Coffee made its introduction to Europe in the early 17th century as medicine for what ails you… whether your ailment include headaches, consumption, dropsy, gout, scurvy or any number of sundry and unmentionable maladies.
First offered by apothecaries in Venice and street vendors in Milan, coffee found footing in Vienna by way of a failed Ottoman invasion, and found the fancy of Germany’s upper crust: it inspired Johann Sebastian Bach’s Coffee Cantata, and obsessed Ludvig van Beethoven, who was rumored to grind precisely 60 beans for each aromatic cup. [A recipe that makes a very good cup… even if it’s preparation is a wee bit time-intensive.]
It was in London, however, where coffee — and coffee houses — became the rage. The first London coffee house opened at Oxford University in 1650, and by 1700 more than 2000 coffeehouses dotted the London landscape. Early coffeehouses served more than coffee; they also served as hotbeds of conversation, politics and commerce. One coffeehouse might serve as a gathering place for physicians, another for actors, or musicians, or lawyers or clergy. These gathering places became known as Penny Universities… for the price of a cup of coffee, one could sit for hours and participate in the discourse of the day.
Or, one could conduct his business of the day — and a great many did. Mr. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house catered largely to merchants and sailors of the day, as well as the underwriters who met over coffee to offer insurance. In time, Lloyd’s Coffee House became Lloyd’s of London, the storied insurance company. Likewise, other coffeehouses — centers for news, currency and futures markets — became newspapers, banks, and stock exchanges, many of which thrive still today.
Behold, the power of coffee!