Coffee drinking as a social pastime has become extraordinarily popular in recent years. It is a catalyst for communication for business people, while others use coffee places to socialise and network throughout the day. They have almost universally replaced going to a pub in Adelaide as the preferred place to meet.
The author of a recent report on revitalising Sydney's laneways commented: If coffee was regulated to the point that it was only available from Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, Westfield or David Jones, we would have a very different city. The role of the coffee bean as a social lubricant would be vastly diminished. The chain stores and retail giants don't have that certain je ne sais quoi that a small, unique and personal café develops. Barely a business deal would be done, a poem written or long conversation completed.
It is not a new phenomenon though, as over 100 years ago the Coffee Palace hit a peak in its popularity. In the 1800's attitudes began to change towards alcohol consumption, and a strong Temperance movement in Australia began agitating to ban consumption.
By the 1880's a large number of Coffee Palaces were established around Australia, although they were more popular in Victoria and South Australia. These Coffee Palaces were often huge, grand and elaborately decorated buildings designed to compete with hotels. In effect they were hotels that did not serve alcohol, but provided food, drink and accommodation for their customers.
In Adelaide one of the best known was West's Coffee Palace at 110 Hindley Street, which can still be seen today. It has a beautifully ornate frontage which is best viewed from across the street to appreciate the upper levels.
This unusual building was originally constructed in 1900 and called Austral Stores but in 1908 it was leased as a Coffee Palace, becoming known as West's Coffee Palace in 1919. It was actually quite modest compared to some interstate Palaces - the Federal Coffee Palace in Melbourne movement was the largest and tallest building in the city when it was built in 1888. There are pictures of a number of interstate Palaces on Wikipedia.
Very few Coffee Palaces still remain today, and I am not aware of any that continue their original function. In many cases the buildings were unprofitable for the Temperance Movement in the long run and became became hotels.
Perhaps something to reflect on as you sip on your cappuccino. How long will our current coffee craze last?