Introduction – A History of London’s Coffee Shops
A timeline of three hundred years of coffee in London
More than a thousand years ago, Ethiopians started eating the coffee plant. Now, the derivative drink can be found on more or less every street. It’s there along the way, too – the histories of religion, finance, and London itself have all been at some point filtered through the ubiquitous bean.
1651: London gets its first coffee house. Demand and damnation come with equal fervor.
1668: Edward Lloyd’s coffee house opens. It attracts traders and maritime insurers and eventually makes the switch from dealing coffee to dealing insurance. Lloyd’s of London is born.
1675: Charles II tries to ban coffee houses, thinking them cesspools of treasonous conversation. He recants his edict almost immediately in response to the outcry of his caffeine-addicted subjects.
1698: At Jonathan’s coffee house in Change Alley, John Castaing puts up a list of stock and commodity prices. It’s the large and loud precursor to the modern Stock Exchange in London.
1700: The number of coffee houses in the capital has swelled to 3,000. Early in the seventeenth century Pope Clement VIII, facing calls to ban the infidel brew, had decided to grant it Papal approval instead. Presently, coffee’s spell has been cast on London as well and the nay saying is being drowned out.
1700s: Coffee houses become centres of culture and learning, earning the nickname ‘Penny Universities’. Lectures and demonstrations on astronomy and math and the daily spreading of news make the coffee house a necessary stop for anyone seeking knowledge.
1800s: A precipitous drop in coffee houses has resulted from a changing culture. Business stops being conducted in the old setting and Gentlemen’s Clubs and restaurants fill the social void. Tea reigns supreme.
1900s: Coffee returns to London.
1950: Moka in soho becomes one of the first coffee bars in London to use the Italian Gaggi espresso machine.
1960: 2,000 of these Italian bars are open in the UK. The modernity and perceived continental sophistication of these attracts rebellious scooter-riding youths.
1990s: U.S. coffee shops infiltrate London, complete with high prices and titanic chains.
2010s: Independent coffee shops lift their game, offering superior blends as well as creature comforts like WiFi, once the preserve of the now ensconced global chains.
Which brings us to now, with London’s Civil War-era coffee roots buried deep beneath the Italian, American, and even Mediterranean coffee traditions. However you take your cup – creamy, light, thick, sweet, bitter, potent, basic, bristling with extras – there’s a cup for you in the capital.
– Kiernan Maletsky