Appreciate The History Of Our Coffee Culture

There is rarely anything I learn at university interesting enough to put on the internet, sadly, but yesterday was an exception. I was very excited about my upcoming English workshop because it was all about the history of coffee and the way in which coffee houses in the 17th Century infiltrated – and in many ways kept going – newspapers such as Tatler and The Spectator. I never realised just how far back our coffee-obsession went.

The ubiquitous sight of people sat in Starbucks or Costa tapping away at their laptops was something that truly began in the 1600s, only in a slightly different form. People back then would pay a penny for a coffee and meet up at coffee houses to have (supposedly) civilised conversation about literature, philosophy or finances (religion and politics were strictly off-limits) and catch up on all the latest gossip in the thrice weekly Spectator or Tatler. Even though these newspapers were meant to be reporting the ‘news’, writer Steele would often invite readers to write in with any gossip they had or thoughts on certain topics, so essentially the papers were the equivalent of Tatler today in many ways.

One piece of history which made me smile, was Moll King’s coffee house in Covent Garden. Her coffee house was not one of the sophisticated places that Tatler and The Spectator talked about in their pages. King’s coffee house was a place where people could come and pick up prostitutes and drawings of her establishment depict an unruly and somewhat depraved atmosphere. She would even spike her customer’s coffee with gin and then lay lots of broken crockery over their table, presenting them with a bill at the end of the evening with a high price for all the damage that ‘they’ had caused.

Moll King

Doesn’t quite sound like the civilised coffee shops we visit today does it…?

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