Coffee Houses, a History by Laurie Alice Eakes
This post contains a contest.
Read to the end to find out how to enter.
Just now, I asked Siri to find me coffee houses (shops) near me. She found fifteen within 1.1 miles, which seems to be the maximum number of places she finds at one time, so possibly more exist here in the heart of Houston, Texas within 1.1 miles or slightly further. In the past twenty years, coffee houses, shops as we call them now, are ubiquitous and great places to meet people. I’ve been known to interview prospective personal assistants at coffee shops because it’s a public place. In doing so, I follow a tradition as old as the coffee house.
My interest in the history of coffee houses grew after I discovered a slightly battered and horribly dusty copy of a book entitled Gentlemen of the Coffee-House, while I was exploring the shelves of a tiny used bookstore in Winchester, Virginia. This book was published in 1934. The tale of the social institution of the coffee house over the previous three hundred years fascinated me, a confessed coffee addict and lover of coffee shops.
|18th century coffee house found on wikipedia
Long before Starbucks and its competitors became ubiquitous, coffeehouses reigned as meeting places for friends, sites of commerce and breeding rounds for political intrigue. The first coffeehouse opened in Oxford, England in 1650 and in London two years later. By the time of the Restoration in 1660, Englishmen were meeting over this stimulating beverage instead of just intoxicating beverages. Coffeehouses were so important that mention of frequenting one are near the first of the entries of Samuel Pepys’ famousdiary.
Pepys and his fellow Englishmen took their leisure in the coffeehouse to discuss everything from politics, to literature, to science. Soon, the coffeehouse became a place of business. Many businessmen kept regular hours at a favorite establishment and clients knew to find them there. For a few pence, a body could receive his mail at a coffeehouse.
So important did coffeehouses become that King Charles II issued an edict to shut them down in 1675. He called them “seminaries of sedition”. The outcry against the order grew so boisterous that he rescinded the edict mere days later.
In many ways, Charles II was proved right about sedition breeding in the coffeehouse. As the popularity of the coffeehouse spread across the Atlantic to America, they became places where colonists met to plan rebellion against the Crown. The Green Dragon in Boston is known for the site in which the concept of the Boston Tea Party was planned. Today, one can get a taste of an eighteenth century coffeehouse at Charlton’s Coffeehouse. Not far from the capitol, this small, unpretentious establishment surely echoes with many a whisper and then a cry for independence.
Possibly the most famous of all coffeehouses is Lloyds of London. Yes, that Lloyds, the insurance company. In 1685, Edward Lloyd opened a coffeehouse. Over the years, Lloyds became a place for men to gather to obtain shipping news. Eventually, these merchants began to insure the cargoes of these ships traveling the globe for new sources of commerce, until Lloyds grew into the insurance company not merely insuring cargoes, but pretty much anything else, including the first civilian to go into space (and sadly die at the explosion of Columbia shortly after blast-off).
For the contest:
Leave a comment about coffee, tea, or your beverage of choice and where you like to enjoy it, (and your e-mail address, please) and you will be entered in a drawing to win either a Kindle or print copy of A Flight of Fancy, where a famous London coffee house is mentioned. (USA only for the print version.) Contest ends at 11:59 CDT, August 16, 2013. Please check back to learn the name of the winner, as many people forget to leave their e-mail address, which makes getting in touch with winners difficult.