Coffee appeared in Europe for the first time in the 17th century. Not long after, the example of the Ottoman Empire was followed, and coffee houses were build. The drink and new establishements soon became immensely popular.
The first coffee houses appeared in Venice, due to the trade of this city with the Ottoman Empire. The first coffee house in England was set up in Oxford in 1650 by a man named Jacob, and the first coffeehouse in London was opened in 1652. By the middle of Queen Anne’s reign the number of Coffee Houses in London and Westminster had grown to several hundreds, some imaginative estimates putting the figure at 2,000.
The coffeehouse was not just popular because you could drink coffee there, but also for the many lively debates that were held. Many media historians see the coffeehouse as an important aspect in news and information exchange during the 19th century. It is even said that the idea of the Encyclopedie originated from coffeehouse conversation. It was a place of information exchange, where many pamphlets and international newspapers were available and where you could share your opinion.
Governments weren’t always very happy with this free exchange of ideas: Charles II of England tried to suppress coffeehouses as “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers.” Apart from conversation, a lot of business was done in the coffeehouse (in fact, the world-famous Lloyd’s insurance company of today has its roots in early transactions conducted in Lloyd’s coffee house in London,) as well as gambling. Newspapers were read aloud, and discussed afterwards.
At first coffeehouses were social levellers, open to men of any social status. In the mid-18th century the club (There’s a little on clubs in this comment) became more popular for the aristocratic clientele, and afterwards the coffeehouse was frequented more by workers and lowerclass men.
Women, however, were never allowed in coffeehouses because they were supposed to stay at home. The only exception to this rule was the “limonadière”, the lady cashier behind the counter, whose outward appearance could contribute significantly to the popularity of a coffee house. Being an explicitly ‘male’ location, and in view of the double standards by which the middle classes lived, the coffee house had also established itself, even from an early stage, as a place of prostitution. Coffee houses did not open their doors to the female public until the second half of the 19th century. (from here)
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