Coffee Buzz

On this day in 1676, the people of London were finally able to get their caffeine fix when the coffee houses in England were reopened not long after King Charles II inexplicably closed them all on December 29, 1675.

Seventeenth century coffee houses weren’t exactly like your neighborhood Starbucks. As well as serving up steaming cups of Joe, they were centers of commerce and political discourse. As the coffeehouses were frequented by intellectuals, merchants, and well-traveled sailors, they were the best places to get news, and newspapers, in fact, often set up shop in the most highly trafficked coffeehouses. One coffeehouse, Lloyd’s, which opened in 1687 or 88, eventually became the world-famous insurers Lloyd’s of London after insurance brokers started meeting their clients there and eventually formed a brokerage.

All this free passage of information and easy political discourse made Charles nervous. He had, after all, only regained the throne in 1660, after Cromwell and the Parliamentarians wrested control of the country away from Charles’s father, Charles I, and chopped off the old king’s head. So, Charles decided to close down the coffeehouses and ban the sale of coffee, tea, chocolate, and sherbet  in coffeehouses or private homes in an effort to prevent people from gathering together and discussing the matters of the day, as if that plan ever works. Officially, he claimed that the coffeehouses disturbed the peace and promoted idleness.

The backlash was extreme–so extreme, that very soon Charles was forced to retract his edict and reopen the houses. They became increasingly important and proliferated accordingly: by 1700, there were 3000 coffeehouses in London, compared with only 82 in 1663. Since then, coffee drinking has remained popular in the British isles, despite their more common association with tea.

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