Posted in Kafevend Blog

When asked what the national drink of England is, it would be surprising to hear any answer other than tea. The stereotype of the tea drinking toff is a strong one at home and abroad and certainly has groundings in reality. After all, the British monarchy had a large part in the uptake of tea among the populace as the royal fashion was adopted. Whilst tea itself wasn't introduced by her, the Portuguese Queen Catherine of Braganza, who married Charles II in 1662, introduced her home country's tradition of tea drinking to the British royal court.

As Catherine was bringing the aristocracy around to tea, the rest of the public were very much into their coffee. A decade before her marriage to Charles II, a Greek man named Pasqua Roseé had opened the first coffee house in London which was met with great success. It wasn't the first coffee house in England as a whole however- that honour went to a Jewish man named Jacob who opened his in Oxford two years earlier. A little over two decades later, there were reputedly around three thousand coffee houses in England; a taste for coffee had definitely been established.

Coffee houses were not unique to England though. The very first coffee houses had been established in Mecca during the early 16th century and were quick to spread throughout the rest of the Arab world. By the middle of the century, coffee houses appeared in the Ottoman city of Constantinople (now known as Istanbul). It was here that Pasqua Roseé had encountered the trend whilst in the service of the merchant Daniel Edwards, who later helped him to establish London's first coffee house.

Despite their cultural differences, coffee houses in England and Turkey were remarkably similar. Both became the favourite haunts of those, not only looking to enjoy a cup of coffee, but also to share news and engage in debate. In Oxford, they became known as penny universities- the price for a cup of coffee at the time. Debates could often take on a political nature, and this led to resistance from those in power. Charles II attempted to impose a ban on coffee houses in London in 1675, but was met with an uproar which caused him to reconsider. In Mecca, the Imams also banned coffee houses in fear of the political debates. The ban was later overturned by the Ottoman Sultan and the Grand Mufti.

These days, coffee has certainly made a come back in England. The rise of the coffee chains has certainly had a large part to play in this, and you can't walk far in a town or city centre without stumbling on a Starbucks or Costa- to mention but two of the big names. Amongst them however are a number of independent coffee houses, which perhaps better reflect the bygone age of coffee drinking in England during the 17th century. Quite whether the same level of intellectual debate goes on is another matter!

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