In 2002, a coffee entrepreneur, W. James Freeman founded the first Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, California with the ambition to become a giant player in the roasting business.
He was fascinated by Franz George Kolshitsky’s story who introduced the coffee bean and his first café which he named “The Blue Bottle” in 1683 in Vienna up on the withdrawal of the Turkish invaders. In the late 1600s, the Turkish army swept across much of Eastern and Central Europe, arriving at Vienna in early 1683. Besieged and desperate, the Viennese needed an emissary who could cross Turkish lines to get a message to nearby Polish troops. Franz George Kolshitsky, who spoke Turkish and Arabic, took on the assignment disguised in Turkish uniform. After many perilous close calls, Kolshitsky completed his valiant deed, delivering news of the Poles’ imminent rescue to Vienna.
On September 13, the Turks were repelled from the city, leaving everything they brought, including strange bags of beans, which were thought to be camel feed. Kolshitsky, having lived in the Arab world for several years, knew these to be bags of coffee. Using money bestowed on him by the mayor of Vienna, Kolshitsky bought the coffee and opened Central Europe’s first-ever coffee house (The Blue Bottle), bringing coffee to a grateful Vienna.
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James reminds us how the coffee drinking actually grew over time through out Europe and later to the new world.
Even though the Viennese coffee house culture is renowned the world over, Vienna was not the first city in history with a coffee house. There were several coffee houses in Mecca as early as the 12th century. The first coffee house in Europe opened in Venice in 1647. The first coffee houses in England were opened in 1650 and 1652.
Even if Vienna was not the pioneer in coffee house culture, it has - over the centuries - established a coffee house tradition like no other city in the world. Coffee and coffee houses are at their best in Vienna! It’s believed that Kolschitzky also began the custom of filtering coffee, as well as the process of adding milk or cream and sugar to make the coffee more palatable and less bitter.
Coffee houses erupted all over Europe, and there are written accounts from the time that suggest they were still used as places to discuss political matters. Although they gained popularity around the continent, it wasn’t until the mid-1600s that they landed in England.
The first British coffee house opened up in 1652. Although it took nearly 200 years for the concept to reach England, it became widespread and outrageously popular throughout the country in a much shorter amount of time.
It’s believed that the idea of a coffee house in England was thanks to trading practices with Turkey and not with the surrounding European countries. Much of the world has Turkey to thank for coffee houses!
Rather than just a place to discuss politics, coffee houses in England were frequented mainly by business professionals discussing their companies and trading opportunities. These shops also attracted intellectuals (like Bach, who wrote a song in honor of coffee) who would speak and debate about religion, philosophy, and other topics. Their coffee houses were referred to as “penny universities” because coffees cost a penny each, and the space was full of highbrow, educated discussion.
Perhaps most notably, one such coffee house owned by Edward Lloyd that opened in 1668 is now the site of Edward’s then-budding business: the insurance company, Lloyds of London! Additionally, Jonathan’s Coffee House, which also opened in the late 1600s, was a place to discuss business and later became the site of the London Stock Exchange.
Finally, coffee houses spread to the Americas early on in their colonization. They carried much of the same culture and highbrow discussion and intellect as they had in England. They were the meeting places of many business professionals.
Additionally, the Tontine Coffee House (seen above), which opened in New York in the very late 1700s, had such a large number of businesspeople frequenting it that it became the site of the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1946, Giovanni Achille Gaggia, the founder of the Gaggia company and its now-famous espresso machines, invented a safe and affordable espresso machine that used high pressure to make a delicious, robust, and creamy espresso.
The Gaggia company was established shortly after that, and their commercial espresso machines swept across Europe and then America. Many coffee houses across the globe began selling espresso in addition to their brewed coffee, and by the mid-1900s, the modern-day concept of a coffee house was born.
Today, James' Blue Bottle Coffee operates from California with widely stretched locations in New York, Boston, Washington D.C, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Kyoto, Kobe, and Yokohama. His company’s majority stake was acquired by Nestle (68%) in 2017. James introduced to his customers a unique style roasting with small batch single origin product which become popular with home delivery to their door steps. In Japan his company pioneered a coffee vending machine with its famous blue bottle logo on it right before the outbreak of Covid epidemic.