Our new season is now open: Spring 1677 !
A coffee house shares some of the characteristics of a bar, and some of the characteristics of a restaurant, but it is different from a cafeteria. As the name suggests, coffee houses focus on providing Coffee and Tea as well as light snacks. This differs from a café, which is an informal restaurant, offering a range of hot meals, and possibly being licensed to serve Alcohol.
Women were frowned upon in coffee houses and in some cases even banned from them.
In the 17th century, coffee appeared for the first time in Europe outside the Ottoman Empire, and coffee houses were established and quickly became popular. The first coffee houses in Western Europe appeared in Venice, due to the traffics between La Serenissima and the Ottomans; the very first one is recorded in 1645. The first coffee house in England was set up in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish man named Jacob. The first coffee house in London was opened in 1652 in St Michael's Alley, Cornhill.
Hot-spots of Politics
They were great social levelers, open to all men and indifferent to social status, and as a result associated with equality and republicanism. More generally, coffee houses became meeting places where business could be carried on, news exchanged and the London Gazette read. Lloyd's of London had its origins in a coffeehouse run by Edward Lloyd, where underwriters of ship insurance met to do business.
In 1675 at the prorogation of Parliament Charles II closed the coffee houses on a charge of spreading sedition. The King called them:
- "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers"
Coffee Houses From Historian T.B. Macauley
- The coffee house must not be dismissed with a cursory mention. It might indeed at that time have been not improperly called a most important political institution. No Parliament had sat for years. The municipal council of the City had ceased to speak the sense of the citizens. Public meetings, harangues, resolutions, and the rest of the modern machinery of agitation had not yet come into fashion. In such circumstances the coffee houses were the chief organs through which the public opinion of the metropolis vented itself.
- The first of these establishments had been set up by a Turkey merchant, who had acquired among the Mahometans a taste for their favourite beverage. The convenience of being able to make appointments in any part of the town, and of being able to pass evenings socially at a very small charge, was so great that the fashion spread fast.
- Every man of the upper or middle class went daily to his coffee house to learn the news and to discuss it. Every coffee house had one or more orators to whose eloquence the crowd listened with admiration, and who soon became, what the journalists of our time have been called, a fourth Estate of the realm. The Court had long seen with uneasiness the growth of this new power in the state. An attempt had been made, during Danby's administration, to close the coffee houses. But men of all parties missed their usual places of resort so much that there was an universal outcry. The government did not venture, in opposition to a feeling so strong and general, to enforce a regulation of which the legality might well be questioned.