On an intercontinental level, for the past five-hundred years, the cultural centre of humankind has been the coffeehouse.
16th Century – The first coffeehouses began operation in Mecca and Constantinople.
17th Century – This new social model built on popularity in cities like Venice, London, Amsterdam, Boston, Paris, New York, Hamburg and Vienna.
18th Century – Reaffirming their importance in several cities and spreading to new ones, Philadelphia, Prague and Berlin got their own.
19th Century – It became self-evident that this was the best social frame for the world to gather, as even more spread further into all continents.
20th Century – During the first decades one of the most important coffeehouse cultures of the world was flourishing in Vienna and its vicinity. However, towards the middle of the century, the dynamic had subsided. I am not aware of any coffeehouses that opened after the Second World War. This is the time where coffee became the motor for a much faster and disconnected society than for those where the coffeehouse had served as a homogeneous, multi-cultural and multi-class nucleus. At this point the coffee shop model became commercialized and spread rapidly throughout the world.
As we evolve in various areas of our society, the functionality of the coffeehouse has kept its main attraction – Coffee. One needs not wonder. But, while our understanding and appreciation for coffee has increased immensely in the past thirty years, our understanding and attention for our social and intellectual needs have diminished. Today the coffeehouse is not so much competing with other coffee spots, but with the changes in our society and their difficulties finding a model that integrates the core of what it means to serve demanding palates and minds in an increasingly indifferent, detached and virtual behaviour amongst the masses.
Where does the 21st century individual with a demanding and curious palate and a hungry mind go, with his desire for a home away from home in which to share with fellow-men and fellow-women?
In the beginning a coffeehouse was the only place for conversation, music, table games, billiard, newspapers and smoking, while drinking coffee. In them political movements were conceived; musicians started their careers; banks and insurance companies were grounded. A coffee-shop requires self-service, allows limited dwelling times, prohibits alcohol and smoking, and usually supports the modern-day style of living, in which the individual enters a locality in a capsule state to communicate through internet. This lifestyle has destroyed the only true physical realm previously available to the social mind.
Today’s coffeehouse is the smoke lounge. There the inquisitive and able mind is fed with physical and mental joys. A cigarette smoker is satisfied with an awning, an ashtray similar to 1/8 the size of a water hydrogen, a street curb and five minutes standing, just enough to avoid freezing to death outside at the entrance of a building. The fine-smoker is not satisfied with a dose of nicotine. In today’s ‘coffeehouse model’ we are invited to dwell and converse. Only here the opportunity to live out the gentlemen’s essentials is given.
During one of my last visits to such a lounge, I was reminded of my hours in years spent in Café Hawelka, Vienna, and of the atmosphere that made the coffeehouse a socially humane institution. Timothy and Richard are friends and sat in front of me. Their conversation displayed their passion for life, for the creation of further financial success, for professionalism, for their interest in the arts and the finer things in life. With time they became aware of the long ash growing from my Arturo Fuente Magnum R 54.
“Do you review cigars?” – asked Timothy. Our conversation had begun. It covered the work of the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach and the musicianship of celebrated pianists like Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Murray Perahia, Evgeni Koroliov, Boris Borozovsky, violinist Christian Tetzlaff, flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía and the Orchestra of the 18th Century. We covered the core values of a few films, of religion and aspects of the human condition and hedonism. Richard and I elaborated on the wonder of Cuban cigars and our almost romantic relationship to them.
There is a mutual affinity towards co-existence found in all animals – especially amongst humans when reciting their memories. No room inviting us to dwell and share could ever invite us under the condition that sharing our passion, knowledge and conversation is a must, but that is the natural imperative, wherever and whenever the possibility is enabled.