The Coffee House – A History

In 1662, the “Great Turk Coffee House” opened, “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.’” 5 Not only did the coffee catch on among the people, but so did some of the Turkish culture. Some people began to wear turbans in the coffee houses.

Possibly because of the Islamic culture, and for other reasons, coffee houses were viewed as a place for renegades of Christianity. The new interest in other cultures continued past the fascination of the Middle East all of the way to the Orient. The Georgian period is marked by an Asian influence in art, literature, and academics.

Coffee houses caught on very quickly, so by 1663 there were more than 83 coffee houses in London. By the beginning of the eighteenth century there were as many as five or six hundred.2 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.” 2 Some very famous companies even started as coffee houses. Lloyds of London, an insurance brokerage company, began as Edward Lloyd’s coffee house on Tower Street around 1688.

Today when we think of a coffee shop, we think of Starbucks. However, the coffee shops of the past were drastically different with their Middle Eastern culture. One thing they have in common is the social aspect, a place for discussion of new ideas, and that is what we’ll look at next month.

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