Water belongs to basic human needs. Together with cultural development beverages of varied taste and character have been evolving whereas they were playing diverse roles. They used to be used during riligious ceremonies, as a currency or as a source of artistic and philosophical inspiration. Social relations are strenghtened by their common consumation. British journalist Tom Standage in his book A History of the World in Six Glasses even divides a human history to stages in which a particular beverage played a special social role. The beverages are beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and (what a surprise) coca-cola.
According to this author coffee is connected with the Age of Reason. Environment in which they have been consumed – cafes – used to be centres of intelectual exchange. First cafes are connected with Arabic world. Their first presence was recorded in 16th century in Damascus, Kairo or Persia where since the begining were serving as places of conversation, sharing news, criticism of politics, playing games and telling stories. A few decades later a first cafe arosed in Istanbul and even later also in Europe, namely in Venice. Soon they became popular, in 1675 there were 3000 of them in England. I should be mentioned that Café Procope in Paris dating from this period is still in exist. It was a place where thoughts of French Enlightment were put toghether since Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot were meeting here. There´s an interesting legend connected to another Mecca of cafes – Vienna. It all begans with the mysterious sacks of green beans left behind when the Turks were defeated in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. All the sacks of coffee were granted to the victorious Polish king Jan III Sobieski, who in turn gave them to one of his officers, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczcki. It was him who started up the first coffeehouse in Vienna. However, it is now widely accepted that the first coffeehouse was actually opened by a Greek merchant named Johannes Diodato.
Cafes were not a neutral meeting places. Rulers often considered them as places where gossips and shocking news about royal family are spread and thus they can be an environment of broadcat of social rebelion. An English king Charles II. was even trying to limit them – he didn´t succeed. The true is that cafes were a great means of balancing social differences because they were open to men (women used to be expeled) from all social classes and thus they were connected with thoughts of equality. They were also places of business. In London in the mid 18th century they were already divided according to professions from which their clientele was came from. As a result some cafes were full of layers, others of bussines men or book-sellers.
In 19th and 20th those who are inseparably connected to cafes are artists and writers. What would Paris or Vienna be without them? Also Prague wasn´t behind the times.
The first Prague cafe was open in 1714 in the Old Town by Armenian businessman Deodatus Damascenus. Their golden age was, of course, art noveau. They were pattering themselves on cafes in Paris, Vienna and Berlin. A big part of political, social and cultural life was taking place right here. Cafes like Unionka, Tůmovka, Arco, Louvre or Slavia became places where Czech cultural history was shaping since artistic groups, manifestos and worthy literary works were created here.
Communist regime was a dark period for cafes because all of these unique places were diminished. In 90´s some cafes, for example Slavia or Louvre, managed to be renewed and thus to continue in dissapeared tradition. Since then plenty of new places in retro style have arosed in Prague. Equiped with old furniture they create a distinctive atmosphere where one tune himself in slower pace. In London and other European cities these kind of authentic cafes are fastly dissapearing and they are replaced by large corporations such as Starbucks or Costa Coffee. Hopefuly, Prague will keep this uniqueness.
Pražské kavárny a jejich svět – Dominik Hrodek