[FOUNTAIN]Coffee, revolution, relaxationCoffee shops are opening on every corner of the city’s streets these days; Koreans are experiencing a striking change of tastes, with many kinds imported from all over the world.
Coffee these days is coming from South America, Africa and the Arab world. But it was planted only in the Arab world originally, and the export of unroasted beans was strictly prohibited.
Coffee was introduced elsewhere in 1616, when a Dutch merchant succeeded in growing the beans on a plantation in Indonesia, using beans he bought from an Indian pilgrim. The introduction of coffee to the Western world changed habits there; coffeehouses and salons offered a new social outlet, and many of the patrons were intellectuals who were critical of the absolute monarchies of the day.
The first coffeehouse opened in 1650 at Oxford, in England. Two years later, shops appeared in London and after two more years in Marseilles, France. They brought a surprising change in European social traditions; a coffeehouse provided anyone who paid only one penny with a space to talk to people sharing the same opinions. That was the reason people at that time called a coffeehouse a “penny university.” As the shops strengthened the atmosphere of political reform, governments began to suppress them.
Charles II, who returned from exile to France during the Puritan Revolution, ordered the closure of coffeehouses, but the decree was withdrawn because of the fierce reaction. In the early 18th century, there were more than 3,000 penny universities in London. But the businesses also declined during the reign of Queen Anne after the Glorious Revolution, when the rights of the common people were strengthened and political stability was enhanced.
Coffee was closely related to politics in Korea. It was the favorite drink at the royal palace and Sontag Hotel, the first western-style hotel in Seoul built in 1902, during the reformist politics of the Joseon Dynasty’s final days. During the Japanese occupation, tearooms where coffee was also served were places for the colony’s intellectuals to air grievances; under the military governments, students debated democracy there. Their role was similar to that of the penny universities.
The corrupt image of “ticket tearooms,” coffee and tea shops that were fronts for prostitution, has changed dramatically. The large franchise coffeeshops are becoming beloved places for friendly conversation.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.