The English Coffee Invasion
When in 1650 a Levantine Jew named Jacob opened the first café at Oxford University “for those who enjoy a novelty,” coffee spread over England like a black flood. Two years later, a Greek named Pasqua Rosée opened a café in London and published the first coffee advertisement. In this promotional brochure “The Virtues of Drinking COFFEE” rendered in a simplistic way, he explains that it is roasted in an oven, crushed to a powder and boiled in water, and advises to consume hot, “one-half beer glass one hour before the meal and as much as you can take one hour after the meal.”
Pasqua Rosée made exaggerated medical claims. The 1652 advertisement alleged that coffee aided digestion, cured such illnesses as headache, cough, tuberculosis, edema, scurvy, and prevented abortions. In a more practical vein, he noted that if a guard is on duty, coffee’s attribute of preventing drowsiness can prepare him for his work and, in the same vein, when he is not on duty he should not drink it after the evening meal as it will prevent sleep for 3-4 hours.
Coffee and cafes took London by storm. During the 1700s there were more than 2000 cafes In London, exceeding the number of all other rented workplaces combined. Cafes were know as as “penny universities” because for that amount one could buy one cup of coffee and listen to extraordinary discussions or, as indicated in a 1657 advertisement, social chats. Every café had its distinct customer profile. In one of them one could meet doctors. Others were for Protestants, Puritans, Catholics, Jews, writers, tradesmen, fops and dandies, Liberal Party members, Conservative Party members, soldiers, actors, lawyers, architects, and comedians. Cafes became England’s first egalitarian meeting places where one could chat with the others at his table whether he knew them or not.
Edward Lloyd’s establishment catered particularly to seamen and traders. Lloyd was preparing orderly ship manifests for the insurance men who came there to promote their services. In this way, the renowned insurance company Lloyds of London was born. Other cafes, the bourse, the clearinghouse of London banks, brought about such newspapers as The Tattler and The Spectator.
Before coffee arrived on the scene, the English generally consumed alcohol like Falstaff (after Shakespeare’s fat jolly and inebriated knight in Henry IV). One English commentator expressed his complaints saying, “I can drink to excess everywhere! How they fill the drinking houses! Here they lose their heads and fill their brains with foam.” Fifty years later someone else said that coffee drinking had brought sobriety to nations, and noted that apprentices and officials and others used to quench their thirst in the morning by drinking wine and beer, which “befuddled their brains and made them unsuited for work,” while with this “sobering and civilizing” drink they acted like good fellows. Not all the cafes were cheerful places and generally they were smoky, high-energy, capitalist gathering spots. Another writer from that time commented that every one of them he visited resembled a community of mice plundering bits of cheese spread from an abandoned cheese shop. He said that people were coming in and going out, some were writing, others were talking, drinking or smoking and some were arguing and, from the smell of cigar smoke, exactly resembled that of a cabin on a lifeboat.
The biggest outbursts against the cafes of London came from women who, unlike the women in Europe, were excluded by this male society (if they were not property owners). In 1674, the “Women’s Petition against the Cafes” in which they expressed their complaints that the “Old English Vigour” had diminished appreciably … from the fact that the men no longer were wearing breeches at all and they had lost their fortitude. The situation was blamed on “extreme use of the barbarous, ungodly new drink fashion coffee that is… emasculating our husbands and corrupting our gentlemen … and the cause of their “snotty noses, crooked knees and pricked ears.”
The Women’s Petition revealed that the typical male was going in the morning to the drinking house where he drank until he got tight as an owl, then to the café to drink coffee and sober up. Next he would go back to the drinking house to to recover from the coffee. In response, the men defended their drinking saying that they were doing this to avoid impotence, that coffee assured a stronger erection, increased the amount of sperm and added spirituality to the sperm.
On 29 December of 1675, King Charles II published a proclamation to close the cafes. In this proclamation, because the cafes had caused the shopkeepers to “neglect their duties” and were “dens for footloose characters and insurgents,” they were forbidden as of 10 January 1676. But the worst blow in this situation came after several faulty, ill-disposed documents that were brought out and passed around opened the way to a scandal in His Majesty’s Government that threatened the King’s Peace.
Suddenly everywhere in London there was a big clamor. Within one week it was understood once more that the king could be toppled like a cup of coffee. On 8 January, two days after the king’s decree had had been put into force, he cancelled it.
Ironically however, at the turn of the 18th Century the English started to drink tea instead of coffee. In 1730, when the big new teagardens of that era had the added attraction of being open to the common people, men and women and children, many of the cafes were turned into men’s clubs or restaurants. One difference that put tea over coffee was that it was easy to prepare and did not need to be freshly roasted and pounded. (It was also easy to profit a little more by mixing in other substances.) At the same time, England had started to conquer India and they too focused more on planting tea than coffee. The Honourable East India Company gained a monopoly on tea and smugglers brought down the price of tea. Additionally, the English had never really learned how to make a proper coffee and the milk they added was spoiled. Therefore, although this black drink did not completely disappear in England, its use continued to decline until recent times.