Friday, June 25, 2021

Coffee House Culture

 From The Seventeenth Century Lady:

In England, under Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime, drunkenness was considered an ungodly sin but, at the time, as for centuries before, ale or beer were the safest drinks. Water might be a more godly drink but the danger of swallowing disease-causing agents with every mouthful was understood, even if microbes wouldn’t be discovered for another two centuries.

Therefore, the earliest imports of a new beverage—coffee—at the beginning of the seventeenth century escalated after Cromwell came to power, bringing a safe non-alcoholic drink to the sober Puritans. No one seems to have realised—except perhaps Newton—that what was common to both beer brewing and coffee-making was the boiling of the water, thus making them safe to drink.

The first coffee-house in the Christian world opened in London in the 1650s, during the Commonwealth. Coffee had originated in the mountains of Ethiopia and gradually spread through the Muslim world of the Ottoman Empire, a suitable non-alcoholic beverage.

European merchants brought it home and its quality as a stimulant was quickly realised. Physicians were soon recommending coffee’s medicinal virtues as a cure-all and even an aphrodisiac—for men only. Dr William Harvey, famous for working out how blood circulated, used to drink coffee with his brother Elias and the ritual was so much a part of their lives, William bequeathed his coffee pot to Elias in his will. Although the Harveys drank their coffee at home, the new idea of a public house which served coffee, rather than alcohol, soon became popular with the Puritans, especially in London.

A coffee-house was not only a place to buy refreshment; it was a social event, a male-only meeting place. Another recent innovation was available there too: newspapers for customers to read and share. For those who could not read, articles would be read aloud and the subject matter discussed at length over the coffee. Coffee-houses served as libraries and debating chambers; they provided periodicals—the Tatler and the Spectator both began here. Customers usually paid a penny for a cup and coffee-houses were sometimes called ‘penny universities’, reflecting the intellectual stimulation visitors could expect. (Read more.)

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