, Bastia on the French island of Corsica on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory_Bastia 1-2

Traditional French café culture in Bastia. Corsica

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Comments 14

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  1. Pola (@jettingaround)

    Drinking coffee to me is an experience. I don’t chase caffeine as much as I simply enjoy a good coffee shop and excellent coffee served in a pretty cup. 🙂 Whenever I travel, I look for local coffee shops and hanging out, soaking up the atmosphere of the place is one of my favorite activities.

    I agree that even non-coffee drinkers can enjoy the cafe culture. Very true!

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      Iain

      Hi Pola, I can manage without the pretty cup as long as the coffee is good. I’m independent by nature so prefer the independent coffee houses, a great way to spend an hour or two.

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  2. Deb

    I didn’t used to drink coffee until I started traveling. Now I can’t live without it. After having some of the best coffee in the world, I totally developed a taste for it. It was in Bali in 2003 that my love affair with coffee began. They’re coffee is soooo delicious. Then when we cycled through the Sudan and Ethiopia, we fell in love with their coffee. It is when we come home to Canada that we are disappointed. I don’t love our coffee here. We always stop at Tim Hortons in the airport for a coffee and think to ourselves, this sucks. But then a few days later, we’re hooked on Timmies. I think they put something in the coffee to make Canadians crave it. It’s not very good, but we can’t live without it 😉

  3. AndreHugo

    Another version of the history is found in the book “Coffee – A Dark History”. While the English claim the first coffee houses, the book identifies that the first coffee houses were in Scotland, where intellectuals gathered in Edinburough and Glasgow to share thoughts. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history and/ or coffee. The perspective is fascinating.

  4. Megan

    Sitting at a cafe and people watching is probably my favourite thing to do – at home or travelling. There’s something comforting in taking part in such a normal and routine activity in the middle of unpredictable and random travel. I also find it a great measure of the cultural and social differences around the world. Great post.

  5. Paul

    Nice one Iain. I really enjoyed reading this. I agree 100% that having a coffee and watching the world go by is one of the best activities around, and it’s so cheap too.

  6. Victoria

    Coffee is a truly great social habit for travellers especially. I love that I’ve converted my husband onto coffee (he never used to partake) and now he will happily get through two flat whites in a row to pass the time in a foreign city! I also love that Asia is on the coffee bandwagon, Singapore now has some of the best coffee shops I’ve ever tried – thank goodness!

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      Iain

      It sounds like you have the coffee way of life sorted Victoria. I hope to return to Singapore to try them coffee shops you recommend one day.

      1. Victoria

        You won’t be disappointed Iain! Honestly, when I first arrived I was very sceptical about the coffee I would find here. But there is a genuine coffee culture developing here with new arrivals on the scene coming thick and fast…bring it on!
        oh, and the kopi isn’t instant, it just looks instant – I’m with you – I haven’t touched instant coffee for years 😉

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