Coffee arrived in England via the Ottoman trade routes in the 16th century. The dark liquid’s exotic appearance quickly excited curiosity, not least for its capacity for keeping drinkers enlivened far into the night. The berry’s unfamiliar medicinal qualities captured the interest of natural scientists and thinkers, and the first English coffee houses opened in Oxford close to the colleges in the early 1650s, the price of entry invoking the nickname ‘penny universities’. The new meeting houses attracted a mixed clientele from inside and outside the scholarly community, providing an informal gathering place in which to meet friends, exchange news and discuss ideas whilst sampling the novel elixir.
The popularity of coffeehouses quickly spread to London and by 1698 there were more than 2,000 establishments in the capital. Contemporary figures such as Samuel Pepys, John Dryden, Alexander Pope and Isaac Newton were all regular customers. Each shop offered an egalitarian atmosphere in which patrons of different social classes could engage in temperate conversation. Over time coffeehouses developed their own demographic, some attracting poets and artists, or the legal or medical fraternity, whilst at others you could deliberate on astronomy or mathematics, or associate with stock and insurance brokers or mariners. From the outset coffeehouses were associated with the transmission and consumption of news culture, providing spaces to read the latest bulletins, newspapers and serials, and employing runners who broadcast updates from shop to shop.
This history contains reproductions of two satirical 1674 pamphlets – The Women’s Petition Against Coffee… and The Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee… – which humorously capture rumours in circulation at the time for and against coffeehouses. The dust jacket maps the location of some of London’s most popular coffeehouses, including Tom’s (patronised by Samuel Johnson), Jonathan’s (which became the London Stock Exchange), and the Jamaica (occupying the site of the first London coffeehouse, opened by Pascal Rosée in 1652).