As coffee made its debut in England in the 1600s, a number of coffeehouses opened up to serve the new beverage. Soon these establishments became the meeting places for people to exchange news and gossip and discuss the issues of the day. Before the rise of the newspaper, Londoners dropped into a favorite coffeehouse daily to hear the latest news. When newspapers appeared people still visited the coffeehouses to read the papers, and reporters even came to get information. Many men kept regular hours at their coffeehouses, so that their friends and clients knew where to find them. Eventually, each house developed a group of customers with similar work interests. For example, Samuel Johnson and other writers often met at Will’s.

In these centers of business, cultural, and political life, people freely discussed the faults of the government and society. Amazed that the authorities allowed such criticism, one foreign visitor called the coffeehouses and other public places the seats of English liberty. In fact, King Charles II became so nervous about this liberty that his government tried in vain to close them. Eventually, home delivery of mail, the growth of daily newspapers, and the establishment of private clubs succeeded where Charles II failed.

In the following account, a visitor from Switzerland describes his first impressions of a London coffeehouse:

In London, there are a great number of coffeehouses, most of which, to tell the truth, are not over clean or well-furnished, owing to the quality of people who resort to these places and because of the smoke, which would quickly destroy good furniture. Englishmen are great drinkers. In these coffeehouses you can partake of chocolate, tea, or coffee, and all sorts of liquors, served hot; also in many places you can have wine, punch, or ale… What attracts enormously in these coffeehouses are the gazettes and other public papers. All Englishmen are great newsmongers. Workmen habitually begin the day by going to coffeehouses in order to read the latest news. I have often seen shoeblacks and other persons of that class club together to purchase a farthing paper… Some coffeehouses are a resort for learned scholars and for wits; others are the resort of dandies or politicians, or again of professional newsmongers.

Source of Quote:

Streams of Civilization

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