Bar, coffee shop or café: how do they differ?

Coffee shops and bars are places where people gather to socialize and relax. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they have important differences. In this article, we will explore the unique characteristics of each and address whether or not they can be considered synonymous.

We will also discuss the term “café” in relation to this topic. Does it refer only to a beverage or a type of establishment?

Coffee shop or café

The origins of coffee shops date back to the XVI century in the Middle East, where the first establishments were opened as places for social gatherings, music, and conversation. There, coffee became a popular drink where people could enjoy it in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

As they spread across Europe, coffee shops became cultural and literary centers and soon became meeting places for artists, writers, and philosophers. Over time, they evolved into more informal establishments where people could enjoy coffee, eat and relax.

Small coffee shop with pastries
Small coffee shop with pastries

Today, coffee shops continue to be those popular places where people can gather and enjoy a hot drink or even an ice cream, as they have a wide variety of products.

It is important to note that although coffee shops and café are closely related, they are not synonymous. A coffee shop is an establishment serving coffee and other products.

The term “Café” can refer to both the beverage itself and the establishment serving it. However, in the latter case, unlike the coffee shop, the main focus is serving high-quality coffee brewed with different methods.

A café is a specialized place where different types of high-quality coffee are prepared and served. On the other hand, a coffee shop can offer a wide variety of drinks and food without necessarily specializing in coffee.

Café with different preparation methods
Café with different preparation methods


The origin of the word “bar” is not entirely clear, but it is believed to come from the Latin word “barra”, which refers to a long table or flat surface on which drinks are served. The word “bar” was first used in XVII century England.

Bars, over time, have evolved into places where people gather to enjoy alcoholic beverages such as wine or beer, which have always been the main focus of these establishments, even if they offer other products.

There is a wide range of types and styles of bars. For example, wine bars, craft breweries, traditional pubs, and cocktail bars, each with their own atmosphere and specialty.

Many of these establishments today offer additional activities to appeal to a wider audience and, in turn, enhance the customer experience. These activities may include live music, board games, and sporting events.

However, coffee is a beverage that has moved to specialized establishments. Despite this, enjoying a cup of coffee in a bar is still possible.

From café to bar: the evolution

The change in people’s preferences reflects an evolution in how we seek to relax and socialize in today’s society.

Historically, cafés were social gathering places where people enjoyed coffee and chatted. However, over time, bars have become a more popular option for relaxing and socializing, especially after a busy day.

Today, bars offer a wide range of drinks, from beers, wines, and cocktails, to food and live entertainment, making them ideal places to enjoy.

Although cafés are still meeting places for many people, bars have become the most popular places for socializing and enjoyment in modern culture.

Cafés are still popular with those who prefer a quieter atmosphere to enjoy coffee, read a book, or work on a personal project. On the other hand, bars are ideal places for those looking for a more lively and social atmosphere.

The café today

Cafés are still a place to relax and escape from daily stress. However, they have had to evolve and find ways to attract and retain new customers, especially young people.

New cafés have created customer touch points through various elements, including products, ambiance, and music. These cafés seek to provide their customers with a unique and engaging experience.

Today’s cafés are not simply places to meet to talk about politics and art; they are places where we can spend time while enjoying ourselves.

Thanks to the adaptation of cafés to modern times, we can experience a wide range of options and find a café that suits our needs and preferences.


The terms bar, café, and coffee shop are often used interchangeably, but there are fundamental differences between them.

A coffee shop is a cozy and relaxed place where various drinks and food can be enjoyed. Conversely, the bar focuses mainly on selling alcoholic beverages, although it may also offer other products. While the café offers different types of high-quality coffee.

Although cafés and coffee shops are popular places to meet, bars are the most common places to enjoy and socialize.

Written by Pablo Barrantes Nevado
I am Pablo Barrantes, a coffee lover. I decided to start this website to solve all the doubts that arise every day when preparing our favorite drink: coffee. I am an industrial engineer by profession, but I have worked in coffee shops for many years, where I have learned all the secrets about coffee machines and coffee. My passion for coffee has led me to investigate and study beyond the obvious, and thanks to this, I can offer solutions and give news about coffee and coffee makers. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I research, document and write here.

Leave a Comment