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Coffee Culture: Worldwide Tradition

The tradition of the coffeehouse has spread worldwide. Australia is paved with Italian-style caffes and Japan has evolved its kisatens, an elegant interpretation of American 1950s-style coffee shops and coffeehouses. In Great Britain, the espresso-bar craze of the 1950s came and went, but shows vigorous signs of a Starbucks-style comeback. Other parts of Europe and the Middle East have their own ongoing traditions. In Vienna, the home of the first European coffeehouses, the café tradition has undergone a renaissance.

In the United States, the 1930s and 1940s brought the classic diner, and the 1950s and 1960s the vinyl-boothed coffee shop, together with the coffeehouse -- haunt of rebels, poets, beboppers, and beatniks. All of these incarnations are still with us. The classic diner is enjoying a revival, coffee shops still minister to the bottomless cup, and in American cities hundreds of new coffeehouses cater to a fresh generation of rebels, complete with funky furniture, radical posters, jazz, and folksingers.

But the 1970s and 1980s appear to have produced still another North American café tradition. Classic Italian-American caffes of the 1950s, like Caffè Reggio in Manhattan and Caffè Trieste in San Francisco, appear to have influenced the development of a style of café or caffe that takes as its starting point an immigrant's nostalgic vision of the lost and gracious caffes of prewar Italy. From that vision come the light and spacious interiors of the new North American urban café, together with the open seating, the simple and straightforward furnishing, and an atmosphere formal enough to discourage customers from swaggering around and putting their feet on chairs, yet informal enough to mix students doing homework and executives having business meetings. Add an espresso machine and some light new American cuisine, and the latest version of the American café is defined.

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Adapted from Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying; Espresso: Ultimate Coffee; and Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival. St. Martin's Press.
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