Coffee and Current Events

Written by Lori Thiessen

When you stop by a coffee shop today, it isn’t unusual to have access to a free copy of today’s local papers and perhaps a few free community ones.

The 5th estate was born out of coffeehouses of the 17th century. Since the coffeehouse was the place for news gathering and sharing (or gossiping some wags would have it), it seemed natural that newsletters would soon pop up. And they did.

Some coffeemen would write, print and publish newssheets of their own and others would take a subscription to several. Anything was permissible in the coffeehouse newssheet so long as it sold subscriptions. Though if you did offend your readers, they wouldn’t hesitate in taking you, the writer out the back and beat you to a pulp without much ado.

In Brian Cowan’s book The Social Life of Coffee, a coffeeman was getting information from a parliamentary clerk and selling the information through his coffeehouse in 1664.

Apparently, it was not uncommon for 17th century people to have more than one income stream. The coffee business didn’t pay terribly well and additional sources of revenue needed to be sought out. Government clerks, postmasters, and even some king’s messengers were all in positions to have access to sensitive information and they sold that information to coffeemen so that both parties increased their meager incomes.

It wasn’t only local news that interested coffeehouse patrons but also news from abroad. Paris, Amsterdam, Leiden, Rotterdam, Haarlem and Flanders were a few places from which many coffeehouses received newspapers.

Information, news, gossip, education call it what you will but facts (true or otherwise) was a great way to draw customers into the coffeehouse.

Q: Would you go to one coffee shop more than another if it supplied more newspapers both locally and internationally?

Until Next Time,

May your coffee always be freshly brewed!


2 responses to “Coffee and Current Events

  1. I loved this post! Thank you for this insight into 17th century British Social history.

  2. Hi Lavanna!

    So glad you liked the post. I enjoyed researching it. If you are interested in reading more about coffeehouse life in 17th-18th century London, there are a couple of wonderful books.

    Brian Cowan’s “The Social Life of Coffee” and Markman Ellis’ “The Coffeehouse”.

    Cowan’s book is more scholarly and Ellis’ is a more generalist view of coffeehouse history.

    Thanks for reading and I hope to keep you reading with informative and entertaining posts!


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