The coffee houses were synonymous with 17th and 18th century London. They were numerous and centres for business and commerce. Each coffee house attracted a certain type of business, Lloyd’s Coffee House being the most famous for being the place to go for maritime insurers. The stockjobbers went to Jonathan’s Coffee House, and The Jerusalem was for shipping. Businessmen would spend many hours in a coffee house, or visit several over a day, meeting people, agreeing contracts, getting information and even attending the auctions and sales by candlelight. In the diaries of Robert Hooke almost every day he recorded going to coffee houses across London and Westminster. He often frequented Jonathan’s and Garraways, such as on Tuesday 4th January, 1676. “At Garraways with Sir Ch: Wren and Franc Barnard.”
It did not cost that much to frequent coffee houses. There was an entrance fee of 1 penny, and you would pay extra for the coffee. For that you could spend as much time as you wanted in the comfort and warmth of the building. There would be a roaring fire with the smells of roasting and grinding beans and the cooking of the coffee.
What would the coffee have been like? It is fair to say that the coffee we have today is in no way the same as 17th century coffee. For a start, there were no large lattes, americanos and cappuccinos. Coffee machines making coffee under high pressure were a 20th century development. On top of that, the quality of the beans would have been different, having made a long slow journey from plantations across the world to London, stored in hessian sacks, and processed in the coffee houses themselves. Today our coffee beans are swiftly transported around the world, vacuum packed and frozen to keep freshness.
Along with many of the new commodities being imported into Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries, the production of coffee relied on slave labour, and conditions were poor. The growing of coffee was a labour-intensive production with little automation; the beans were hand-picked and packed.
Making a 17th century style coffee
There was no strict standard recipe or specific ways of making coffee, and each coffee shop would have their own distinct coffee taste. One contemporary description of making coffee states:
“Take a gallon of faire water & boyle it until halfe be wasted, & then take of that water one pinte, and make it boile, & then put in one spoonefull of the Powder of Coffee & let it boyle one quarter of an houre, stirring of it two or three times, for feare of running over, & drink it as hot as you can.”
This is from The Recipe Book 1659-72 of Archdale Palmer, Gent. Lord of the Manor of Wanlip in the County of Leicestershire.
Perhaps the initial boiling of the water ensured it would be safe to drink. Water supply in cities at this time was not a healthy source of drinking water. Generally speaking, making coffee in a 17th century style is a straightforward process.
Choose your beans
If you do not want to roast the beans yourself, then choose your pre-roasted beans and skip to the ‘Grind your coffee beans‘ section. We recommend fairtrade, which most brands tend to be today, and to get that authenticity, try organic. Early European coffee was imported by the Dutch East India Company from Java and Ceylon, but the earliest references to coffee show it was grown in Yemen in the 16th century.
If you do want to roast the beans yourself, there are many suppliers of green coffee beans.
Roast your beans
Roast the green beans in a frying pan or skillet over a fire. Once the fire gets going you need to stir your beans until you start to hear them make a ‘cracking’ sound, a bit like popcorn. Keep stirring them – it only takes a couple of minutes so don’t walk away!
Grind your coffee beans
Grind your coffee beans into a coarse powder with a pestle and mortar. It is estimated that a 17th century cup of coffee was made with 30 to 50 grams (one or two ounces) of coffee per cup (about 235 ml or 8 fluid ounces).
Boil your coffee
Boil your coffee powder in water for about 15 minutes. Some coffee houses would boil it for longer, up to an hour. If you look on images of 17th century coffee houses you will see a large pot over the fire which boiled the coffee, and tall coffee pots in front of the fire keeping warm. It is more akin to a coffee you might make on an open fire, or some say a Turkish coffee, although Turkish coffee does not take as long to boil.
Drink your coffee
Coffee was served in tall coffee pots and poured into small bowls, without a handle. If you wish to extend the experience and immerse yourself, wear a frock coat, long waistcoat, cravat, stockings and full bottomed peri-wig. If you want to dress as a 17thcentury woman, then consider a fontange on your head with a gown and stomachers pinned on to a pair of stays.
If you like the coffee, why not try making some chocolate?
If you are feeling more adventurous, then you can try making 17th century style chocolate using our step-by-step guide here – www.insurance.museum/17th-century-chocolate
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