Best Coffee In Hilton Head

The History Of The Coffee House In America

Captain John Smith, the founder of the Virginia colony, introduced coffee to America in 1607 after sampling and enjoying it in his travels to Turkey. Yet it did not gain popularity with the Jamestown settlers as they favored tea, hard cider and ale. Coffeehouses were becoming popular in Europe, especially in England and France. By 1675, England had more than 3000 coffeehouses.

America’s first coffeehouse was established in 1676, in Boston, but tea was still the preferred non-spirit drink in the colonies. In the 1760’s, the British began to impose a tax on tea, first through the Stamp Act of 1765, and later with the Townshend Act of 1767.

Dissatisfied colonists took to smuggling tea or drinking herbal infusions. Outraged merchants, shippers and colonists staged a number of demonstrations culminating in the famous Boston Tea Party of December 1773. John Adams, later to be our second president, declared at the time that tea was a “traitor’s drink” and many Americans united and vowed to only serve coffee in their homes.

Drinking tea was now considered supporting the British and a betrayal of the colonies.

Early European and American coffeehouses encouraged conversation and often carried the latest newspapers. They were places of social leveling, open to all, regardless of class or profession, although not necessarily open to women.

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In America, the New York Stock Exchange started in the Tontine Coffee House in the 1790’s on lower Manhattan’s Wall Street. Ironically, the location of that coffee house is the reason “Wall Street” is synonymous with world-wide finance. During the 19th century, coffee house growth declined as wealthier businessmen gravitated to private clubs and saloons offering “free lunches”.

However, in the early 20th century, coffee houses saw renewed interest as a result of two things: the Temperance movement and massive Italian immigration. It is hardly coincidental that cities that experienced large Italian immigration communities (such as New York’s Greenwich Village, Boston’s North End and San Francisco’s North Beach) also saw a proliferation of coffeehouses. Coffee shops, coffee bars and cafes were embedded in the Italian culture and they continued their traditions in America.

New York City became the standard for the new coffee house: a place for conversation, politics, art and music. The Bitter End, Cafe Wha, Cafe Reggio (all in NYC) became the standard bearer of the American Coffee house. All have become cultural icons and are still operating today.

  • Cafe Reggio opened in 1927 and was the first cafe to serve cappuccino in the United States.
  • Cafe Wha was the hangout of Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jimmy Hendrix. Bruce Springsteen performed there as did Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.
  • Muhammed Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) recited his own poetry at the Bitter End. Bob Dylan played pool. Joni Mitchell sang. Neil Young bombed as did James Taylor. Woody Allen and Billy Crystal cut their teeth.
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The American coffeehouse had evolved into a somewhat elitist, artsy, hipster type of place. But that was about to change. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, for better or worse, the American coffee house began to develop a nationwide culture that became more inclusive.

The rise of Starbucks saw an unprecedented number of patrons drinking specialty coffees in a public setting. Coffee houses became an integral part of our culture and opened the door for small, independent, creative entrepreneurs to enter the coffee world. That is the better. The worse?

Hip became the national brand of Starbucks and the customer became part of the furniture. Having a coffee in San Francisco became no different than having a coffee in Hoboken, New Jersey. That is not what I want out of a coffee shop.

So, you may ask: WHAT DO I WANT? You can be sure that I have my answer at the ready!