The London Coffeehouse

My hero in The Raven Prince, Edward de Raaf, spends much of his time in a rather disreputable coffeehouse—the meeting place of the Agrarian Society.. There, Edward argues with his friends, Harry Pye and Simon Iddesleigh, debates Modern Agricultural Methods, observes the odd brawl and, of course, drinks coffee…

Coffeehouses

Coffee was brought to England in the early 1600’s, and by 1652 the first coffeehouse had opened in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, London. It was an immediate success and soon coffeehouses were popping up all over London. For a fee of one penny, a gentleman could read the daily newsletters and bulletins and smoke his clay pipe whilst drinking coffee. 

Because they were popular gathering places for men of all ranks, coffeehouses became associated with political, theological and social debate. This led to the coffeehouses being differentiated by their clientele. For instance, Garraway’s, which was near the Royal Exchange, was the gathering place of merchants. The Cocoa-Tree–which, despite its name, served mostly coffee–was in Westminster and was patronized by Tories. If you were a Whig, you would naturally drink your coffee at the St. James. And Will’s Coffee-house in Covent Gardens was frequented by poets, including Alexander Pope and Samuel Pepys. 

All this time spent in coffeehouses roused the ire of the fairer sex and in 1674, a Women’s Petition Against Coffee was published in which it was asserted that drinking coffee had a deleterious effect on a gentleman’s sexual potency. In the Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition against Coffee, the gentlemen coffee drinkers retorted that coffee was, in fact, an aphrodisiac.

In any case, the gentlemen of the day refused to give up their coffee. Eventually, some Georgian coffeehouses evolved into institutions more familiar to the Regency romance reader. White’s Chocolate House burned to the ground in 1773, but was reborn as…White’s Club. Brook’s, Arthur’s and Boodle’s were also private gentlemen’s clubs descended from coffeehouses.

So when next you order a cup of coffee at Starbucks, remember you are engaging in a tradition over three centuries old!

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