The relationship between coffee and Judaism runs deep and often parallels what was happening in the Arab world. Religious devotion drove its initial popularity; the later you could stay awake, the more you could tell God that you like him a lot.
And because it’s deemed “kosher” (unless your coffee has chunks of pork swimming in it), coffee became popular with the Jews in cities like Damascus, Cairo, and Constantinople. (FYI: Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople.) In fact, the first coffee house opened in Constantinople much to the delight of the He-Brews (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
In 1632, it was a Jewish man who opened the first coffee house in Europe, in Livorno, Italy. Eighteen years later, a Sephardic Jew, charmingly called “Jacob the Jew,” founded the first coffee house in Oxford, England. Many Sephardic Jews became coffee traders during this period and brought the coffee house idea to France and the Netherlands.
Of course, where Jews prosper, antisemitism rears its ugly head. In Germany (surprise!), there were attempts to close down the Jewish coffee trade because coffee was threatening their beer industry. But coffee, as it always does, prevailed.
By the 1800’s, coffee houses in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague were at the forefront of social change. Vienna’s café culture flourished as Jewish scholars, writers, and artists would order their coffees, sit down and talk politics and literature and a hundred other topics for hours. The coffee house was the place to be seen and heard.
In 19th century America, Jewish traders began operating from seaport cities such as San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York. The New York market was very particularly competitive, and fortunes were made by men such as Samuel Schonbrunn who produced the high-quality Savarin brand served at the Waldorf-Astoria, and William Black, whose nuts shops became Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee shops.
Today, the aforementioned Howard Schultz carries on the great Jewish tradition of the coffee house with his 20,737 stores in 63 countries and territories. Oy gevalt!