Today, when we want to know the latest news of any kind, we watch TV and browse the Internet; for this particular reason people visited coffee houses in the 17th century. The English coffee houses were the places, where people over a cup of coffee could read the latest news, listen to the gossips, as well as to the lectures of any kind, including science, politics and art, accomplish business deals or chat on any topic you could ever suggest. The English coffee houses, London coffee houses in particular, meant even more those days, they were the birthplaces of inventions, philosophy and revolutionary ideas. The English coffee houses were different from those of Europe and described as unique, as they acclaimed themselves for many years as stable institutions in the social, commercial, political and cultural life of London. One French visitor of the English coffee houses illustrated them as the "seats of English liberty, where you have the right to read all the papers for and against the government".
However, do not forget that the English coffee houses' drink was coffee, and as a result, the coffee houses were designed to suit the occasion of drinking coffee, which made them directly opposite to the establishments, serving alcohol beverages. Therefore, the coffee houses were tastefully adorned with bookshelves, mirrors, gilt-framed pictures and good furniture; in contrast to the gloom and chaos of the old English taverns.
The coffee houses' visitors strictly followed the custom, when all social differences were left behind the coffee house door, swearing was banned, and anyone, who started a quarrel, had to buy coffee for all the present. In fact, the English coffee houses were calm, sober and well-ordered establishments that promoted a polite conversation and discussion. Nevertheless, Ladies were not allowed to the English coffee houses, as vital issues of the day should not have concerned their pretty heads.
Most of the English coffee houses functioned as news and information centers and also as reading rooms, whereas the cost of newspapers and pamphlets was included in the admission charge. In addition, bulletins, announcing sales, sailings and auctions, hung on the walls of the establishments, providing valuable information to the businessmen.
If a visitor of the coffee house wanted to show his literacy and wit, he began to talk high; the other guests abandoned the further seats and came closer to listen to the speech, forgetting about their pipes and allowing their coffee to grow cold. If we state that the English coffee houses were the places, where intelligence met, we would be entirely right in our conclusion.
As a result, the coffee houses provided a forum for education, debate and self-improvement. They were nicknamed "penny universities" in a contemporary English verse.
Even during the plague and the great fire that followed it, London inhabitants never stopped visiting the coffee houses. These disasters interfered with the popularity of the coffee houses only for a while, when the coffee house owners were most of all afraid for their and their families' health. When these dangers disappeared, the coffee houses again assumed their major position among all the social institutions and began to develop their own specialty and each soon became identified as the meeting place for a particular occupation, an interest group or a type of a specialized activity. For instance, Lloyd's or Garraway's coffee houses, located in the area around the Royal Exchange, were the places for businessmen meetings, and those, such as the St. James and Cocoa-Tree, located in Westminster, were frequented by politicians. The English coffee houses developed into the coffee houses of literature, art, entertainment, science and the others.