How The Rise of Coffeehouses Changed English Cultural Life

Enjoying a delicious cup of coffee is a daily ritual for many of us. It can be a shared social experience; a way to get out of the house, meet up with friends for a good chat, and maybe enjoy a tasty bite to eat at the same time. Sometimes it is just the brain fuel we need to start the working day! 

In fact, coffee shops are fast becoming the new pubs here in the UK. As the younger generations tend to drink less alcohol, they have sought out cafès that sell alternative beverages for social meet ups. There’s a speciality drink out there for everyone, whether you favour a turmeric latte, a matcha, an Americano, a flat white or a hot chocolate.

Coffee shops are multifunctional places where freelancers and digital nomads hang out and even do some work; they are a favourite first-date destination; they are a great place for an informal job interview; and even to hold celebrations such as leaving dos and birthday parties.

The appeal spans across generations, as older people enjoy the chance to get out and about and fraught new parents seek some welcome respite from herding little ones around the shops. The coffee bar is now a destination in its own right, with a high standard of food and drink and a welcoming and convivial atmosphere.

However, the recent renaissance of coffee culture has its roots in the 17th century, when coffee was first imported to England. It was first consumed for its medicinal properties rather than an everyday drink. Berries from coffee plants had long been used by Islamic cultures for their therapeutic and stimulating effects.

The consumption of coffee gradually spread to Eastern Europe, where it fuelled trade negotiations and served as an alternative to alcohol at social gatherings. Eventually coffee reached English shores, where it was used to treat health problems such as gout. 

However, the ‘pick me up’ qualities of a good cuppa were soon noted, and this quickly led to a flourishing coffee culture across London. The rise of the coffeehouse coincided with a time when the city was evolving as a centre for finance and trade, and the growing population fuelled the demand for coffee.

Early coffeehouses were not the friendly free for all that we know and love today however. They were rather exclusive male-dominated places, frequented by businessmen who met to discuss trade, talk politics, and exchange ideas.

The coffeehouse culture played a role in the evolution of the first daily printed newspapers, including Tatler and The Spectator (both of which still exist in print and digital versions today). Literacy rates were improving and society in general was becoming more well-informed and keen for new knowledge.

In fact, the ministers for King Charles II were so alarmed by the possibility of unrest and dissent that they proposed shutting down coffeehouses. Fortunately this drastic step was not taken, and we still continue to enjoy the legacy of this culture today.

If you feel inspired to visit an independent coffee shop in London, please get in touch with us today.