The coffee house, which originated in the Middle East around 1511, began simply as a place to enjoy an exotic drink, coffee, but soon evolved into a place that helped change the course of history. Before coffee houses arrived in London, the normal social gathering place was a pub or tavern. The first attraction to coffee might have been its newness or the exhilaration from the caffeine, but quickly it became another reason to meet, and the coffee house was a place for socializing.
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.” 4
Some men spent so much time there that their mail was delivered directly to the coffee house! An interesting fact is that almost every coffee house allowed only male patrons, women being relegated to the home or elsewhere for coffee. Not allowing women into these coffee houses did cause a few problems, which were outlined in the “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” published in 1674. Really a mock petition, but rumors and claims against coffee drinking could have been taken serious whether or not they were true. And as stated in the previous quote, they charged only a penny for a cup of black coffee! This gave rise to their nickname, “Penny Universities.”