Written by Lori Thiessen
Imagine you are a bright but poor young man in 18th century London looking for information about what it would cost to insure the cargo on a ship bound from the West Indies. Or, perhaps you want to learn French but you can’t go to university or Frances for that matter. Maybe you fancy listening to some new music but you can’t afford the cost of a concert. Looking for work in the great Metropolis? Where would you go?
For all of these things, a bright young man would go to a coffeehouse. It served at the hub of networking and information exchange. At one point, there were approximately 500 registered coffeehouses in London. Each coffeehouse catered to a different social or economic group. To find the information you needed just go to the appropriate coffeehouse.
It’s a bit like how we use the internet today, only today we can set up our laptops in one coffeehouse and have the information flow through the Wifi to our screens.
The coffee itself was quite nasty by some contemporary accounts, so it wasn’t the brew that was important to coffeehouse customers it was the “extras” that the coffeehouse provided, like a place outside the rowdy pub to talk with friends about serious issues, a place to meet new and interesting people or make those all so critical networking connections for work. It was the 18th century’s public living room, rec room, and newspaperstand-cum-library.
Though the modern day coffee shop hasn’t quite got the same rep of its distant relative, today’s coffee shop doesn’t just brew coffee. It is a place to socialize, to work out of, and to be entertained by musicians among other things.
Yet hang onto your thumb drives, kids, ‘cos, the coffee shop of today might be giving the coffeehouse of 18th England a run for its money as THE place to be in our modern metropolises.
Until next time,
May your coffee always be freshly brewed!