Starbucks in Istanbul, Turkey

Ancient Turkish coffeehouseThe first Starbucks store opened in 1971, but it took another 16 years for the chain to begin expanding into the 15,000+ locations that now seem to dot every corner of the globe.  

But coffeehouses are nothing new. They began to proliferate in the Ottoman Empire in the 1550s (see illustration, right)—and they offered a lot more than organic coffee, according to a report published in the Journal of Consumer Research.  

Gambling, drugs, meeting with “young, beautiful boys,” puppet shows, storytellers, and musical and dance performances were the norm, say researchers Eminegül Karababa, PhD,  a lecturer in marketing at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, and Güliz Ger, PhD, a professor of marketing and associate provost at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.  

“Formation, normalization and legalization of such a site for transgressive pleasures was controversial since formal religious morality of the period (orthodox Islam) considered it as sinful and illegal,” they write. “Thus, they were repeatedly banned by the state.”  

But coffeehouses continued to thrive, and their customer demographic included mainstream society by the late 16th and 17th centuries. The environment was more Starbuckian, with patrons drinking coffee, socializing and holding literary discussions. Conversations often challenged the authority of the state and religion, leading to societal changes.  

“Simultaneously, a new Ottoman consumer—resisting the prescriptions of the state and religion, actively constructing self-ethics and taking part in the formation of the coffeehouse culture—was forming as well,” the authors note. “Obviously, the early modern Ottoman context was very different than any modern capitalist system. But the active consumer may not be as recent or even a chronological phenomenon as many consumer researchers think.”

 Photo: Vasenka