- the what - where-when
by Peter & Colleen Grove

Introduction &

Dean Mahomed


email for any queries or comments





























Antony Wood writes in Athenae Oxonienses (1691) that the first coffee house opened in Oxford in 1651:-

"Jacob, a Jew, opened a Coffee house at the Angel, in the Parish of St Peter in the East, Oxon, and there it was by some, who delighted in the novelty, drank. "

By 1652, at the time of the Restoration, the first coffee house was opened in London and soon became a focus for the cultural ferment in England. In fact, coffee houses become such a popular forum for the intelligensia that they were dubbed 'penny universities,' a penny being the price of a cup of coffee. As a testament to the influence of these places, Edward Lloyd's coffee house which was opened in 1668 and frequented by merchants and maritime insurance agents eventually became Lloyd's of London - the best known insurance company in the world.

A fateful decision made by the East India company to import tea instead of coffee led to the demise of the Coffee House and England's 'Cafi Culture.' But for that event, coffee could have been the UK's national drink.

By 1663 it is recorded that there were 82 coffee houses in London and by 1700 there were 3000. The popularity of these establishments led to certain opposition. For example 'The Women's Petition Against Coffee' was set up and it claimed in 1674 that coffee:-

... made men as unfruitful as the deserts whence the unhappy berry is said to be brought.

In the following year King Charles II tried to rid London of its coffee houses with an edict :-

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 the 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 as that many tradesmen and others do therein misspend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise be employed in and about their lawful callings and affairs, but also for that in such houses, and by occasion of the meeting of such persons therein, many false, malicious, and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad, to the deformation of his Majesty's government and to the disturbance of the peace and quiet of the realm, his Majesty has thought it fit and necessary that the said coffee houses be for the future put down and suppressed.

The edict went on to ban the sale of coffee, chocolate, sherbet and tea in coffee houses or private homes. The outcry was such that Charles decided to back off and no further mention was made of his edict.

Different coffee houses acted as the meeting place for different groups of people. In fact many people would give a particular coffee house as the address where they might be contacted. For example Child's Coffee House near Gresham College, was frequented by the clergy. Lloyd's Coffee House, founded by Edward Lloyd of Tower street had ship owners and merchants as customers and acted as a hub through which news about ships was passed. It moved to Lombard Street in 1692 and eventually moved into insurance and became Lloyd's of London.

The Grecian, as the name might suggest, attracted those interested in philosophy and other academic disciplines. Macaulay wrote:-

Those who wished to find a gentleman commonly asked, not whether he lived in Fleet Street or Chancery Lane, but whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow.

The second coffee house mentioned in this quote is the Rainbow, the second oldest coffee house in London, opened by James Farr in Fleet Street in 1657.

Another quote by one who frequented the Grecian is the following:-

While other parts of the town are amused with the present actions, we generally spend the evening at this table in inquiries into antiquity, and think anything news which gives us new knowledge.

In Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C Shelley one reads:-

Men of science as well as scholars gave liberal patronage to the Grecian. It was a common thing for meetings of the Royal Society to be continued in a social way at this coffee-house, the president, Sir Isaac Newton, being frequently of the parties. Hither, too, came Professor Halley, the great astronomer, to meet his friends on his weekly visit to London from Oxford ...

Jonathan's Coffee House, in Exchange Alley, had merchants as customers and is now considered as having developed into the London Stock Exchange. Hooke and Wren were often in Jonathan's taking part in scientific discussions.

Slaughter's Coffee House in St Martin's Lane was established in 1692. It was famed as a centre for chess players but it was also a popular place for those seeking mathematical advice. Abraham de Moivre was considered the resident mathematician at Slaughter's. He would give advice on risk, or chance of loss as he called it.

Dating from 1802, the term café comes from the French 'café' (meaning 'coffee' or 'coffeehouse') and the Italian 'caffe' (also meaning 'coffee'.) In 1839 'caféteria' had been coined in American English from Mexican Spanish to indicate a coffee-store. But the café has been reinvented many times over the centuries.

From 1675, a thousand or so coffee houses flowered during the reigns of Charles II, Queen Anne and George I. By the 19th century however, coffee houses had become exclusive clubs as a prolific press and an efficient post and transport system undermined the function of the coffee houses as centres of communication.

Sometimes coffee houses were used for more formal educational activities such as lectures, more commonly they provided a base for clubs and societies - including debating clubs. The first of these is supposed to have been based at Mile's Coffee House, at the sign of the Turk's Head in New Palace Yard in 1659.

William Lovett noted that around a quarter of the 2000 London coffee houses had libraries - some of which had as many as 2000 volumes. Coffee Houses also, traditionally, supplied newspapers for customers to read.

So far as is known the first coffee house in the Piazza (Covent Garden) was the Bedford, established at No. 14 in 1726. Coffee houses were soon increasing in number, probably because of the growth of custom from the patrons and hangers-on of the two neighbouring theatres. The Piazza Coffee House was in fact founded by the actor, Charles Macklin, in 1754. 'The Piazza: The Social Decline of the Piazza', Survey of London tells us :

The earliest account of the existence of a coffee-house in the capital is found in a 1652 reference to a Ragusian man-servant known as Pasqua Rosee. Mr Rosee had been brought to England from Ottoman Smyrna by his former employer, Mr Daniel Edwards, a "Turkey merchant" (one who dealt in coffee and other such luxury items). After a falling out with his boss, Pasqua Rosee then teamed up and went into business with another employee of Mr Edwards', his old coachman. The two unlikely business partners proceeded to establish a coffee-house in Cornhill, known in some accounts as "The Turk's Head". It is claimed that this is how coffee first came to these sceptred isles, about 100 years after the first coffee-houses opened in Turkey. However, the Elizabethan essayist Francis Bacon, in his Historia Vitae et Mortis, which was published as early as 1605, warned the public against the dangerous properties of coffee and this implies that some contact at least had existed prior to the establishing of the actual coffee-house.

Up to 57 different "Turk's Head" coffee-houses were recorded in one form or other. We also find "The Jerusalem Coffee-house"; various types of the "Blackamoor" or "Ye Blackmore's Head"; "The Oriental Cigar Divan"; "The Saracen's Head" (of Dickens fame); "The Africa and Senegal Coffee-house"; "The Sultaness"; "The Sultan's Head"; "Solyman's Coffee House"; "Morat Ye Great", and many, many more examples can be found, among them the first Indian restaurant of London, "The Hindoostanee" of 1810.

The "Great Turk Coffee House" (also known as "Morat Ye Great") in Exchange Alley in 1662 is a case in point. Apparently, inside could be found a bust of "Sultan Almurath IV" himself, "the most detestable tyrant that ever ruled the Ottoman Empire". The customer could not only find coffee, tea and tobacco here, but also chocolate and a range of sherbets, which, according to the Mercurius Publicus (12-19 March 1662), were "made in Turkie; made of lemons, roses, and violets perfumed". Another chronicler of the time has suggested that "Morat" was actually the name of the proprietor himself.

The Character of a Coffee-House

  And if you see the great Morat

  With shash on's head instead of hat,

  Or any Sultan in his dress,

  Or picture of a Sultaness,

  Or John's admired curl'd pate,

  Or th' great Mogul in's Chair of State,

  Or Constantine the Grecian,

  Who 14 years was th' only man

  That made coffee for th' great Bashaw,

  Although the man he never saw;

  Of if you see a coffee-cup

  Filled from a Turkish pot, hung up

  Withing the clouds, and round it Pipes,

  Wax candles, stoppers, these are types

  And certain signs (with many more

  Would be too long to write them ore'),

  Which plainly do spectators tell

  That in that house they coffee sell.

  [Anonymous, 1665]