Urban Fold

Tracing the Intellectual Life of London's Lost Coffeehouses

Dr. Matthew Green surveys the rich 360-year history of London's politically provocative and intellectually charged coffeehouses, which "inspired brilliant ideas and discoveries that would make Britain the envy of the world."

While the first coffeehouse is thought to have been "opened by an eccentric Greek named Pasqua Roseé in 1652", it wasn't long before "contemporaries counted over 3,000 coffeehouses in London" by the beginning of the 1700s, despite "Charles II's attempt to crush them in 1675."

Coffee wasn't the only thing brewing at the city's new cafes. According to Dr. Green, "Coffeehouses brought people and ideas together; they inspired brilliant ideas and discoveries that would make Britain the envy of the world. The first stocks and shares were traded in Jonathan's coffeehouse by the Royal Exchange (now a private members' club); merchants, ship-captains, cartographers, and stockbrokers coalesced into Britain's insurance industry at Lloyd's on Lombard Street (now a Sainsbury's); and the coffeehouses surrounding the Royal Society galvanized scientific breakthroughs. Isaac Newton once dissected a dolphin on the table of the Grecian Coffeehouse."

Apparently, one of the only things that could not be found in the cafes of the day was a good cup of coffee, which Dr. Green thinks is the only advantage today's incarnations have over their historic brethren.

"The flavours found in the latest incarnation of London cafes are undoubtedly superior, but the vanishing opportunities for intellectual engagement and spirited debate with strangers have been quite a trade-off."

Full Story: London cafes: the surprising history of London's lost coffeehouses


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