Coffee shop

Women started a movement against coffee houses in London

in Coffee articles by

Women rebelled against cafes – of course not these days, but in 1674. The coffee bush springing from the Abyssinian peninsula and the drink made from its fruit was surrounded by heated debates for centuries. The coffee was discovered in the 15th century by Europe, but there was no agreement about the prohibition or the subvention of coffee for a long time. In the 21st century, we see coffee as a fragrant, refreshing drink, but the beverage was always regarded differently during its conquering journey.

It spread relatively quickly among the Muslims because it was consumed instead of alcohol, which was prohibited by the Koran. After the Arab countries of the Middle East, coffee was brought to Europe via Turkey. Here, it was disliked for the first time since the black liquor was considered as the drink of Satan, so they sought the opinion of Pope Clement VIII, who eventually authorized its consumption.

Coffee consumption has been already regarded as a community experience in the Arab countries. According to the Coffee Association of the USA, they were also listening to music, playing chess, watching different performances and exchanging information at meeting places called qahveh khaneh.

The history of cafés in the European sense and literary cafés begins in Constantinople, in 1554. The idea of opening a public institution where people may consume coffee comes from two Syrian traders, Sem and Hakem. This offered a perfect opportunity for a little war among the eager devotees of coffee and the austere, somber believers, who did not have a good opinion on the increase of these “libertine” places. Anyway, the sympathizers regarded these establishments as schools of the cultivated people and knowledge, where poets, writers, chess players, prestigious officials and merchants gathered. Bloody fights began between the cultivated and the religious, which forced the Turkish authorities to close the institutions. However, this did not last too long, because those who once had taken a fancy to coffee, did not really want to keep away from it.

Constantinople, woodcut from Schedel's Weltchronik

Many misinterpreted the effect and the operation of coffee during the centuries because of its refreshing impact, both in the West and the East. Enthusiastic devotees and fierce opponents fought against one another for decades in all European countries (except the Netherlands and Italy). Just as the first cups of coffees had been drunk in Marseille, a medical board took action against the noxious drink, which is the “root of all problems”. Probably they just wanted to defend wine in this manner.

Subsequently, other doctors and botanists conducted lengthy treatises on the beneficial effects of coffee on the human body; for example, they claimed that this drink could “prevent the smoke lifting from the stomach in the head” or that coffee “almost certainly prevents stroke, paralysis, sleeping sickness and other deep sleep disorders”.

Later, historians and writers have also added their bit. For example, Montesquieu wrote that “if I were the king, I would close all the coffee houses, because those who visit these places, regrettably heat their brains. I would rather see them in the pub during drunkenness because at least they would only do wrong to themselves, while the drunkenness caused by coffee makes them dangerous to the country’s future.”

London coffee house in the 17th century

Jules Michelet wrote passionately about coffee a century later, he greeted the appearance of coffee houses as the beginning of a new era: “Pub was dethroned, the disgusting pub where Louis XIV. rolled between the barrels and the girls in his youth (…) The coffee abolishes the obscure and cumbrous poetry of imagination’s fumes and strikes the fire of truth from the well-understood reality –the anti-erotic coffee, which calms the libido by the intellectual excitement.”

London brewers and other patriots feared the circulation of their pubs and conducted more and more attacks against coffee. Surprisingly, even women took sides with the innkeepers. “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee” was born in 1674, which presents “the serious disadvantages that the excessive consumption of this withering and weakening drink does for women.” In this petition, coffee was accused of making their husbands incapable of procreating. Probably this outcry was caused by the fact that in addition to the pubs, husbands also visited coffee houses, so they spent less time at home than before. In the following year, allowed the attempts were made by Charles II to close the coffee houses as “vicious facilities”, but this action almost resulted in a riot: fifteen days later, allowed the cafés to open again, although under supervision.

Fortunately, today we know that coffee is not the devil’s drink, and we also know that we should be very grateful for the coffee consumption and coffee culture: just think about the literary cafes, or the university students writing their thesis in cafés, young couples spending their first date there while hiding in a corner. We would miss a lot of things if there weren’t coffee!

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