Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Why the British love coffee so much (edit: LOVED coffee so much)

Everyone knows the major role that coffee plays in the United Kingdom, and how coffee remains popular in that country to the present day.

The first coffee house in London was not a Starbucks. It was actually opened by a Greek, Pasqua Rosée, in 1652 in a churchyard in London. It appears that Rosée started a trend - by 1663, there were 80 coffeehouses in London, and by the end of the 17th century, there were over 500 - approximately the same density in which Starbucks can be found in major urban cities in the United States.

One coffee house deserves special mention. It was opened by one Edward Lloyd. By 1691, the coffee house, named after Lloyd, had moved into London's maritime district. Lloyd actively sought out maritime customers by "holding maritime auctions and collating information." While many interested parties would come to Lloyd's Coffee House and drink coffee and talk, others would get their information from a publication called Lloyd's News. This paper, however, was short-lived, but did serve as one of the inspirations for Lloyd's Register, a publication that still exists today. And you've probably heard of other businesses that use the Lloyd's name, such as this one.

So with such a history, it's no wonder that coffee is still extremely popular in the United Kingdom today...

...um, hold it. I have just been informed of some new information. It seems that the British people are really into tea now, rather than coffee.

So, how did that happen?

Well, at about the same time that Lloyd's Coffee House moved to the maritime district, a noted group of mariners - namely, the British East India Company - was encountering competition for that particular drink.

Toward the close of the seventeenth century, however, the East India Company was much more interested in tea than in coffee...[h]aving lost out to the French and the Dutch on the “little brown berry of Arabia.”

So, like any good company (even if this was in the mercantilist era, not the capitalist era), the British East India Company decided to diversify into a new product, tea, and to conduct a marketing campaign to promote this new product.

The Company engaged in so lively a propaganda for tea that, whereas the annual tea imports from 1700 to 1710 averaged 800,000 pounds, in 1721 more than one million pounds of tea were brought in; in 1757, some four million pounds were imported. And when the coffee house finally succumbed, tea, and not coffee, was firmly entrenched as the national drink of the English people.

In fact, it was so entrenched that by 1773, if you wanted to indicate your displeasure with Britain, one very symbolic way to do so would be to dump 342 chests of tea off a ship and into a harbor. Granted, the people who organized this action were low-life smugglers. You've probably heard of them - John Hancock, Samuel Adams. Actually, before getting famous from his association with tea, Samuel Adams was a brewer. However, Adams went bankrupt in that industry, which is why no one connects the name Samuel Adams with beer today....

...um, hold it. I have just been informed of some new information...

There is a postscript to this story about the British and coffee. Since tea is obviously the drink of choice of the British establishment, it follows that anyone who wanted to pander to the British anti-establishment would choose a different drink.

The (2i’s) expresso coffee bar, run by two australian ex-wrestlers Paul Lincoln (aka “Dr Death”) and Ray Hunter, opened its doors on April 22nd 1956. It was named after two brothers called Irani who originally owned the café (unless the previous owners were apparently three Iranians and one went home).

The coffee shop had live music in its basement with a small 18 inch stage where Lincoln and Hunter started putting on skiffle groups.

Skiffle only lasted for a short while, but it dramatically influenced British music and thus world music. Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard were two of the names that emerged from the 2i's scene. And those artists, as well as other skiffle bands, served as inspirations to musicians all over Britain, including some backing musicians (Tommy Moore and some other guys) who toured Scotland with one Johnny Gentle.

As of 2018, there were nearly 1,000 Starbucks in the United Kingdom. No word on whether maritime news is discussed there.