In 1555 two Syrian merchants named Hakam and Shams opened the first coffeehouse in Ottoman Istanbul. The coffeehouse gained immediate popularity, and within fifteen years there were over six-hundred coffeehouses within the capital alone. Due to Istanbul’s flourishing merchant economy, the Ottoman public had access to many commodities such as chocolate, opium, tobacco, and tea. However, none of these items triggered the emergence of a social sphere. Coffee’s properties, specifically its temperature, bitterness, and thickness, led to the need for a specific space in which to consume the beverage. Although coffee went through many modes of presentation, the beverage eventually settled within the coffeehouse. The standardized layout of the coffeehouse included an open floor with perimeter seating. Activities within the coffeehouse were intellectually oriented and included debates, conversation, storytelling, and poetry. Coffeehouse patrons were able to transcend their societal positions and engage in these activities, classifying the coffeehouse as the first Ottoman social sphere. Other institutions within the public sphere, such as the tavern, the workplace, and the mosque, were constricted by an underlying social structure which impeded social mobility. The coffeehouse, a space of expression and a merging of the classes, did not replace these institutions, rather it was an independent entity that harnessed a new social function.
Bachelor of Arts in History
Date of Award
Ervin, Marita, "Coffee and the Ottoman Social Sphere" (2014). History Theses. 10.