Coffee Shops in Regency England

Cobalt Fairy

Dear darlings,

I’m back at it with my coffee obsession!

While last time we talked about what coffee looked like in the Regency era, this time I want to look at Coffee Shops.

Our favorite pit stop in the mornings, or for a mid-afternoon pick me up were a totally different experience for our Regency fellows.

Coffee was known in the first half of the 17th Century in Venice and Marseille but there was no trade in beans there. Although famous for their tea drinking, the British were the first European nation to embrace the pleasures of coffee drinking on a commercial basis.

English coffeehouses in the 17th and 18th centuries were public social places where men would meet for conversation and commerce. For the price of a penny, customers purchased a cup of coffee and admission.

The absence of alcohol created an atmosphere in which it was possible to engage in more serious conversation than in an alehouse. Topics discussed included politics and political scandals, daily gossip, fashion, current events, and debates surrounding philosophy and the natural sciences.

Oxford, possessing the unique combination of exotic scholarship interests and a vibrant experimental community, was the first English city to establish a coffeehouse. A Jewish entrepreneur named Jacob established the first English coffee house in 1652, which he named the Angel.

The first coffeehouses established in Oxford were known as “Penny Universities”, as they offered an alternative form of learning to structural academic learning, while still being frequented by the English virtuosi who actively pursued advances in human knowledge.

Anyone who had a penny could come inside. Students from the universities also frequented the coffeehouses, sometimes even spending more time at the shops than at school.

Coffee-houses were soon open in London and elsewhere and their popularity grew. The popularity spread through Europe to such an extent that, during the 17th and 18th centuries, there were more coffee shops in London than there are today. On the street in London you located the nearby coffeehouse by sniffing the air for roasting beans, or by looking for a wooden sign shaped to resemble a Turkish coffee pot.

It was the coffeehouses of England that started the custom of tipping waiters and waitresses. People who wanted good service and better seating would put some money in a tin labeled “To Insure Prompt Service” – hence “TIPS”.

In 1732, Johann Sebastian Bach composed his “Kafee-Kantate” or Coffee Cantata. Partly an ode to coffee and partly a stab at the movement in Germany to prevent women from drinking coffee (it was thought to make them sterile), the cantata includes the aria

“Ah! How sweet coffee tastes! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine! I must have coffee…” (Sounds like me in the morning! )

Coffee consumption in Britain began to decline as import duties for coffee increased; the British East India Company concentrated on importing tea as the market began to grow.

It was then that the coffee house fell out of favour (towards the end of the 18th century) as the new fashion for tea replaced coffee. They gave way to, and largely influenced, the exclusive gentleman’s club of the late 18th century.

Revived in the Victorian era and run by the Temperance Movement, coffeehouses were set up as alternatives to public houses where the working classes could meet and socialise.

However it wasn’t until the late 20th century that coffeehouses were ‘re-invented’ – although who knows what 18th century gentlemen would have made of skinny lattes, cappuccinos and espressos!

I don’t know about you, but I would love to have been able to see the history being written on a staple business such as this.

We see coffee shops on every corner on almost all major cities in the world nowadays. And to know that it all started from such a different concept?


What do you think my doves? Modern Coffee Shops or their Victorian counterparts? Feel free to comment below!

As far as I’m concerned, where there’s the promise of coffee and good company, I am sure to follow… 

Written byHanna Hamilton!

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