On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys “did send for a cup of tee, a China drink, of which I had never drunk before”.
Coffee and tea were expensive commodities in the later seventeenth century, and consumed exclusively by the rich. The coffee- and tea- houses that began to spring up all over London at this time became places where respectable wealthy gentlemen, who would not be seen dead in ale-houses, might congregate to converse, and to transact business: one, Lloyd’s, eventually evolved into an entirely separate business enterprise, and another, Jonathan’s, into the Stock Exchange.
The very first of the coffee-houses to open was at the sign of “Pasqua Rosee’s Head”, just off Cornhill, in 1652. The eponymous Pasqua Rosee was employed as a man-servant by one Daniel Edwards, a London merchant, member of the Levant Company and trader in Turkish goods, and he appears to have run the coffee-shop as a sideline, in partnership with one Christopher Bowman, a freeman of the City and former coachman of Edwards’s father-in-law, Alderman Thomas Hodges. It is thought that Rosee and Edwards met in Smyrna in Anatolia, although also that Rosee was ultimately of ethnic Greek extraction. The “Coffee House”, also just off Cornhill, the “Globe” and “Morat’s”, in Exchange Alley, and an unnamed coffee-house in St Paul’s Churchyard, were also all open by the early 1660s, and all referred to in Pepys’s diary, in addition to the aforementioned unnamed tea-house.
A contemporary advertising handbill described the “Vertue of the Coffee Drink First publiquely made and sold in England by Pasqua Rosee” as follows: “The Grain or Berry called Coffee”, groweth upon little Trees, only in the Deserts of Arabia. It is brought from thence, and drunk generally throughout all the Grand Seigniors Dominions. It is a simple innocent thing, composed into a Drink, by being dryed in an Oven, and ground to Powder, and boild up with Spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk, fasting an hour before, and not Eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured … . The quality of the Drink is cold and Dry … . It quickens the Spirits, and makes the Heart Lightsome … . … It suppresseth Fumes exceedingly, and … will very much … help Consumption and the Cough of the Lungs [hmm, not so sure about that]. … It will prevent Drowsiness, and make one fit for business … ; and therefore you are not toe Drink it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 or 4 hours”. One George Sandys described the coffee of the time as “black as soote, and tasting not much unlike it”.