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Coffee Shop

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Part of the reason coffee houses became so popular were because they promoted sobriety. Many people (wisely) primarily drank little beers or weak ale at taverns at the time, because water was rarely potable. Boiling water for coffee (and tea), however, killed bacteria and didn’t result in a mildly intoxicated public.

Coffee houses were much more conducive to conducting business, and quickly became known as centers of commerce. Taverns became known as rowdy places for drinking and gambling, but coffee houses were respectable establishments where men conducted their daily affairs. For a single penny, a man could gain admittance to a coffee shop and stay as long as he like — there wasn’t an obligation to purchase anything. Soon, coffee shops were known as “penny universities.”

Notably, women weren’t permitted in coffee shops, unless they owned or worked in them. Even a respectable lady might stop at a tavern if she needed to, for they were required by law to serve food and provide lodging. Coffee houses, which didn’t have these legal requirements, weren’t a place for even an unrespectable woman, though. Some women took exception to this custom and published a petition, “The Womens Petition Against Coffee,” which was mostly tongue-in-cheek but does provide this lively description: “….the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE.”If you walk into a coffee shop today, you’ll find people engaged in an assortment of activities: checking the news, writing essays, reading stories and chatting with friends. Throughout history, these are the ways people have spent their time in coffee houses. We may get our news from the internet instead of a neighbor and write on a laptop instead of on paper. We might read on a Kindle instead listen to a storyteller, text our friends instead of talk with someone next to us and stalk old acquaintances on Facebook instead of people watch. People have always used coffee houses for getting news, exchanging ideas, listening to stories and visiting with friends, though. Even hanging out at a coffee shop for hours while spending almost nothing isn’t new — Englishmen would sit in a coffee house all day and only pay a penny for admittance.

 

The following is a look at the history of coffee houses, beginning with their origins in the Middle East and tracing them through England. Throughout this survey, there’s one common theme: coffee houses have always served as a hub for exchanging ideas and conducting business. The only difference today is that we do this on computers while sitting with a cappuccino.

 

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