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Death of the Coffee Klatch

Updated on July 6, 2023
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So much of the past is worth preserving for future generations. Stories and culture of the past are fascinating.

Painting Entitled "De Kaffetafel" (The Coffee Table) by Ernest Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
Painting Entitled "De Kaffetafel" (The Coffee Table) by Ernest Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) | Source

The Coffee Klatch of Yesteryear Has Dwindled Away

Ever since I was a little girl, I remember my mother mentioning a coffee klatch. Not surprisingly, as my grandparents hailed from Germany, these words are derived from the German kaffeeklatsch. "Kaffee" is easily recognized as German for coffee and "klatsch" means gossip. ("klatch" or "klatsch" either spelling is acceptable in English today).

Why did I hear it so often as child? It was because it was a reality in the 1950s. Women would often have coffee in the afternoon, much the way the British do tea. Sometimes it was by plan, as in "I am expecting Helen and Barbara for a coffee this afternoon", or sometimes company just dropped in. Yes, I said dropped in.

And if company dropped in Mom was ready with cake on hand to serve. All she had to do was put on a fresh pot of coffee.

Do you have company over for coffee in the afternoon?

We lived within walking distance of a several aunts and cousins. It was not atypical for my mother and us children to stop in on other family members unannounced in the afternoon. They in turn would do the same. Coffee and cake was served.

Do guests drop in unexpectedly at your house for coffee in the afternoon?

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So what was this coffee socializing phenomenon?

Koffeetafel -Coffee Table
Koffeetafel -Coffee Table | Source

During World War II a lot of women went to work on the assembly lines to fill the gaps left by the men serving overseas. And it is also true that after the war was over, some women still chose to work outside of the home. As I remember it, that was the exception. Most of the women in our neighborhood would refer to themselves as "housewives" (the mid '50's version of "stay at home Mom").

Their job was cleaning the house and cooking, something which many of them prided themselves on and even somewhat competed. The usual pattern was to clean the house in the morning and have everything straightened up and polished before anyone came over and caught you with an untidy house (bad housewife).

When the house was all straightened up my Mom and others would go out to run errands. We lived in the city, so a car was not necessary. Most of the women did not drive or own cars, in fact at this time (in the city) many of the men did not.

We would walk to the grocery store, the butcher shop, fish store, and the bakery. The Italian bakery with it's fancy rich pastries was reserved mostly for holidays. We frequented the German bakery and picked up --- no surprise here -- coffee cake to have on hand if company came.

There were times my mother would pick up a ready made Entemann's pound cake and keep that on hand. (It kept a whole week). There were times that she would bake something herself.

It was also not uncommon when we were out running these errands for us to stop in at an aunt's or cousins and they would serve us afternoon coffee (milk for the children) and cake.

Check out the above photo of women at a coffee klatch - Very different from today -- glazed donut on a paper plate and styrofoam cup for coffee to go

Coffee and Donut
Coffee and Donut

What do you notice that is different from today? How about the women are all wearing dresses; no pants. There is a tablecloth on the table all fresh and neatly ironed -- not a bare table, not placemats. They are drinking from glass cups and saucers not a pottery mug.

Which of the ladies do you believe is the hostess?

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I think the lady in the middle is the hostess. She is wearing a short sleeve cotton dress -- a house dress if you would. The other women are dressed for a cool season. They are the ones who stopped in to visit her.

Remember when coffee cost 5 cents a cup?

Do you remember the 5 cent coffee? Really? Are you just not admitting it? Why wouldn't it be that inexpensive. It's just some ground coffee and a whole lot of water.

Back then, who could have imagined Starbucks and their prices or all of the varieties of coffee? Or, a donut shop with drive thru windows with lines of cars picking up morning coffee on their way to work.

Ponder this:

Women coffee klatched several times a week, drinking coffee and eating cake. Most of them took a coffee break with cake even if they were alone at home.

They didn't work out and I don't remember anyone being overweight.

(Lack of stress, maybe?)

Think about the way it is now. Many of us get our coffee in a styrofoam cup from the drive through on the way to work. Maybe we grab a somewhat fresh donut in a paper wrapper.

These women did their work and then they sat an relaxed in a nice homey atmosphere with a porcelain cup and a bakery treat.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Ellen Gregory


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