Coffee Timeline Coffee Discovered in Ethiopia Coffee in the Arab World Coffee Reaches Europe The Coffeehouse Phenomenon Which is Modern? Bibliography
The Coffeehouse Phenomenon in Britain.

The first coffeehouse is Britain appeared in Oxford during the mid seventeenth century. Within a few years the first coffeehouse in London opened, and over the next few decades coffeehouses would spread throughout the island. Whether in Oxford, London or the provinces, the new coffeehouses were first seen as novelties but invariably became "essential institutions"14. of the British Empire.

As coffeehouses proliferated in Britain, they became places to regularly conduct business in an age before offices. Before the coffeehouse, business was transacted mostly in "…the [London] Exchange or markets, the coffeehouse satisfied the functions of mailroom, boardroom, desk space, and of course, cafeteria."15. Lloyds of London started when insurers and bankers met merchants and ship owners in a coffeehouse near the docks where coffee was imported from the Near East (Yemen, Turkey, North Africa) and the Far East (Ceylon and Java). The author of Coffee House Civility 1660-1714, Lawrence E. Klein, describes the inextricable link between the coffeehouse and the coffee trade: the coffeehouse by virtue of its premier product, tied it to the great trade with the East, and the phenomenon of coffeehouse inseparable from broader commercial trends in Restoration and eighteenth century England.16.

14. Lawrence E. Klein, "Coffeehouse Civility, 1660-1714: An Aspect of Post Courtly Culture in England," Huntington Library Quarterly 59, no 1(1997): 31.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.

Charles II, 1650

Prior to the coffeehouse, Britons met in inns, taverns and alehouses, where they enjoyed "food, drink, and sociability."17. In the coffeehouse, they met for sociability, yes, but the coffeehouse’s identity was as a place for discussions of "general interest and public import."18. Coffeehouses were places where the "Dutch, Danes, Turks, and Jews"19. could make contact. They were places where unsupervised circulation for news, either by word-of-mouth or in the printed form flowed freely. Anyone who could afford the one penny for a cup of coffee could sit all day and partake in endless discussions on politics, philosophy, and theology. The term "Penny University"20. was used to describe the how the uneducated masses were becoming versed on topics previously reserved for the gentile classes.

This made Charles II and his court very nervous. In 1660, the Duke of Newcastle wrote up recommendations for Charles II on limiting the activities permissible in coffeehouses: "There should be no disputations except in universities. There should be no books of religious or political controversy except those written in Latin. On the other hand, all books of prayer and piety should be in English. There should be no books written at all except by divines or academically certified ‘philosophers.’ Any book that many make the least rent in church or state should immediately condemned and burnt by the hangman, and the author should be severely punished even to death."21. During this period, the suppression of coffeehouses was considered on several occasions. In 1675, Charles II made a proclamation against the coffeehouses "on the grounds that coffeehouses attracted idle and disaffected persons and spawned false, malicious, and scandalous reports to the defamation of His Majesty’s Government."22. The coffeehouse owners successfully protested, and the proclamation was reversed within one week.

17. Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 32.
18. Ibid.
19. Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 36.
20. Today, near universities throughout the English-speaking world, one can find coffeehouses bearing the name "Penny University."
21. Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 39. Quoting Thomas P. Slaughter’s Ideology and Politics on the Eve of Restoration: Newcastle’s Advice to Charles II (Philadelphia, 1984), 21. Slaughter declared that he paraphrased Newcastle’s "rather irregular English usage."
22. Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 40.