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What’s in a name? Cafe vs Coffee House vs Coffee Bar vs Coffee Shop

What’s in a name? Cafe vs Coffee House vs Coffee Bar vs Coffee Shop

Coffee has been consumed across the continents since the 16th and 17th centuries, and each culture developed its own recipes and methods of brewing and drinking it. With globalisation, local eating establishments that were popularised by travellers began springing up in all corners of the world. It’s one thing for consumers to bandy about any name they please when referring to one, but it certainly helps for industry stakeholders to have a clear idea of the differences. Here are a few that often get mixed up.


Café is, in fact, French for coffee and can be quite misleading for this type of establishment. For while a café does serve coffee, the main focus is not on that particular hot beverage. They might have a few options for coffees, but will also probably offer teas and / or a variety of other beverages while ensuring the food on offer is the winner.  

The ambience is usually casual and quite social, and guests can often enjoy a spot of reading, great meals and extended conversation. It typically offers alfresco seating so one can watch the world go by while indulging in everything from sandwiches and salads to full breakfasts.


In a coffee house, there’s specialty coffee, espresso drinks as well as a few teas and beverages along with light bites such as pastries. These establishments are more of a lounge for coffee enthusiasts who enjoy socialising and can typically have board games, special events, live music and other artsy events to entice patrons to stay on. 

The atmosphere is laidback and furniture can include sofas, bean bags and the like. If you think of Central Perk from the popular TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S, that would be a coffee house with its variety of seating, open mic nights, bookshelves, etc.


These are fairly common in Europe and South America and cater to specific customers. There is very limited seating, if any, and the varieties of coffee on offer can be quite extensive. The emphasis here is on artisan coffee and espresso, and while they might have a bite or two – such as biscotti, pastry or a breakfast sandwich – patrons don’t usually hang around very long. 

Coffee bars are profitable in places that witness high footfall such as metro stations or malls. They are a go-to breakfast spot in Italy, and many have loyal customers who pop in on the way to or from work. The focus here is on high quality coffee and owners will place great importance on sourcing from good roasters.


Many old-school American movies will have coffee shops or diners, the main difference being the first is open through the day and the other is open either very late or very early. Both sell coffee and it’s usually unlimited, unlike the options. Coffee shops usually serve just drip coffee, decaf and may have an espresso machine. A one-time payment entitles patrons to as many refills as they desire. Coffee shops serve great food at usually pretty affordable prices.

Monk’s Cafe from the sitcom Seinfeld is actually a coffee shop with typical diner-style seating – rows of booths against the walls, narrow aisles and often a counter with bar stools for single customers.

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