In his 1621 opus The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton wrote, “The Turks have a drink called coffa (for they use no wine), so named of a berry as black as soot, and as bitter … which they sip still of, and sup as warm as they can suffer; they spend much time in those coffa-houses, which are somewhat like our alehouses or taverns…”
Several decades later, readers would require no such explanations: England would be awash in coffeehouses, numbering in the thousands.
The curious story of how the British swapped much of their daily ale consumption for this “syrop of soot, or essence of old shoes,” is told by Matthew Green in “The Lost World of The London Coffee House,” on the Public Domain Review.
Prior to 1652, when Pasqua Rosée established a small coffeehouse in St. Michael’s Alley in London, coffee was virtually unknown in England.
Rosée, a servant of a coffee-loving trader to the Levant, found tremendous success with his venture and, according to Green, was soon selling over 600 servings a day.
Coffeehouses quickly became popular places for men to converse and congregate, and Green notes that women soon grew tired of their absence.
This exasperation mounted until the 1674 Women’s Petition Against Coffee, which claimed that “Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE” led to England’s falling birthrate, making men “as unfruitful as the sandy deserts, from where that unhappy berry is said to be brought.”
Men, as they are wont to do, expressed their disagreement, and stated in Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee that coffee made “the erection more vigorous, the ejaculation more full, add[ing] a spiritual ascendency to the sperm.”