Throwback thursday| 2019-10-31 Bányai Bálint

The history of coffee – from the Italian espresso to the new wave cortado

In last week’s article, we looked at the different sources of caffeine. Out of the many options, coffee is unsurprisingly the most elegant. Its consumption dates back several hundreds of years, being one of the oldest stimulants. If you’d like to know more about its cultural history, read on!

What could the significance of a plain, bitter (bitterness, however, depends on the quality and tannic acid content of the coffee bean) drink be? The answer is simple: its psychostimulant effect contributed to the blossoming of the human mind. Where else would the finest works of literature have been born than in coffee shops? Indeed, coffee shops have been playing an important role in Hungarian literature since the Reform Era, they allowed people to have deep, meaningful conversations and gave place to the birth of several great ideas.

For example, there’s the New York Café. According to stories, Dezső Kosztolányi and Ferenc Molnár used to frequent this place, and Móricz actually lived on the upper levels of the building. It was a regular meeting point of the so-called “Nyugat” writers, commemorated by the diver statuette we wrote about last week.

Of course, there are many more coffee shops with cultural and historical significance: the Central Cafe and Restaurant near Ferenciek tere was frequented by Ady, and Karinthy’s favourite, the Hadik Coffee House can still be found on the Bartók Béla street. Sadly, Pilvax, the Youths of March’s gathering place now gives place to an Irish pub, however, Gerlóczy Cafe is still in working order nearby. Those yearning for a classic environment can visit the aforementioned places, but naturally, as coffee culture evolved, the coffee shops changed too.

Todays’ coffee houses are often called “new wave”, but where did that label come from?

The first wave was the inflow of Italian coffee to America in the 50s. Before this they’ve only known the weaker, diluted Americano, hence the name. The newly introduced intensive Espresso, and the even stronger Ristretto practically galvanized the American public. Italian taste was fond of blend techniques, meaning mixing coffee beans from different places of the world. The opposition of this led to the second wave.

In the 70s, large café chains emerged to meet the increasing demands of quality. They advertised themselves as only using pure, quality sources and thus being able to produce the perfect beverage. Perhaps this was the moment when coffee went from being a common household item to being a cultural phenomenon in itself. Some of the café chains, namely Starbucks and Costa, are still popular today. Compared to the first generation these showed a lot of progress during the years, and they’ve also been experimenting with different taste combinations since Specialty coffee shops – the third wave – appeared around 2002.

The third wave, also called the new wave, reached Hungary around 2010. With the use of milk, several new coffee types became widespread, like the Cortado (espresso with steamed milk) or the Flat white (double espresso with steamed milk), while also bringing something new for the lovers of black coffee: cold brew filters and the V60 dripper. The demand for quality products started appearing in every field. Wine consumption has a centuries-old tradition in Europe, back then sommeliers were responsible for the quality, and handcrafted beers appeared at the same time as new wave coffees.

Now that we know more about the culture of coffee, there’s nothing left but getting ready for the upcoming winter and exam period: next week we will show you the best places our students might frequent!