Saturday, September 19, 2009

Coffee Maker: Penny Universities

All through the years remaining in the seventeenth century, and through most of the eighteenth century, the London coffee houses grew and prospered. As before stated, they were originally temperance institutions, very different from the taverns and ale houses. "Within the walls of the coffee house there was always much noise, much clatter, much bustle, but decency was never outraged."

At prices ranging from one to two pence per dish, the demand grew so great that coffee-house keepers were obliged to make the drink in pots holding eight or ten gallons.

The seventeenth-century coffee houses were sometimes referred to as the "penny universities"; because they were great schools of conversation, and the entrance fee was only a penny. Two pence was the usual price of a dish of coffee or tea, this charge also covering newspapers and lights. It was the custom for the frequenter to lay his penny on the bar, on entering or leaving. Admission to the exchange of sparkling wit and brilliant conversation was within the reach of all.

So great a Universitie
I think there ne're was any;
In which you may a Schoolar be
For spending of a Penny.

"Regular customers," we are told, "had particular seats and special attention from the fair lady at the bar, and the tea and coffee boys."

It is believed that the modern custom of tipping, and the word "tip," originated in the coffee houses, where frequently hung brass-bound boxes into which customers were expected to drop coins for the servants. The boxes were inscribed "To Insure Promptness" and from the initial letters of these words came "tip."

The National Review says, "before 1715 the number of coffee houses in London was reckoned at 2000." Dufour, who wrote in 1683, declares, upon information received from several persons who had staid in London, that there were 3000 of these places. However, 2000 is probably nearer the fact.

In that critical time in English history, when the people, tired of the misgovernment of the later Stuarts, were most in need of a forum where questions of great moment could be discussed, the coffee house became a sanctuary. Here matters of supreme political import were threshed out and decided for the good of Englishmen for all time. And because many of these questions were so well thought out then, there was no need to fight them out later. England's great struggle for political liberty was really fought and won in the coffee house.

To the end of the reign of Charles II, coffee was looked upon by the government rather as a new check upon license than an added luxury. After the revolution, the London coffee merchants were obliged to petition the House of Lords against new import duties, and it was not until the year 1692 that the government, "for the greater encouragement and advancement of trade and the greater importation of the said respective goods or merchandises," discharged one half of the obnoxious tariff.