How the simple commodity of coffee came to rewrite the experience of metropolitan life
When the first coffee-house opened in London in 1652, customers were bewildered by this strange new drink from Turkey. But those who tried coffee were soon won over. More coffee-houses were opened across London and, in the following decades, in America and Europe.
For a hundred years the coffee-house occupied the centre of urban life. Merchants held auctions of goods, writers and poets conducted discussions, scientists demonstrated experiments and gave lectures, philanthropists deliberated reforms. Coffee-houses thus played a key role in the explosion of political, financial, scientific and literary change in the 18th century.
In the 19th century the coffee-house declined, but the 1950s witnessed a dramatic revival in the popularity of coffee with the appearance of espresso machines and the coffee bar, and the 1990s saw the arrival of retail chains like Starbucks.
First published 2004.