Around the Caffeinated World: Brewed Coffee Takes Over Europe


Vienna's famous Einspänner: Hot coffee with cocoa-spiked cream. [Photograph: redpolkadot on Flickr]

Though no coffee is grown there (the plants need tropical weather to thrive), Europe is undoubtedly a coffee-driven place, and has been since at least the tail end of the 16th century, gaining steam (or at least boiling water) until a caffeinated boom that swept through in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But how did that heady liquid wind up in cups throughout the Continent to begin with?

Mostly, the introduction was thanks to spice traders, whose boats and prams were filled to bursting with exotic wares like cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg, and, of course, coffee—then practically considered a kind of spice. Venice, with its strategic position at the northernmost point of the Mediterranean Sea, dominated trade between the Middle East and Europe until the 15th century, and even afterward remained a major player (if not the major player) in distributing expensive imported goods from the Arab and African world throughout its neighboring lands. Including, of course, those little precious beans, which created such an intoxicating drink when ground fine and brewed with hot water in the Arabic style, which the Turks had adopted and adapted.

Meanwhile, farther northeast on the Continent, the city of Vienna was in conflict with Ottoman invaders during the 16th and 17th century, with the Turks attempting wholesale occupation in 1529 and again 1683. Though the invasions weren't eventually successful on a political level, the caffeinated damage was done; thanks to the Turks' influence, Vienna became a city of coffee shops.

While Venice went on to adopt an emerging espresso culture in the late 19th century (influenced as well by the Arabic and Turkish coffee tradition), Vienna can almost be held responsible for the modern coffice phenomenon. Great minds would gather at elaborate, luxe Austrian cafes, lingering over large bowls of coffee diluted and sweetened with warm milk and sugar—a major sea change from the tiny cups and hustle-bustle "Buy! Sell!" atmosphere of the original coffee houses.

Drinking around the world: For a taste of Viennese-style coffee, indulge in a homemade Einspänner: Hot black coffee, sometimes sweetened with a little sugar and topped with a thick head of cocoa-sprinkled whipped cream, served in a clear glass.

If you're feeling Italian, however, luckily all you have to do is knock back a few espressos (I refuse to say espressi, I'm sorry) at your local coffee shop. Or, even better: FInd the nearest dingy, ancient Italian cafe, order one shot of each espresso and sambuca, and pretend you're in the heart of Venice.

Stay tuned: Things get pretty steamy in coffee's history once we jet off to Latin America, courtesy of colonialism.