With English Tea being a very familiar term, English coffee may seem as contrary a term as Arctic bananas; however, England's impact on the coffee trade and the world of business is undeniable. The history of English coffee began in 1650 at Oxford University when a Lebanese immigrant opened the first coffeehouse on campus.
Initially, coffee was seen as novelty and a snake oil, if you will, as the proprietor touted many incredible medical claims. His English coffee was said to aid in digestion, cure headaches, coughs, dropsy, gout, scurvy and even prevent miscarriages. About the only claim that was accurate was that English coffee prevented drowsiness.
By 1700, however, coffee had become a very popular beverage and there were more than two thousand coffeehouses in London. Coffeehouses occupied more retail space and paid more rent than any other trade. They came to be known as Penny Universities, because for the price of a cup of coffee, one penny, a person could sit for hours and engage in stimulating conversation with educated people.
Each coffeehouse specialized in a different clientele. In one, physicians could be consulted. Other's catered to lawyers, actors, army officers, or clergy. English coffee became the beverage of business and one coffeehouse in particular grew into one of the worlds largest and most well known companies. Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse catered primarily to seafarers and merchants and he regularly prepared "ships' lists" for underwriters who met there to offer insurance to the ship captains. And so began Lloyd's of London, the famous insurance company.
Prior to the popularity of English coffee, beer, or ale, was the morning beverage of choice among the working class. The pubs and taverns were filled early in the morning with workers who stopped in for a few pints of camaraderie before heading off to the factories and shops around London.
One English writer wrote in 1624, "They flock to the taverns to dizzy their brains and a productionless society is the result." Fifty years later another writer credited English coffee with stimulating the economy as he wrote, "Coffee drinking hath caused a greater sobriety than has ever been seen in the business of London."
By the late 18th century the buzz of English coffee subsided and tea became the preferred British drink, due much in part to the outcry of women, who were excluded from the all-male society of the coffeehouse and complained loudly. A group of angry coffeehouse widows filed a petition with the English government to ban coffee on the grounds that their men were never at home and their duties as husband and father were being neglected. English coffee was not banned but the outcry did have repercussions on the coffeehouse business and men returned to the taverns instead.
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