Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Early Coffee-Houses in London


Coffee is thus mentioned by Bacon, in his Sylva Sylvarum:—"They have in Turkey a drink called Coffee, made of a Berry of the same name, as Black as Soot, and of a Strong Sent, but not Aromatical; which they take, beaten into Powder, in Water, as Hot as they can Drink it; and they take it, and sit at it in their Coffee Houses, which are like our Taverns. The Drink comforteth the Brain, and Heart, and helpeth Digestion."

And in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, part i., sec. 2, occurs, "Turks in their coffee-houses, which much resemble our taverns." The date is 1621, several years before coffee-houses were introduced into England.

In 1650, Wood tells us, was opened at Oxford, the first coffee-house, by Jacobs, a Jew, "at the Angel, in the parish of St. Peter in the East; and there it was, by some who delighted in novelty, drank."

There was once an odd notion prevalent that coffee was unwholesome, and would bring its drinkers to an untimely end. Yet, Voltaire, Fontenelle, and Fourcroy, who were great coffee-drinkers, lived to a good old age. Laugh at Madame de Sévigné, who foretold that coffee and Racine would be forgotten together!

A manuscript note, written by Oldys, the celebrated antiquary, states that "The use of coffee in England was first known in 1657. [It will be seen, as above, that Oldys is incorrect.] Mr. Edwards, a Turkey merchant, brought from Smyrna to London one Pasqua Rosee, a Ragusan youth, who prepared this drink for him every morning. But the novelty thereof drawing too much company to him, he allowed his said servant, with another of his son-in-law, to sell it publicly, and they set up the first coffee-house in London, in St. Michael's alley, in Cornhill. The sign was Pasqua Rosee's own head." Oldys is slightly in error here; Rosee commenced his coffee-house in 1652, and one Jacobs, a Jew, as we have just seen, had established a similar undertaking at Oxford, two years earlier. One of Rosee's original shop or hand-bills, the only mode of advertising in those days, is as follows:—


"First made and publickly sold in England by Pasqua Rosee.

"The grain or berry called coffee, groweth upon little trees only in the deserts of Arabia. It is brought from thence, and drunk generally throughout all the Grand Seignour's dominions. It is a simple, innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dried in an oven, and ground to powder, and boiled up with spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk fasting an hour before, and not eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured; the which will never fetch the skin off the mouth, or raise any blisters by reason of that heat.

"The Turks' drink at meals and other times is usually water, and their diet consists much of fruit; the crudities whereof are very much corrected by this drink.

"The quality of this drink is cold and dry; and though it be a drier, yet it neither heats nor inflames more than hot posset. It so incloseth the orifice of the stomach, and fortifies the heat within, that it is very good to help digestion; and therefore of great use to be taken about three or four o'clock afternoon, as well as in the morning. It much quickens the spirits, and makes the heart lightsome; it is good against sore eyes, and the better if you hold your head over it and take in the steam that way. It suppresseth fumes exceedingly, and therefore is good against the head-ache, and will very much stop any defluxion of rheums, that distil from the head upon the stomach, and so prevent and help consumptions and the cough of the lungs.

"It is excellent to prevent and cure the dropsy, gout,[1] and scurvy. It is known by experience to be better than any other drying drink for people in years, or children that have any running humours upon them, as the king's evil, &c. It is a most excellent remedy against the spleen, hypochondriac winds, and the like. It will prevent drowsiness, and make one fit for business, if one have occasion to watch, and therefore you are not to drink of it after supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for three or four hours.

"It is observed that in Turkey, where this is generally drunk, that they are not troubled with the stone, gout, dropsy, or scurvy, and that their skins are exceeding clear and white. It is neither laxative nor restringent.

"Made and sold in St. Michael's-alley, in Cornhill, by Pasqua Rosee, at the sign of his own head."

The new beverage had its opponents, as well as its advocates. The following extracts from An invective against Coffee, published about the same period, informs us that Rosee's partner, the servant of Mr. Edwards's son-in-law, was a coachman; while it controverts the statement that hot coffee will not scald the mouth, and ridicules the broken English of the Ragusan:—


"A coachman was the first (here) coffee made,

And ever since the rest drive on the trade:

'Me no good Engalash!' and sure enough,

He played the quack to salve his Stygian stuff;

'Ver boon for de stomach, de cough, de phthisick.'

I believe him, for it looks like physic.

Coffee a crust is charred into a coal,

The smell and taste of the mock china bowl;

Where huff and puff, they labour out their lungs,

Lest, Dives-like, they should bewail their tongues.

And yet they tell ye that it will not burn,

Though on the jury blisters you return;

Whose furious heat does make the water rise,

And still through the alembics of your eyes.

Dread and desire, you fall to 't snap by snap,

As hungry dogs do scalding porridge lap.

But to cure drunkards it has got great fame;

Posset or porridge, will 't not do the same?

Confusion hurries all into one scene,

Like Noah's ark, the clean and the unclean.

And now, alas! the drench has credit got,

And he's no gentleman that drinks it not;

That such a dwarf should rise to such a stature!

But custom is but a remove from nature.

A little dish and a large coffee-house,

What is it but a mountain and a mouse?"

Notwithstanding this opposition, coffee soon became a favourite drink, and the shops, where it was sold, places of general resort.

There appears to have been a great anxiety that the Coffee-house, while open to all ranks, should be conducted under such restraints as might prevent the better class of customers from being annoyed. Accordingly, the following regulations, printed on large sheets of paper, were hung up in conspicuous positions on the walls:—

"Enter, Sirs, freely, but first, if you please,

Peruse our civil orders, which are these.

First, gentry, tradesmen, all are welcome hither,

And may without affront sit down together:

Pre-eminence of place none here should mind,

But take the next fit seat that he can find:

Nor need any, if finer persons come,

Rise up for to assign to them his room;

To limit men's expense, we think not fair,

But let him forfeit twelve-pence that shall swear:

He that shall any quarrel here begin,

Shall give each man a dish t' atone the sin;

And so shall he, whose compliments extend

So far to drink in coffee to his friend;

Let noise of loud disputes be quite forborne,

Nor maudlin lovers here in corners mourn,

But all be brisk and talk, but not too much;

On sacred things, let none presume to touch,

Nor profane Scripture, nor saucily wrong

Affairs of state with an irreverent tongue:

Let mirth be innocent, and each man see

That all his jests without reflection be;

To keep the house more quiet and from blame,

We banish hence cards, dice, and every game;

Nor can allow of wagers, that exceed

Five shillings, which ofttimes do troubles breed;

Let all that's lost or forfeited be spent

In such good liquor as the house doth vent.

And customers endeavour, to their powers,

For to observe still, seasonable hours.

Lastly, let each man what he calls for pay,

And so you're welcome to come every day."

In a print of the period, five persons are shown in a coffee-house, one smoking, evidently, from their dresses, of different ranks of life; they are seated at a table, on which are small basins without saucers, and tobacco-pipes, while a waiter is serving the coffee.

[1] In the French colonies, where Coffee is more used than in the English, Gout is scarcely known.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. II
London, 1866