Coffee Tales Part 4: Coffee in the U.K.

In my years around coffee I have found that the many myths, tales and legends which can be found throughout the world are superb teaching tools. We as the “storytelling ape” innately find it easier to remember things which we encounter as stories, and this has been a foundation for my coffee education work for a long time. These articles will attempt to replicate some of this, by sharing some tales of coffee and discussing the reality, relative truth and impact of these tales on our understanding of the wonderful world of coffee.

This time in our coffee tales series we are going to look at my homeland, focusing on the story of coffee in England. This particular tale is more of a mini series, as we will meet a number of influential and/or notable figures whose views and choices had a major influence on the growth of coffee as a popular drink on the shores of this sceptered isle.

Author’s Notes: As ever I have made some use of dramatic license in the production of this tale, so no offence or slight to any persons living or dead is intended. Also it falls to me to acknowledge an important and less than pleasant fact, some of the most noteworthy and influential figures in the history of coffee, are by their very nature, tainted by their often deep association with colonialism and slavery.

While we at Bear Essentials absolutely deplore the practices, the cold reality is that they are an integral part of the history of the drink and industry, so we need to accept that they happened and learn from the past. The practice of hiding, minimising, or glossing over these facts is one of my largest issues in the industry as a whole. I live by the ethos that you need to own your mistakes and history to learn, to do better.

The British Traveller

Let’s start with some first impressions of coffee from a European perspective. Travelling back some 400 years to around 1610-1615, here we meet a gentleman by the name of Sir George Sandys, we shall join him on a boat traveling across the Aegean Sea from Greece to Turkey, as is his general pattern. George you see is something of a historical “travel blogger”. As a poet and writer of some small reputation he has elected to travel the lands of Europe and the Middle East and to record his observations and experiences in a book. In fact, unknown to our budding Marco Polo, this will become a series of books entitled “The Relation of a Journey Begun Anno Domini 1610, in Four Books”. Ok, ok, so he needs some help with titles…

Much of George’s travel writing is of value in other areas, but we are here to watch as he pens his record of one particular experience. In the bustling cities of Turkey George is resting at a table and has chosen to partake of a dark beverage of immense popularity with the locals. Indeed George records his observation that “The Turks recline for much of the day, chatting over their beloved coffee”. 

As George supps his cup of coffee we can see his face tighten and his expression show signs of deep distaste. As he writes his record of his first drink of coffee, our traveller’s pen forms something far from a rave review. He describes consuming “A drink as blacke as soote, and tasting not much unlike it”, charming turn of phrase isn’t it?

Despite his dislike of the flavour, our diligent scribe also notes that coffee “helpeth, as they say, the digestion, and procureth alacrity” This early record of a caffeine high and the experience of a bitter and unpleasant drink is far from an auspicious start. Thankfully it turns out that George is in the minority when it comes to his views on coffee. In the coming years coffee drinking spreads through Europe where it is met with a variety of responses, and inspires some fascinating individuals. 

Jacob’s Coffee House

Next we travel back to merry England, some 30 years later, around us are the beautiful, towering spires of Oxford University. It’s here in the heart of classical education that we meet a gentleman by the name of Jacob the Jew (this unfortunate naming convention is I am sad to say a product of history, and was indeed the normal form of address for Jacob). Our enterprising new acquaintance is in the process of opening a small coffee house inside the Angel Inn, a well respected hostelry located near the famed Magdelan College. 

Jacob’s venture proposes to offer coffee consumption at the Angel, now our budding entrepreneur is well aware that coffee is an acquired taste, and with an excellent sense of marketing he chooses to offer coffee to “some who delighteth in noveltie”. Jacob’s coffee house is something of a success, historically noted and therefore presumably patronised by the likes of Anthony Wood (the then Antiquary of Oxford) and Samuel Pepys. Still coffee remains an amusing diversion, and curiosity rather than the day to day drink of choice we have come to know.

Mr Pasqua Rosée

Our next stop is found within the beating heart of England, in 1652 amidst the sprawling city of London we find Mr Pasqua Rosée. Pasqua is a Greek expatriate living in London and is about to open one of the earliest coffee houses. But it’s not Pasqua’s coffee house that will mark his impact on the world of coffee, rather it’s his penchant for advertising. Along with the opening of his coffee house, our innovative gentleman launches the first recorded coffee advert in England. 

Pasqua doesn’t do it by halves either, his printed leaflet proudly extols “The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”. In this masterpiece of passionate discourse he describes a near magical drink which among its many powers: “Quickens the spirits and lightens the heart”, “is good for the eyes, especially if you steam your head and face over the hot drink”, and “prevents coughs, rheumatoid pains, and even consumption”. 

If our Greek coffee lover is to be believed coffee is something of “panacea”. Of course in reality, the truth is straining under the sheer pressure of Pasqua’s liberal interpretation. It’s also interesting to note the recommended way of drinking your coffee from Mr Rosée’s establishment. The advice that coffee should be “taken as hot as can be endured” is a recommendation to make any coffee expert wince in pain. Nevertheless Pasqua is well positioned to ride the crest of a coming wave. Coffee consumption in London will explode in the next 40 years or so, by 1700 there are estimated to be around 2,000 coffee drinking establishments in the great city.

Pasqua Rosée’s Advertising Masterpiece

The Age of the Penny University

In the years to come after Pasqua’s caffeinated medical marvel, coffee houses spring up around London. So common were these coffee centres that many became homes to specific groups of people. Doctors, lawyers, merchants, even members of the religious clergy of the time each had their own coffee houses, so specific did the clientele become that adverts for the time related locations suitable for “Public intercourse with {the preferred client}”. In effect these coffee houses became open consultation spaces for professionals, so much so that they were referred to as Penny Universities, the price of a cup of coffee was around 1d (one old English penny) and for that one could sit and seek the opinion of professionals over an energising drink. 

Enter Edward Lloyd Esquire

Our particular journey takes us into the life of Edward Lloyd Esquire, gentleman proprietor of a coffee house in London, with a big future. Edward’s coffee house caters to merchants and seafaring men of the day, amongst the bustling crowds we can see men of wealth and business discussing trade routes and cargo manifests with ships captains, over a hot cup of coffee. 

As we look on we also spot Mr Lloyd himself ensconced at a table and entertaining a small queue of gentlemen from local insurance companies. Edward, being an enterprising man, is conducting a profitable sideline in providing “ships lists” from which insurance underwriters can choose potential clients. 

So successful is Edward’s venture that in the years to come, Lloyd’s Coffee House will come to be known throughout the world by another name. Here we have witnessed the foundation of Lloyd’s of London, one of, if not the, greatest insurance institutions in the world. So deeply ingrained is coffee in the founding of Lloyd’s of London that even today some members of Lloyd’s staff are called waiters and underwriters occupy “boxes”, so called after the name given to the booths which Edward allowed them to rent from his coffee house all those years ago.

Lloyds of London

Coffee and Modern England

So there we have it, a whistle stop history of the growth of coffee in the UK. So besides a good story, do I have a point here? 

Well as usual I aim to. Coffee over the centuries has often been at the very heart of innovation and major business institutions. Now I am not going to emulate Mr Pasqua Rosée and wax lyrical about the clear connection between coffee and brilliant ideas, much as it would be entertaining, it’s not true. 

However, looking at the history of coffee I do think there is an interesting reflection here. Just why were so many major business hubs and institutions (examples beyond Lloyd’s include the London Stock Exchange, the Bankers Clearing house and even newspapers like The Spectator) built on the sites of the old London coffee houses? 

So, it could be argued that coffee was just the “in thing” of the day and so people happened to be around it as life happened. But I think it goes a little deeper than that. Coffee isn’t the inspiration for innovation, but I do think that social connection and discourse very much are, the reality is that coffee houses have brought people of like, and disagreeing minds together for a very long time. In the discussions that follow, thoughts become ideas and ideas become new enterprises. 

Honestly, how many of us, even today, find a cup of coffee and a chat to be a major part of day to day business interaction? How many offices and workplaces have coffee machines available to their teams? 

So yeah coffee is a potent stimulant, but more than that it’s a catalyst for conversation and connection, perhaps it really is more than just a drink? 

That’s it from me this time, just a little food for thought and I hope a good tale to enjoy with your coffee!

About Bear Essentials Coffee

If you have enjoyed this or any of my writing please check out my Homepage to find out more about me and my work. Follow the blog and if you feel you can, drop a donation to support my work.

Thanks, – Bear

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