I’m a huge fan of coffee, not so much for the taste, but the countless college papers and late nights it has gotten me through. I won’t describe myself as an aficionado, because I don’t appreciate the individual terroirs of differing regions (Sumatra, Bali, Ethiopian, etc.), and most of the nuance is drowned out by a healthy dose of milk and often sugar.
This trip to London is the first vacation where I have plan things, as my previous vacations involved my sister, a rabid planner, or I was taken around by a local. So, how does one take a stab at a new city that has more than a thousand years of history?
When I was researching things to do, I came upon this tour of London’s historic coffee houses. Unfortunately, I’ll arrive a few weeks to partake in this pleasure, but it did create the realization that a walking tour of historic coffee houses could be done, and in fact, most do exist within the old Roman walls.
I’ve uploaded a map coffee-directions.
The Grand Cafe, Britain’s first coffee shop wasn’t in London at all. The first coffee shop was opened in Oxford in 1650, although there have been reports that coffee was being brewed in Oxford in the 1630s by a Greek student. Two years later, a Greek servant named Pasqua Rosee brought the new drink to the capital, opening a shop in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill. The real coffee revolution was in the late 1600s and early 1700s, when as many as 3,000 coffee houses played host to caffeine-fueled debate, wheeler-dealing and gossip-mongering on London’s streets.
Businessmen often kept regular hours at a particular house, where clients would know to find them.
Not only were the coffee houses meeting places but lectures were given in them. These were not just impromptu lectures given in the course of discussion, but rather were properly advertised and usually not one off lectures but rather extended lecture series. Because of this educational function coffee houses were often called the Penny Universities – the name arising since they charged an entrance fee of a penny.
Here is a list of the most famous:
It was first established in about 1665 at Wapping Old Stairs in London, England, by a Greek former mariner called George Constantine. In the early years of the eighteenth century, it was frequented by members of the Royal Society, including Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane, Edmund Halley and James Douglas, and the poet and statesman, Joseph Addison. Isaac Newton once dissected a dolphin on the table of the Grecian Coffeehouse.
Devereux Public House
20 Devereux Ct (off Essex Street)
London WC2R 3JJ, United Kingdom
+44 20 7583 4562
Hours: Monday hours 11:00 am–11:00 pm – See all Transit: Temple
The Rainbow Coffee House was a famous coffee house located in London’s Fleet Street. It was opened by James Farr in 1657, becoming London’s second coffee house. The pub was rebuilt in around 1859 but is now long-gone.
Those who wished to find a gentleman commonly asked, not whether he lived in Fleet Street or Chancery Lane, but whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow.
Wildy & Sons Ltd
16 Fleet St London EC4Y 1AU, UK
Slaughter’s Coffee House
It opened in 1692. From the band of intellectuals and artists who congregated there, William Hogarth formed the St Martin’s Lane Academy (which became the Royal Academy). Thomas Gainsborough frequented it. It was also famed as a centre for chess players but it was also a popular place for those seeking mathematical advice.
75 St Martin’s Ln City of Westminster, London, UK
The Very First
Now known as the Jamaica Wine House, it was the home of the very first coffee shop.
The Jamaica Wine House,
St. Michael’s Alley, off Cornhill. EC3V 9DS
Jonathan’s Coffee House
The original site of the London Stock Exchange, started around 1680-1745. In 1696, several patrons were implicated in a plot to assassinate William III, and it was thought to be associated with the Popish Plots.
Jonathan’s and Sam’s, were notorious for their connection with stock-jobbing. In 1761 a club of 150 brokers and jobbers was formed to trade stocks. The club built its own building in 1773 in Sweeting’s Alley, which was dubbed the New Jonathan’s, but was renamed the Stock Exchange. The original Jonathan’s served as the home of a lottery office after until it was destroyed by fire in 1778.
A private member’s club
On Cornhill, near Change Alley
Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House
It’s claim to fame was starting of the London Stock Exchange. Auction houses Sotherby’s and Christie’s have their origins in coffee houses.
It moved three times, originally on Tower Street in around 1688. Just after Christmas 1691, the coffee shop relocated to Lombard Street. Merchants continued to discuss insurance matters here until 1774, long after Lloyd’s death in 1713, when the participating members of the insurance arrangement formed a committee and moved to the Royal Exchange on Cornhill as the Society of Lloyd’s.
15 Lombard Street, EC3, London
Batson’s Coffee House
One of the most constant visitors at Batson’s was Sir Richard Blackmore, that scribbling doctor who was physician to William III and then to Queen Anne. Although his countless books were received either with ridicule or absolute silence, he still persisted in authorship. The house served a useful purpose at a time when physicians were not in the habit of increasing their knowledge by visiting the wards of the hospitals. Batson’s was a consulting-house instead, not alone for patients but for the doctors themselves. In this respect, then, it differed from the generally commercial character of the coffee-houses under the shadow of the Exchange.
Unknown, near Cornhill
Chapter in Paul’s Alley
Chapter in Paul’s Alley was the chosen rendezvous for publishers and booksellers. When Charlotte and Anne Bronte came to London to consult their publisher, they stayed at the Chapterhouse.
Address: (Unknown) Near Ave Maria Lane and Paternoster Row, near St. Paul’s
Inside, poets, playwrights, journalists and members of the public gathered around long wooden tables drinking, thinking, writing and discussing literature into the night.
10 Russell Street, Covent Garden
Will’s in Russell Street
Popular with playwright DrydenAfter Dryden’s death (May 1700), the reputation of Will’s declined rapidly, though it is noted in Daniel Defoe’s Journey Through England. Jonathan Swift didn’t like it.
Russell Street, Covent Garden, at the northwest corner of Bow Street
London cafes: the surprising history of London’s lost coffeehouses
Grecian Coffee House
London Coffee Houses and Mathematics
The Coffee Houses of Augustan London
Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C. Shelley
Coffee: The Greatest Addiction Ever
Old Slaughter’s Coffee House
The London Coffee House: A Social Institution