The History Of Coffee – Part Two!

Hiya and welcome back to part two of Pollards history of coffee blog! If you missed part one please find it here. In the first part we covered the original discovery of the coffee bean and the early adopters of the trend. We followed it all the way through the ottoman empire, pinpointed the first coffee houses and the introduction to the British markets. In part two we cover elements such as the influence coffee had on culture and the many social impacts the coffee house had. We bring it all the way through to modern day coffee chains. Let us know what you think with a comment at the end, and share with friends!


Public opinion in Britain

As we discovered in Part One, it took some time for coffee to reach Britain. But when it did, much like elsewhere in the world, it was met with many varying opinions. Despite this, it still caught on like a wildfire.

The huge influx of trade into the country, including coffee, had a large effect on the British culture. The new coffee shops were very diverse and offered a wide selection of exotic products. Customers could not only find coffee, tea and tobacco, but also chocolate and a range of sherbets. Most of the coffee and the sweets on sale were imported from Turkey. The introduction of such exotic cultures were incising customers to try a range of goods new to Britain, and curiosity soon became trend. Not only did the coffee catch on among the people in London, but so did some of the other aspects of Turkish culture. Some customers even began to wear turbans in the coffee houses.

Possibly because of the views against Islamic culture at the time, and for other reasons, coffee houses were viewed as a place for renegades of Christianity. As with most events, not everyone welcomes change, but this was a period of a massive cultural revolution within Britain. Trade opened up the new interest in other cultures, this continued past the fascination of the Middle East, all the way to the Orient. The Georgian period in Britain, is marked by an Eastern and predominantly Asian influence in art, literature, and academics.

The fashion, goods, architecture and even the way of socialising had evolved during this time. Before coffee, us Brits would drink wine or ale constantly, preferring it to the water, which was deemed unsterile. Coffee was a drink which enabled, rather than dulled the senses, and that was the main reason for its success. As Wolfgang Schivelbush has noted, for people to gather over a stimulating rather than intoxicating beverage, marked nothing less than a revolution in European foodways.


Becoming the norm

Coffee houses caught on very quickly, in 1663 there were more than 83 coffee houses in London. At the beginning of the eighteenth century there were five or six hundred. The Prussian nobleman Baron Charles Louis von Pollnitz, who visited London in 1728, described them as one of the great pleasures of the city. He describes how it is “a sort of rule with the English, to go once a day at least” to coffee-houses “where they talk of business and news, read the papers, and often look at one another.”

POLLARDS INTERESTING FACT: It was in an English coffee house that the word “tips” was first used for gratuities. A jar with a sign reading, “To Insure Prompt Service” sat on the counter. You put a coin in the jar to be served quickly.


Coffee house vs ale house

Today when we think of a coffee shop, we think of the large chains such as Starbucks, little independents with comfy armchairs, or chic bar spaces with access to plugs and WiFi. However, the coffee shops of the past were drastically different, with the influence of Middle Eastern culture. One thing they do have in common is the social aspect, a place for discussion of new ideas.

The coffee house began simply as a place to enjoy an exotic drink, coffee. But soon, cafes evolved into places that helped change the course of history. Before coffee houses arrived in London, the normal social gathering place was a pub or tavern.

Unsurprisingly, there emerged a distinct difference between the pub and the coffee house. Coffee houses encouraged sobriety, rational thought, and articulate political discussion. Whereas taverns merely provided a haven for irreverence and intoxication. The cafe wasn’t a place to escape the world and dull the senses, but rather a place to debate current events and create new ideas for how life should be. Until this time there did not exist a forum for the merchant or trading class to have such discussions.

The new coffeehouses became fashionable places to meet, conduct business, gossip, exchange ideas and debate the news of the day. Unlike public houses, no alcohol was served and women were excluded. Each coffeehouse had a particular clientele, usually defined by occupation, interest or attitude, such as Tories and Whigs, traders and merchants, poets and authors, and men of fashion and leisure. Naturally, the location of the coffee shops dictated much of who the clientele would be.

Not allowing women into coffee houses did cause a few problems for the establishments over the years. Their issues came to a head and were outlined in the “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” published in 1674.

Notably, it was more economical to visit a coffeehouse than an alehouse. At most conventional free houses, the proprietor usually pressured the customer to keep paying for pots of ale, whereas in the coffeehouse, “for a penny or two, you may spend two or three hours, have the shelter of a house, the warmth of a fire, the diversion of company, and all this without any grumbling or repining.”

A traveler to London in 1668 remarked, “coffee houses, which are very numerous in London, are extremely convenient. You have all manner of news there; you have a good fire, which you may sit by as long as you please; you have a dish of coffee; you meet your friends for the transaction of business, and all for a penny, if you don’t care to spend more.”

The cost of the coffee and the kind of educated discussions which typically took place in the coffee houses soon gave rise to the nickname ‘Penny Universities’.

POLLARDS INTERESTING FACT: Some men spent so much time at coffee houses, that their mail was delivered directly to the coffee house.


Coffee houses and business

Historically, all business was conducted in ale houses. With the introduction of coffee houses, this enabled business meetings to be conducted without the intervention of alcohol.
In the late 1600s, a coffee house owned by a man called Edward Lloyd became a popular meeting place for merchants, ship owners, ship captains, insurance brokers, and others involved in overseas trade. Because so many of his customers came to hear the latest business news, Mr. Lloyd began publishing the news in his own periodical. Soon he was making more from his newsletter than from his coffee. Insurance brokers in particular found his services so useful that they began meeting their clients at his coffee house, and soon they were renting booths in his shop. Even after Edward Lloyd’s death in 1713, insurance brokers continued to meet at the coffee house. By 1774, Lloyd’s had become a corporation owned by brokers and underwriters and had moved its quarters to the Royal Exchange. It eventually became the still-operating Lloyd’s of London insurance company.

Several other great British institutions can trace their roots back to these humble coffeehouses.

The London Stock Exchange had its beginnings in Jonathan’s Coffee House in 1698 where gentlemen met to set stock and commodity prices. Auctions in salesrooms attached to coffee houses were the beginnings of the great auction houses of Sotheby’s and Christies. Interestingly, the New York Stock Exchange in America also had its roots in a coffee house (The Tontine Coffee House, 1792)



Coffee controversy

The 18th century London coffee house was the center of controversy, in many ways. Being the place for political discussion and free speech, highly fuelled debates were commonplace.

The term ‘coffee-house politician’ referred to someone who spent all day cultivating pious opinions about matters of high state and sharing them with anyone who’d listen.

In another power battle with authority, similar to those discussed in Part One. The monarchy of Britain decided that risking these open conversations in coffee houses would eventually spark an uprising or conspiracy against the crown and other authorities. After several attempts to discourage the use of the establishments failed, King Charles II took further action.

In 1675 King Charles II of England wrote a proclamation to have all of the coffee houses shut down; however, after a struggle with the owners of the coffee houses and other businessmen the proclamation was overturn. The original proclamation from King Charles II is as below:

Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of Coffee-houses of late years set up and kept within this Kingdom, the Dominion of Wales, and Town of Berwick upon Tweed, and the great resort of Idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects: as well for that many Tradesmen and others, do therein misspend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise be imployed in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs; but also, for that in such Houses…divers False, Halitious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majestie’s Government, and to the disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; His Majesty hath thought it fit and necessary, That the said Coffee-Houses be (for the future) Put down and Suppressed, and doth…Strictly Charge and Command all manner of persons, That they or any of them do not presume from and after the Tenth Day of January next ensuing, to keep any Publick Coffee-house, or to Utter or sell by retail, in his, her or their house or houses (to be spent or consumed within the same) any Coffee, Chocolet, Sherbett or Tea, as they will answer the contrary at their utmost perils…(All licenses formerly granted to be revoked).

Given at our court at Whitehall, this Nine-and-twentieth day of December 1675, in the Seven and twentieth year of Our Reign.


Source: Ellis, Aytoun. The Penny University: A History of the Coffee-Houses. (London: Seeker & Warburg, 1956)


The Espresso Revolution

As coffee became more widely used and known, many new inventions were introduced to the process of brewing coffee. So many, in fact, that there is a museum in London (the Bramah Museum of Tea & Coffee) that has displays. The original European and American coffee houses served traditional black coffee. The method used then was by steeping the grounds in near boiling water. But in the early 1900’s there came about a new method that would revolutionize the coffee industry.


In Italy, Luigi Bezzera filed a patent for a machine that pushed steam and water through a “group” that held the coffee grounds in a filter. For those of you with Barista Training, then this may be a familiar idea. This method increased the speed of making the coffee dramatically. Decreasing the brewing time of 4 minutes down to about 20 seconds. The drink was named after the speed in which it could be made, hence the name espresso. Unfortunately, the coffee tasted bitter because the steam was too hot. This would require a few more years of experimenting but it was a step towards the more familiar drink that we have today.

Through more fine tuning of the idea, from Cremonesi to Rosetta Scorza to Achille Gaggia in 1946, Italy now had the piston lever espresso machine. These machines were far easier to use and safer than earlier models previously adopted. The Gaggia Coffee Bar in Italy was the first location to use these machines and to offer espresso along with the regular coffee. With the introduction of these machines, the modern age of coffee houses were born. Today, we have almost fully automatic machines that can do everything, from grinding the coffee, to pouring the completed drink into the glass.


Coffee in 1900’s Britain

Consumer behaviour was changing on all fronts throughout the 1900’s. Since the world wars especially. Social circles reduced in size, money was tight and people valued staying at home increasingly more often. In response, industries had to change to suit this. Money was ploughed into technological developments during the wars, and many discoveries and creations were adapted for general sale afterwards in the rebuilding economy. All kinds of inventions were made during this time, as the war time education and discoveries were adapted for general use, and people started to rebuild. It was during this time that products such as instant coffee were first made, along with many other coffee related things.

As inventions and developments in the home made it a more comfortable place to spend time, pubs or coffee houses became less attractive to the masses. Having amenities at home grew in popularity, and inventions really changed the way the home was run. Families wanted to spend time together in the home instead of socialising separately, so leisure time became orientated more towards the home. This social behavioural change, impacted consumption of coffee. The bonds of neighbourhoods and community loosened.

Coffee shops started to suffer, prices increased to combat this, and the visit to a cafe was turning more into a ‘treat’ or a ‘leisure activity’ rather than an everyday occurrence. Mostly because consumers could now make coffee at home and they now got news from the television and other sources. The idea of starting a conversation with a stranger in the local coffee house slowly became almost unheard of, as the decades advanced.

This was a trend correlating through most industries. And so, customer service and the ‘service revolution’ began. Within the sector, cafes had to introduce exciting food or additional services to entice custom. This is still the case today, where things such as WiFi are what differentiates one cafe to another. We expect more service for our money.


The future for coffee houses

In recent years, things have shown signs of yet more change which could impact the future for the coffee house.

As the population in the UK has grown exponentially in recent years, the architecture and design of housing has begun to change. We have more possessions than ever before, contrasting with having less space which will soon force change. We are transitioning possessions to online or remote storage and our living space is decreasing. In cities especially, with things such as communal living and small flats, we now spend less time at home than before. Focusing on leisure, and even work, more than historically. Use of libraries has increased tenfold for example. Economically this is good for the service based industries and is positive for the survival of things such as the coffee shop.

Cafes are changing to suit the needs of potential clientele once again. Offering WiFi, food, green initiatives, inspiring workspaces, even board games and events evenings and space for social group meetings such as book clubs. Undoubtably further changes are to come.

The industry will always face challenges, from: imports, monarchs against politics, women against segregation and the social behaviour and expectations we have covered in this blog series. Now the online revolution and the suffering of the high street is the latest challenge. But overall, coffee has endured through the times and the supply chain and consumer have both been adaptable enough to weather the changes.


Whether you prefer the wide-spread chains or the local independent coffee house, you’re taking a step into a long history of coffee each time you stop for a latte.


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