Coffee-Drinking in Britain: A History

Coffee-Drinking in Britain A History

Although Britain’s pride and joy is tea – stolen from China – it’s second, the less-adored child is coffee – stolen from Ethiopia. Today, we’re going to be shining the spotlight on coffee’s history in Britain, from the 17th century to today.


Coffee was first brewed in a fashion similar to today in Yemen, but the coffee beans used to brew it was grown in Ethiopia. Farmers and goatherds used to eat the coffee beans to stay alert after they noticed their goats would eat them and become hyper-energetic and excitable. Coffee’s very first origins can be found in the 15th century, with Yemen and other Arabian countries enjoying its stimulating effects.

In the 1500s, coffee seeds were smuggled from Arabia to the Indian subcontinent, where their popularity spread once more. This is where the Brits decide it’s time to step in. The British East India Trading Company played a bit part in moving coffee around Europe and into Britain. Although coffee itself got into Britain through a variety of routes, most of them led back to the British East India Trading Company in some way. There are accounts of writers trying coffee for the first time in the 1600s, with them claiming it had gotten to England from Greece, Italy, India, and North Africa.

Coffee in England

Coffee became popular in southern England quickly. It had already received the seal of approval from the Pope, who claimed it was a Christian drink, so there was no fear from Catholic communities that drinking it would damn their souls. Believe it or not but this was actually quite a burning issue, with some petitioning to ban the drink altogether, believing it to be bad because it was a ‘Muslim drink’ that originated from the Middle East. Thankfully, the Pope put an end to people’s doubts, and coffee became a drink for everyone.

Coffee houses became the new hot spots for socializing and business across the country. In 1654, Queen’s Lane Coffee House was established in Oxford and is still in operation today exactly as it was more than 300 years ago. In the 18th century, coffee could be consumed at home thanks to the creation of the coffee jug. Most people began making coffee at home, largely using silver coffee jugs. Today, there are still a plethora of antique silver coffee jugs in existence from this period, and they have become valued collectors’ pieces for those interested in history and coffee – as well as just fine craftsmanship.

In the centuries since, coffee has maintained a staple of many people’s everyday lives. Coffee houses have remained immensely popular as businesses, with brands like Starbucks and Costa branching out across the world. Drinking coffee at home has evolved significantly in that time, however. In the 1700s and 1800s, the demand for coffee increased so much in Britain that specialized tools had to be created in order to brew large quantities at once. In order to subdue the bitterness of the drink, milk, cream, or sugar was usually added to the coffee – as it is today. This meant milk jugs and creamers, as well as sugar bowls all being crafted in sets.

Coffee sets were usually made out of silver at this time, as it was a strong material that was in strong supply. Mass-manufactured coffee pots began at the turn of the 19th century, with the industrial revolution on the horizon.

Espresso machines and percolators were introduced in the early decades of the 1800s, mostly for coffee shops rather than for home-brewing. The sales and capability of production of coffee saw declines during the First World War, with most goods being rationed and many metals being redirected to help the war effort.

This didn’t stop the coffee from remaining one of Britain’s most popular drinks, however, and once the war was over, coffee was back on track the way it had been during the Victorian era.

Today, coffee is still consumed across the nation with almost the same fervor as tea. Coffee has been around the world and found a home in almost every nation, whether it’s for consumption or production. Different varieties of coffee like lattes and americanos have only been around the for last few decades, indicating an exciting future of coffee in this nation and around the world.